“Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God.” Romans 12:19
How far will the gospel take us? What people will it provoke us to love and die for? The world has evil too dark to contemplate. Some of us have seen it. Some of us have been its victims.
Last week I read Caroline Cox’s book: “This Immoral Trade: Slavery in the 21st Century.” The slave trade is active in Africa, in Asia and to some extent, here within the borders of the USA. Raids on villages in Sudan and Uganda yield women and children, for work, war and for personal pleasure. Those who resist are shot. In Asia, in Latin America and in the US, women are kidnapped, drugged and held under threat of death as slaves for the profit of their “captors”.
Read the stories and a cry for justice rises within: “The criminals, the sinners, have to pay for the evil they do.”
Human justice says this is how we will bring justice: “an eye for eye, tooth for tooth”. It’s retributive. “If you hurt me. I hurt you.” No one has to teach me human justice. I’m born with it. Faced with stark evil “Love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44) can be contemplated only by a Buddhist or an ivory tower philanthropist or theologian.
The justice of God, however, is more severe than we would ever demand.In God’s justice the wages of every sin is death. But the justice of God is also more merciful than we would ever imagine. God provides a way of justice with mercy. God willingly suffers in the place of offenders. Paul’s words in Romans 3 call for wonder and awe at God’s justice: that Christ Jesus died on the cross as a propitiation, to satisfy the wrath of God toward sinners, to demonstrate the righteousness of God, that there may be no doubt — ever — that He is just and that He is the One who settles justice for those who have faith in Jesus.
The justice of God is the justice of the culture the gospel produces. It is the kind of justice that grows in the church, God’s people.
What enables me to leave justice to God? I see God’s justice executed on Christ, on the cross, for me. I see the just penalty for sin and that sight produces an ever growing sorrow and amazement. The words of Isaiah 53:6 arrest me: “but the Lord has laid on Him (Christ) the iniquity of us all” — not laid down gently, more like a mugging, violent, deadly. Peter describes that moment for Christ: “while being reviled , He did not revile in return; while suffering He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross.”
In the cross I see the horror of my own sins and I am less and less horrified by others in their sins. Horrified by sin and the penalty for sin displayed in Christ, I can increasingly trust such a just God to “do justice” – both the justice of God’s mercy in Christ and the justice of God’s wrath outside of Christ.
What enables me to love my enemies? an ever growing joy in the gift of eternal life. Since I have Christ and the eternal life He gives, nothing others can do to me or take from me can make me poorer. In Matthew 13 Jesus teaches us by parable that nothing compares with the value of knowing, or having, Christ. He is like the pearl of great price. He is the treasure in our field. Paul said it another way in Philippians 3: “Whatever was gain to me, I count as loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus, my Lord.”
Some people say revenge is sweet, but Christ is better than revenge.