My husband and I are building a new house, and not a moment too soon.
Our experience with the current management at our apartment complex, you see, has not exactly been stellar. They don’t answer calls on time. They lose paperwork. The new window screens we were promised three years ago have not yet arrived. And when a swarm of giant wood-boring bees built a nest in the archway of our apartment entrance this past spring, the maintenance guy watched them for a while and then shrugged. “Nothin’ much I can do,” he told us, and left us with a can of bee spray “just in case they got feisty.”
“I cannot wait until I’m on the internet in our new house,” I fumed to my husband after a new incident had occurred. “I am going to go online and leave a scathing review telling people exactly how much this place has gone downhill since we came here.”
Those words of mine echoed in my head today when I found myself reading Romans 12:19:
Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.
This isn’t to say it’s ungodly to leave an internet review, of course. We do a service to others when we let them know ahead of time what they might be walking into when they purchase an apartment or try a new restaurant. But the well-being of other people was hardly what I had on my mind when I made my impassioned rant to my husband. I was angry, and so I wanted to strike back and hit the management where it would hurt. Having received bad service, I felt justified in lashing out.
And that’s a very American response, I think. We live in a rights-driven culture: most Americans have pretty clear ideas of what they do or don’t “deserve,” and little qualms about demanding it. Again, this isn’t always a bad thing. I don’t feel guilty about expecting clean restrooms when I’m out, or expecting my food to be cooked all the way through. When those things don’t happen, we have a right to express displeasure and to ask for improvement. But expressing displeasure or asking for improvement is a far cry from taking revenge for how we have been wronged.
As I read those verses, I’m struck by how anti-entitlement God’s Word seems to be. Been wronged? Been hurt? Been harmed? Have a justifiable case to make against a person/group/corporation who’s causing you trouble?
If so, the Bible tells you to give up your right to vengeance.
It is mine to avenge, God claims. We see another version of this in Psalm 51:4: “Against you, you only have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight…” In both cases, the Bible is clear that God is the sole arbiter of judgment. Regardless of hurt, regardless of cause, regardless of how justified we might be in our desire for vengeance, the meting out of retribution is not our duty.
That’s hard to swallow. It feels unnatural and even a little weak. (After all, how will people learn if we don’t punish them?) And giving up our right to vengeance is not something we often consider a divine mandate. Although Christians acknowledge God’s sovereignty and often reject vices like pride and arrogance that lead us to “play God” and pretend we know best, we often don’t think of how that attitude might extend to or influence our right to demand retribution for wrongs.
But it does. Although it’s an unnatural thing in our rights-centric culture to set aside our rights (especially when we are justified in demanding them), God asks that we leave judgment and retribution to Him. To demand it for ourselves – to say that we will be the ones to deliver judgment and mete out punishment – is rendering God less sovereign. It is putting ourselves first. It is rejecting His dominion over everything – even those things which we consider the most personal and which we have the greatest “right” to.
If we are believers, we must acknowledge God as first in all things. Our willingness to step back and defer to God in a situation in which we are the wronged party – in which our culture gives us the right to demand a measure of retribution – marks us and sets us apart.
If you’re hurt, be hurt. If you’re angry, be angry. If you’re justified in these things, be justified. Express your displeasure. Ask for situations to be mended if they need mending. But leave the punishment to God, and allow Him to act on your behalf. He is in all things fair, and your deference acknowledges His dominion.