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In Romans 12.20, Paul writes,
Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath [of God], for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.
Whereas human vengeance is often motivated by hatred, God's vengeance is an act of love. Human vengeance is destructive, God's vengeance is creative. God's vengeance, while liberating the oppressed and healing the wounded, also brings restoration to the oppressors and liberates them from their acts of oppression. God's vengeance results in the new creation of all things. Thus Moltmann can write,
The 'Last Judgment' is not a terror… It is a source of endlessly consoling joy to know, not just that the murderers will not triumph over their victims, but that they cannot in eternity even remain the murderers of their victims.
That is why we are not to take vengeance into our own hands – we have profoundly misunderstood it and when we have taken it into our own hands cycles of violence, destruction and sin have only been perpetuated. This is why Paul goes on to say in Romans 12.21f,
“But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in doing so you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Evil is not overcome through human instruments of punishment and subjugation. Evil is overcome through the doing of the good, through a willingness to continue to suffer, through a refusal to hate and through the embrace of love. By living in such a way we become a witness to the final restoration and reconciliation of all things in Jesus. After all, Jesus is the Judge. Yet, as Hans Urs Von Balthazar says, Jesus crucified is the revelation of the Judge who puts himself on the side of the those who would damn themselves.
Let us leave vengeance to God. For in the consummation of the kingdom we just might discover that vengeance looks very little like the ways we have imagined it. Leaving vengeance to God is not waiting for those who have caused us suffering to finally be subjected to suffering. Rather leaving vengeance to God is waiting in hope for all to be liberated from brokenness, pain, and sorrow.

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  1. Two thoughts:
    1. Are you running from somebody?
    2. In some ways, these thoughts are a real breath of fresh air. I especially like your thoughts about overcoming evil and the inability of punishment and subjugation to do this. Although, for me, the jury is still out about the redemptive nature of punishment and subjugation. I don’t mean at all in an after-life sense, but I mean here and now using punishment to respond to evil. I tend to be opposed to punishment, but I wonder if sometimes those who have done wrong want to be punished (if from their point of view the punishment is just)? Maybe on some level punishment can help those who have done wrong appease the guilt they feel? Though, even in saying this I understand that there are other ways to appease guilt – ie. restitution, reparations, making amends. And I suppose it depends on how you define punishment. Overall, though as I’ve said, I am opposed to punishing people (if we think of punishment as inflicting harm on another). There is too much suffering in this world to inflict more suffering. And punishing people usually has “unintended” negative consequences – that is, it perpetuates cycles of violence.
    Your contrasting of God’s vengeance vs. human vengeance is interesting. I’d like to hear more about how God’s vengeance is “creative” and an “act of love”. I just can’t see this right now in the place that I’m in. If God’s wrath is that humans are left to their own vices and devices (Hays conversation we had the other night), this does not seem creative or loving to me, instead, seems very punitive and subjugative. Humans make bad choices, God feels wrath, so God leaves humans with mess. So we have these never-ending cycles of violence: Rwandan genocides, WWII concentration camps, U.S. invasions of Iraq, etc, etc; we have humans repeatedly dehumanizing and slaughtering each other. How creative is that? How is this an act of love? Who can stand the wrath of God? Help me out here.

  2. Hmmm, Thanks Jude. As always a thoughtful response. I appreciate that… it just means I have to think as well to respond to you. Dang.
    You talk about some guilty people exhibiting a desire to be punished and how, therefore, punishment may be a means of appeasing guilt. I actually don’t really like this way of looking at things. Two Reason:
    (1) From my experience with “guilty” people (from hit-men to prostitutes to drug-dealers to sex offenders to, well, you get the picture) I think they exhibit that feeling because they’ve basically bought into a lie that they’re a piece of shit and all they deserve is shit. So, yeah, it may bring them a sense of relief to be punished, but it’s only because it’s confirming their belief that all they deserve is shit because they are shit. If we’re about making people new, and not just confirming them in their shittiness, then maybe there’s a better way of going about things.
    (2) This also still seems to buy into some sort of Pelagianism, a work-oriented soteriology. Wait… let me try and say that more clearly…
    Even if guilty people feel like they deserve some sort of punishment (and a lot of them do!) ultimately justice may not be about giving people what they deserve. Justice may not be less than that but it could be a lot more than that. Justice does reveal the true consequences of a person’s actions, and the true nature of a person’s character, but, understood biblically, it doesn’t stop there. Thus salvation by grace (of course, without a Christian world-view that can be a hard position to maintain… not impossible I suppose, but hard).
    Hmmm, I want to say something in response to your objection that God’s wrath seems neither creative nor loving but I don’t really have time right now. Hold that thought.

  3. Beautiful Dan, absolutely beautiful. I fully embrace your response here. I couldn’t agree with you more. In fact, I will likely print what you have written here and hand it in as my term paper for restorative justice class, cheers, thanks. You may in fact have erased any sort of thread of an idea about the good of punishment I was holding on to. Thanks for that. I do enjoy chatting with you. Nice use of the word shit. It really drives home the point for me. Sort of rubs my face in it so to speak :). I think you are right that thinking about punishment in this way is not a good way of looking at things.
    Looking forward to hearing more about God’s wrath from you. Don’t wait too long to write, I’m addicted to checking your journal…and drinking wine…I mean…well, gotta go. Hello Merlot.