‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.’ (Romans 12:19 KJV)
Nearly every time I have heard the above verse quoted it has been in brutal and revengeful terms. God will get his revenge on all those who have done evil in this world. Hardly ever are the next verses quoted to give the context of this statement:
‘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 12:20-21).
In context this passage instructs us to forsake retributive wrath for God’s restorative wrath, hence
‘recompense to no man evil for evil’ (Romans 12:17). God’s way of ‘vengeance’ is to overcome evil with good by feeding and giving a drink to hungry and thirsty enemies, by blessing and forgiving them freely. It is this approach that overcomes evil with good and heaps convicting coals of refining fire on their heads so that they will repent and enter into God’s restorative love.
Isaiah 6:1-2 describes this restoration,
‘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;’ (Isaiah 6:1–2) This ‘day of vengeance’ sounds exactly like the ‘day of Jubilee (release).’ There is no violence described here only restoration. Love is the best revenge; love is the best vengeance.
When Jesus declared that He was the fulfilment Isaiah 61, he omitted the words “day of vengeance”
(Luke 4:18-19). Perhaps he knew how that word can be twisted by people bent on retributive justice, and didn’t want it to corrupt his mission statement.
God always overcomes evil in one way only: with unconditional love and blessing. He always blesses his enemies with goodness to overcome their evil. He endlessly turns the other cheek, walks the extra mile, and gives the extra cloak. If God asks this of us shouldn’t we expect this to be in his heart too?
(see Matthew 5:38-48). The God of love doesn’t kill his enemies in retributive justice but heals in restorative love. He overcomes them with good. The coals of fire on people’s heads demonstrate the warmth and the purification of God’s loving embrace, which will prove irresistible.
On the cross, Jesus repaid humanities evil with loving forgiveness and it resulted in a hardened Roman Centurion confessing that he is the Son of God
(Matthew 27:54). May God’s loving forgiveness to humanities evil at the ‘day of vengeance’ lead to the same saving confession.
Father, thank you that you love your enemies and that your heart is not to cause harm, but to love, heal and restore.
Have a good week trusting in the love of God.