Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Right Fight...

Vengeance: the act of taking revenge.

The temptation to desire revenge for a perceived wrong is as old as time and as enticing as forbidden fruit. It only seems fair after all to retaliate when someone does us wrong, right? Absolutely--if you are inclined to assume the mores of a culture whose messages suggest that it is all about us, that is.

But what does God have to say about vengeance?

Numbers 28 through 30 explain God's expectations related to special offerings, festivals and vows, but a corner is turned in chapter 31 when God directs his children to take revenge against the Midianites for having led them into idolatry.

Often, I have heard well meaning, peace loving people express the opinion that the idea of vengeance doesn't seem consistent with the idea of God being "loving". These verses and other passages of scripture reveal however, that there are situations in which God's vengeance is justified, yet his nature remains consistently loving because his methods are predicated by his will to protect and preserve those who belong to him.

We have already learned that God is a jealous God and that he doesn't wink at idolatry. The Midianites were not simply guilty of introducing idol worship to the children of Israel, they also led them into sexual immorality in the process. In order to bring a halt to these destructive influences, God gave explicit orders through Moses about how they were to execute his vengeance upon these wicked people.

Once the battle ended and the victors returned with their spoils, Moses learned that they'd spared the Midianite women. Verses 15 through 16 record his reaction:

15 “Why have you let all the women live?” he demanded. 16 “These are the very ones who followed Balaam’s advice and caused the people of Israel to rebel against the Lord at Mount Peor. They are the ones who caused the plague to strike the Lord’s people."

Keeping the women alive may have seemed harmless at first glance. In truth though, the women were responsible for the dreadful evils that had been introduced to the camp and were potentially more of a threat than an entire army of mighty warriors.

Sometimes, just like these people, we miss the things that really could destroy us spiritually because they don't appear all that threatening. We would be wise to remember that these are the times when our enemy is poised to pounce with greatest success.

We cannot be afraid to fight with a vengeance against any enemy--great or small--that has the potential to diminish our will to contend for our faith. It's so important that we pray for God to make us aware of every person, place, or thing that might pose any threat to our Christian walk and witness.

What we then do about those things that threaten our spiritual health is especially important. This notion of taking revenge has nothing to do with plotting evil against another person in a retaliatory manner--in fact, here's what the Bible says about that in Romans 12:

19 Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord.

This admonition to avoid taking matters into our own hands against our foes does not mean that God leaves us flailing and faltering helplessly. We can trust that when we ask for help, he will fight for us. Our battles belong to him and he alone is able to justly administer retribution when it is warranted.

Think about it--left to ourselves, the revenge we'd take against our offenders would be completely correlated to unavoidable (even if unintended) prejudice against the one who harmed us. When God imposes justice or invokes a penalty, it is always with the advantage of his supernatural perception and infinite wisdom. More than that, though, it is with great love and abundant desire that ALL who are lost be redeemed.

Only once do I remember coming very close to taking vengeance into my own hands. I am not proud of knowing what I could be capable of considering, and I am extremely grateful to God that my fear of Him and my knowledge of His command that I allow Him to fight my battles prevented me from carrying out my impulses, but I think this warrants confession because that situation was related to one of my children.

As I think back to that time and place, I realize that my anger--my infuriation--could have led me to react in a way that was anything but Christ-like. Ironically, I don't think I've ever been as offended for myself as I have been for my children when they've been wronged...which leads to a possible parallel that has just occurred to me. Maybe the very thing that vengeance seems to contradict in the minds of some people with respect to God's nature (love), is exactly the impetus behind his decision to act. And that, in itself, is proof positive that no conflict exists between the two.

Father, how I thank you for loving me enough to fight my battles, to tear down strong-holds and to show yourself mighty on my behalf. Your love is higher, deeper, greater than anything I can imagine.

"Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky."

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