Leaving vengeance to the wrath of God
We are commanded not to avenge ourselves but to leave all vengeance to God’s wrath.
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)
But just how do we leave vengeance to God? If what another person does to hurt us involves a violation of the law, there is a very easy way. Inform the police and press criminal charges against him. Here is what the Bible says about the role of government.
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)
Did you notice the last sentence? For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. When we ask the government to take action against someone who has hurt us we are not avenging ourselves but turning the matter over to God’s servant.
Because humans are evil it is necessary for God to impose restraints on our conduct and he has established human government for this purpose. The first recorded instance of this is found in the command God gave to Noah after the flood.
From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man.
Whoever sheds the blood of man,
by man shall his blood be shed,
for God made man in his own image. (Genesis 9:5,6)
We have no record of his giving such a command before the flood. Perhaps this is why evil prevailed so much that the flood was required. When he established the nation of Israel he gave a criminal code which prescribed punishments for various crimes and he also gave commands concerning warfare. As individuals we are forbidden to retaliate or seek vengeance for wrongs which are done to us, but these restrictions do not apply to governments. If we work for the government in law enforcement or the military we can and should avenge wrongdoing because we are serving God for this purpose.
The church is not a nation as Israel was. We are forbidden to take vengeance on others but must submit to the laws of the country in which we live. Some have taken the commands that are given for individuals and applied them to government, advocating the abolition of the death penalty and refusal to serve in the military. If you read the New Testament without reference to the Old it is possible to make a case for these views. When I was eighteen years old and required to register for the draft I seriously considered registering as a conscientious objector. I had only been a Christian a little over a year and my knowledge of the Bible was very limited.
Although the New Testament says little about government authority it does contain enough information to show that pacifism is wrong. Jesus healed the servant of a centurion and commended that centurion for his faith (Matthew 8:5-13, Luke 7:1-10). The first Gentile convert to the church was a centurion (Acts 10). Jesus once commanded his disciples to buy swords so they would be able to defend themselves. Buy a sword but turn the other cheek.
Government officials are servants of God but because they are human they are imperfect servants and sometimes make mistakes. One area where mistakes occur is in the application of the death penalty. Capital punishment is not always applied fairly and innocent people are sometimes executed. Opponents of capital punishment cite this as a reason for abolishing the death penalty, but doing this wouldn’t really solve the problem. Innocent people would still be convicted and punished. We should respond to the problem by enacting safeguards in our trial procedures that would prevent the conviction of those who are innocent. In the Old Testament the testimony of at least two witnesses was required before someone could be put to death. A similar requirement should be part of modern laws. Perhaps this would lead to the acquittal of some guilty people but that would be better than executing someone who is innocent.
Posted on May 18, 2017, in Bible study, government and tagged church, conscientious objectors, death penalty, government, Israel, pacifism, vengeance, warfare, wrath of God. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.