Hear the word of the LORD, you who tremble at his word: “Your brothers who hate you and cast you out for my name’s sake have said, ‘Let the LORD be glorified, that we may see your joy’; but it is they who shall be put to shame. “The sound of an uproar from the city! A sound from the temple! The sound of the LORD, rendering recompense to his enemies! (Isaiah 66:5-6 ESV)
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.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:19-21 ESV)
Last night, I had the privilege of watching Saw 3. If you get the chance, I suggest you struggle through that film. It deals with some pretty rough subject matter. It centers mainly around one man and his journey to meet the man who killed his son. His test is whether he is willing to forgive that man and the other people who were involved in his son’s death and the injustice there.
At one point, he is faced with his son’s killer and Jigsaw’s tape makes a statement to the effect of, “Will you give him the gift of life and forgive him? Or will you become like him: a murderer. The choice is your’s.” If you saw the killer of your child in a life or death scenario right in front of you and his life was in your hands, would you forgive him and free him? Or would you let him die that slow, agonizing death?
The is really the essence of nonviolence. Forgiveness vs. revenge.
In the last installment of this series, I ended with a very pointed question. I asked, “Why do we find a life of peace something to be despised?” I don’t really know the answer other than to say that it is sin. But as we think about that question, I want to share a couple of stories to illustrate my point.
I am in a class on developing nations (third-world countries to be exact). Today, we talked about the pros and cons of a military regime. No pros could be found. In fact, no one could really think of any real positives to having a military other than protection. But there also seemed to be implied agreement that there were other ways to protect a nation than to have a military. And yet, the majority consensus in the class was that a military was absolutely necessary. Why?
Not too long ago, my dad (who is a deacon and Sunday School teacher at his church) and I were having a little discussion about the death penalty and forgiveness and stuff like that. He made the comment, in all seriousness, that if he had a daughter and someone raped her and killed her that he would find the man who did it and torture him to death in the basement. Why?
Here’s where I am going with this.
In our attempt, from the Christian perspective, to uphold the laws of the Old Testament, we limit ourselves to a few passages of Scripture to the neglect of others. We cite Genesis 9, which says,
Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image. (Genesis 9:6 ESV)
and Romans 13, which says,
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. (Romans 13:1-4 ESV)
but we don’t recognize that motive plays a very important role in this. Why is it that we want to see the bad guy caught? Why do we want the rapist dead? Let’s go back to the Saw 3 thing for a moment.
The man’s whole problem was not that his son died and he was hurting. The problem was that he wanted revenge. He wanted to be the one who executed the killer. In the illustration, he would want to be the one to enact his sentence. Why? Vengeance. Not justice. Vengeance.
Moving away from the death penalty for a moment, what about the issue of war? Take the war on terror, for example. In the beginning, why did we begin the invasion of Baghdad with a carpet-bombing campaign? Was it to bring justice? No. Vengeance.
And it all comes down to this: Vengeance vs. Forgiveness.
According to the passages I quoted above, we are not the ones who are to bring God’s judgment to the enemy. In fact, we are called to just the opposite. Look what Paul calls us to as the follower of Jesus:
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:21 ESV)
Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. (Romans 13:10 ESV)
And Jesus, who holds a higher authority than Paul, being the perfect incarnation of God, teaches us:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:38-48 ESV)
Maybe we despise a live of nonviolence (peace) because it takes too much strength; strength that we don’t believe we have. But as followers of Jesus, we must have the strength to do it because the burden that Jesus has given us is not hard for us to bear (Matthew 11:28-30).