Leaving it to the Wrath of God (Romans 12:17-19)
Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. ¹⁸If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. ¹⁹Beloved, 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 12:17-19
How often are you tempted to repay evil for evil? I don’t mean responding in kind to the inconveniences of first world problems–being shouted down on Twitter, cut off in traffic, or rudely treated at the coffee shop–I mean real, life-threatening evil. In recent days, one of our translation consultants, a dear brother and friend, has been forced to flee his home with his family after hiding from fellow countrymen intent on burning down his house and possibly even taking his life.
Evil for Evil
The recent conflict in Northeast India over land rights has pitted dissident Manipuris (Hindus/Animists) against Christian churches in Manipur. Many from the offended tribes are demonstrating by burning the homes of Manipuris living in the hills. The Manipuris are burning churches and homes of tribals who live in the valley. It is very real evil for evil.
Our brother, who also pastors a local church there, was at risk of being ordered at gunpoint to renounce his faith, or face the consequences. Hundreds of churches and homes all around where he lives have been destroyed. Twice, a mob of people visited his home, interrogating him and demanding documentation to prove he is on the “right side” of the conflict.
This sort of evil, more rare in the west, is tragically common in many parts of the world and has been for most of human history. When Paul was writing to the Romans, he was well acquainted with this sort of evil that stirs up vengeance in the human heart. If God forbids returning evil for real evil, how much more when it’s mere inconvenience we’re tempted to rail against?
Whether you’re hiding for your life or hoping to glide through your day friction-free, the call is the same: don’t retaliate. But how is it possible to not jump to your own defense, especially when the threats you’re facing include violence and physical harm?
Fleeing in Hope
While fleeing for his life, our brother is clinging to Psalm 3, pleading with the Lord in prayer for protection and help the way David did when he fled from Absalom:
O LORD, how many are my foes! Many are rising against me…But you, O LORD, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head. I cried aloud to the LORD, and he answered me from his holy hill.
I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the LORD sustained me. I will not be afraid of many thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around.
Arise, O LORD! Save me, O my God! For you strike all my enemies on the cheek; you break the teeth of the wicked.
Salvation belongs to the LORD; your blessing be on your people!
This imprecatory psalm, with its plea for blows and broken teeth, fits with the promise of Romans 12:19, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.” What makes it possible for someone facing threats against life and limb not to avenge himself? it is the assurance that the wrath of God will avenge every wrong. This wrath will be no light judgment. One day, God’s wrath will overwhelm the wicked:
The great day of the LORD is near, … A day of wrath… a day of distress and anguish, a day of ruin and devastation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness,... I will bring distress on mankind, so that they shall walk like the blind, because they have sinned against the LORD; their blood shall be poured out like dust, and their flesh like dung…. In the fire of his jealousy, all the earth shall be consumed; for a full and sudden end he will make of all the inhabitants of the earth. (Zephaniah 1:14a, 15, 17, 18b)
On that day, there will be no place to hide, though the wicked will try:
Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” (Revelation 6:15-17)
Those who are trusting in Christ have the assurance that our evil against God has been atoned for at the cross. His righteous anger against us was poured out on His Son, Jesus, and we are no longer under wrath. This is the hope we have, not only that He will avenge every evil done against us, but that He won’t count every evil we have done against Him! He took our punishment in exchange for His righteousness. Jesus absorbed the sin of the world when He died. He did not return evil for evil, but entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly (1 Peter 2:23). And He gives us His power to do the same.
When it was clear that living peaceably in Manipur was no longer an option, our brother fled with his family to a safer region. The road ahead is uncertain, but our God is faithful and trustworthy. Even as they are leaving their home behind, they are also leaving vengeance against a great evil to the wrath of God. Every sin that is not covered by the blood of His Son, He will repay.
What circumstances tempt you to respond in hostility?
How does knowing that God’s wrath against all the wicked will be poured out on the last day help you not to take vengeance into your own hands?
Ask God to change your heart toward the wicked. Pray for those doing violence in India to come to the knowledge of the truth and turn from evil. And pray for our brother and his family to keep entrusting themselves to God, our just Judge.
Candice Watters is the FighterVerses editor. She is married to Steve Watters, Truth78's director of marketing and resource development. She is mom to Harrison, Zoe, Churchill, and Teddy and co-author with Steve of Start Your Family: Inspiration for Having Babies.