What is the vengeance of the Lord?
“Vengeance is mine sayeth the Lord I will repay.” So many quote this passage in cruel, hard and woeful tones, but ALWAYS omit the next verse so that the full contextual flavor of the passage is never conveyed. “THEREFORE if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12:19-21.
Do you see? The purpose of the passage is NOT about threatening ourselves and others with destructive wrath, which is the way the first verse quoted above is mainly used today. Rather, the passage exhorts us to forsake “destructive wrath” in favor of the Father’s “restorative wrath.”
The Lord’s way of vengeance and wrath is to overcome ALL evil with ALL good– feeding hungry enemies, giving drink to thirsty enemies, blessing them, praying for them, and forgiving them freely. This dynamic overcomes evil with good by heaping coals of conviction on the enemies’ heads so THAT they will thereby repent and enter the kingdom of God’s restorative love.
I propose that God’s “restorative wrath” and His “restorative love” are one in the same. The DAY OF JUBILEE and the DAY OF VENGEANCE are the same thing. God’s “day of vengeance” IS His “day of restoration.”
Isaiah 61 describes the Lord’s “restorative wrath.” Where is the widespread and worldwide melting and mauling of the wicked millions here? Rather, does not this “day of vengeance” sound exactly like the “restorative love” of Jubilee?
“The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek ; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives , and the opening of the prison to them that are bound ; To PROCLAIM the acceptable year of the LORD , and the DAY OF VENGEANCE of our God ; to comfort all that mourn ; To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion , to give unto them beauty for ashes , the oil of joy for mourning , the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness ; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified .” Isaiah 61:1-3.
There is no violence described above, only full restoration. Loving well IS the best revenge! When Jesus declared that He Himself was the fulfillment Isaiah 61, He actually omitted the words “day of vengeance” from His recitation. Perhaps He knew how that word can be twisted by wrath-mongers and didn’t want it corrupting His mission statement.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor ; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord.” Luke 4:18-19
Sounds good to me!
But could this be true? Is this dynamic elsewhere stated clearly by Jesus? Oh yes!
This was Jesus’ central message in the sermon on the mount.
“Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.
And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain . Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away. Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy.
But I say unto you , Love your enemies , bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you ; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust .
For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye ? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?
Be ye THEREFORE perfect, even AS your Father which is in heaven is perfect .”
The last verse is key. It instructs us to “THEREFORE” be “PERFECT, even AS the Father is perfect.” The “therefore” refers to the previous ten verses in which the Father’s perfection is explained. His perfection lies in this– He loves, blesses, forgives and restores His enemies!
Am I saying that “the coals of conviction” heaped on the enemies’ heads isn’t painful? No, coals on the head hurt and I think nothing is more painful than seeing the gravity of our own self-centered evil. Am I saying that God’s purging flames don’t singe, sting, sear, and scorch? No, God’s fire is white hot and white holy. But, what I am saying though is that His fire ultimately saves us by overcoming all of our evil with all of His good. The church father Origen called God’s judging flames “wise fire” because they ultimately heal rather than harm. 1 Corinthians 3:13-15.
The only word in the Gospels for “punishment” with regard to God punishing evildoers is “kolasis,” which according to Aristotle, who knew Greek word meanings better than anybody who ever walked the planet, said that “kolasis” is the kind of punishment which “is inflicted in the interest of the sufferer,” which means it is for the betterment or improvement of the person being punished. This is contrasted with “timoria,” which Aristotle said is the kind of punishment which is “inflicted in the interest of him who inflicts it, that he may obtain satisfaction.” (Rhet. 1369b13).
The Gospels reveal a God who never punishes to gratify Himself, but rather punishes to heal and help the evildoers improve and be restored. William Barclay, who was professor of Divinity and Biblical Criticism at Glasgow University and the author of many Christian commentaries and books, including a translation of the New Testament and the very popular Daily Study Bible Series, traces the word “kolasis” back, through Plato, to an original term used to describe the pruning of trees back to allow fuller and healthier growth. Revenge motives are “timoria,” and only gratify the lust for an eye for an eye payback. But “kolasis” motives are always looking for a way to restore and repair that which is lost and broken.
In his Commentary on Matthew 10.2, Origen, my favorite early church father, explained the “the weeping and gnashing of teeth” of those in fiery judgment as a form of repentance and sort of anger of the sinners against themselves, while in the furnace they are being purified. The Lord is the great physician with His motive for His surgical punishments always being restorative “kolasis.” God’s modus operandi is always to overcome evil with good. Loving well is the best revenge!
Even the Lord’s punishments are healing. His vengeance is His virtue. Hallelujah!