Much of our Christian life is a process of becoming more and more like God. God is holy, so we are to be holy. We love, because God first loved us. In fact, our English word ‘godliness’ implies that the Christian life is, by definition, ‘God-like-ness’. But sometimes, the opposite is true. Sometimes, ‘godliness’ is about being completely unlike God. Here’s an example:
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19)
This verse doesn’t quite say what we expect it should, does it? When it urges us to avoid revenge, it’s not telling us to be like God at all. It doesn’t say, “Don’t avenge yourself, because God doesn’t avenge, and neither should you.” Rather, it says (to paraphrase), “Because God is a wrathful, avenging God, don’t try to do God’s job.” In other words, retributive justice isn’t our responsibility. We should leave that up to God, who is powerful and just.
This doesn’t mean, of course, that you should always be silent about wrongs that have been done to you. It may be that God brings about his justice using the appropriate state authority, whom the Bible describes—just seven verses later—as “the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (Rom 13:4). So it might be right and proper for you to appeal to the state justice system, which (in whatever imperfect way) is part of God’s process of retributive justice. On the other hand, it’s possible that you will never see final justice done until the last day, when God judges the secrets of all people through Jesus Christ. On that day, you may even find that the person who did the wrong to you is found ‘in Christ.’ In that case, you will see that the God of perfect justice has taken the evil done to you so seriously and personally that he has taken it upon himself and dealt with it in the horror of the cross of Jesus Christ. In all of these scenarios, God’s justice wins.
“Never avenge yourselves… Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” This is a wonderfully liberating teaching, especially if you’ve suffered some great hurt from someone. It frees you from the burden of seeking to make everything right all by yourself. It gives you the space and the strength to get on with the tasks that are ahead of you, which can sometimes be long and drawn out and painful. You can acknowledge the hurt that was done to you and feel rightly angry without needing to strike back. You can pursue a process of emotional and spiritual healing for yourself, even if the other person is unrepentant, because you can rest assured that God sees and cares and will not let the guilty go unpunished. You can even seek to forgive, knowing that your forgiveness will always be muddled and mixed and imperfect, because God can sort it all out. God is just. Even God’s forgiveness, grounded in the cross, is always perfectly just because it takes sin perfectly seriously. Hold on to that, but don’t worry about the mechanics of how that will work in every case. That’s God’s job, not yours.
God is God. You aren’t. And sometimes, in your Christian life, you need to seek to be as unlike God as possible.
Comments at The Briefing.