A Vengeful Spirit

Do not say, “I will repay evil,”
wait for the Lord, and he will deliver you.
-Proverbs 20:22

It’s a drama as old as Haman’s hatred of Mordecai but as current and present as the latest movie trailer. Last night I saw the trailer for a new movie promising the star character’s pursuit of his family’s enemies at all costs. This called to mind the many other films that have followed the path of vengeance, always to my not-so-secret delight. But this morning, Proverbs reminded me, beautifully and clearly, of God’s call upon His people to leave vengeance to Him alone.

Maybe you don’t have movie-quality enemies whom you’re tempted to stalk endlessly and violently, but Scripture wouldn’t repeat this lesson if the vast majority of us weren’t tempted in one way or another to love revenge. So I hope you’ll consider with me the dangers of a vengeful spirit and the different (and much, much better) path to which God has called us. I believe the desire for revenge or vengeance is a current issue facing many Christians and our obedience to God in this area will be one of the most significant testimonies we have to God in an increasingly Godless nation.  

The Dangers of a Vengeful Spirit 

Whether on a large or small scale, giving in to a spirit of vengeance is dangerous for several reasons:

  • Solomon, in Proverbs 20:22, shows that vengeance is antithetical to trusting God. In fact, he presents it as a stark choice: either give your heart and life to gaining vengeance on your enemies or trust God to take care of you. It cannot be both. Vengeance, in other words, seeks to take the place of God, which is always a dangerous place to be. A vengeful Christian is an oxymoron, one who trusts Jesus to give her life eternally but not take care of her in the meantime, one who submits to Jesus’ leadership in his life but doesn’t trust that leadership to redress wrongs.
  • Further, as we seek God’s throne for ourselves and delight in the secret delight of a vengeful spirit, we will find ourselves growing increasingly bitter rather than satisfied. Holding tightly to injustices, real or perceived, will only lead to a growing “root of bitterness”, robbing us of our joy and turning us into a Gollum whose “precious” is the always-nursed desire for revenge.
  • If and when you do get the chance to exact your revenge, you’ll find it woefully unsatisfying and every bit as destructive to you as it is to your enemy. The reality is that vengeance is not a weapon we are strong enough to handle. Vengeance belongs to God alone — like a father who wisely keeps dangerous weapons away from his children, so God has kept vengeance away from us. Simply put, we can’t handle it without doing as much damage to ourselves as to the guilty party.

Remember that we have an enemy who’s been studying us for many centuries. He knows we have a God-given desire for justice and, rather than trying to replace that desire, he cunningly twists it instead. And so the drive for justice is quickly turned in the soil of our hearts into a Christ-usurping love of revenge.

There is a better way.

The Christian’s Different Path 

As we seek to know and glorify our great Savior, we must recognize that He is the Suffering Servant who, “when he was reviled…did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but continued entrusting Himself to Him who judges justly.” (1 Pet. 2:23) As we follow this Suffering Savior, we follow the example of His faith, which was deeply concerned with justice, but simultaneously concerned to let His Father deal with His enemies.

Our path away from a vengeful spirit, our path of following this beautiful Savior, should include the following:

  • Trust God! After decrying vengeance, Solomon goes on to remind of the many reasons we have to trust God: “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord…The violence of the wicked will sweep them away…the Righteous One observes the house of the wicked…No wisdom, no understanding, no counsel can avail against the Lord.”  (21:1, 7, 12, 30) Either you believe Jesus will return as the Judge of all the earth to make every wrong thing right or you don’t. If you do believe it, then act like it by entrusting your enemies and injustices to God, believing that the Judge of all will do right and do it better than anyone else.
  • Guard your heart. Look inwardly and find those secret desires for revenge. Rebuke those desires! Repent of them, bringing them into the light and cast both your vengeful spirit and your desire for justice upon the throne of Christ. Consider well the stories told to us by movies and television: how many are stoking the fires of vengeance in our hearts? How many are leading us to rest in God’s care and promises?
  • Do good. “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless…” (1 Pet. 3:9) When you find your heart drifting into thoughts of vengeance, prayerfully seek what you might do that would result in a blessing on your enemy. Pray for God’s blessing on them. Grant your forgiveness wherever you can. Give time and money. Show kindness and gentleness toward them. It is more than possible to pray for justice from an enemy and seek that enemy’s good at the same time – keep your eyes on Christ to learn how!
  • Pray for those in the justice system. When wrongs done to us fall in the category of crimes as well as wrongdoing, we do well to recognize that God often works out His justice, even if partially, through our justice system. And so He calls us to pray “for kings and all who are in high positions” (1 Tim. 2:2), recognizing that our court system is the “servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.” (Rom. 13:4) Human courts will sometimes be imperfect or not given to true justice, but this is all the more reason to pray God would preserve His purposes for and through these servants.
  • Sing and pray the Psalms. Other than perhaps the gospels’ testimony of Christ’s silent suffering, nothing outshines the Psalms in leading us to the right balance of hating injustice while trusting God to deal with that injustice. Having the Psalms often on our lips and in our hearts will keep us from falling as often or as deeply into a vengeful spirit.

How do you fight to replace vengeful spirit with a trusting spirit? I’d love to hear some more personal and practical ideas in the comments. As committed Christians become increasingly unpopular we will, both individually and corporately, have many opportunities in the coming months and years to entrust injustices to God. In the final estimation, these opportunities will be, by God’s grace, those times when the gospel shone brightest to the world around us.

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