I received a great email question today from my friend Tom. He read yesterday’s post about revenge and justice. I’d like to share his question with you.
“isn’t mercy what we should seek? Justice, evenly applied, would ultimately mean the annihilation of the human race (…for all have fallen short…).”
This is a great question, and caused me to think deeper. Tom is correct that if justice were applied literally by God, we would be wiped out. The bible tells us that the wages of sin is death. Therefore, since we all have sinned and fallen short, we are deserving of death. However, God’s grace and mercy, provided to us by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, has been extended to us. Ultimately, God has extended to us mercy and grace for the wages of sin. That doesn’t mean, however, that all will escape the consequences for sin.
I watched a recent interview with former President George W. Bush. When he was questioned about what his feelings were in the wake of 9/11, he responded that he knew the United States needed to respond to this act of war. However, he made it clear that it was not revenge, but justice we were to seek. Revenge would have been wiping Afghanistan off the map. An eye for an eye. Justice meant targeting those who were directly responsible for the acts of war and terrorism against our country. For example, Saddam Hussein was apprehended and put through the legal process in Iraq. The consequences for his actions, according to their system, was death by hanging.
In yesterday’s post, I made the distinction that revenge is when we take action ourselves. In essence, taking justice into our own hands. True justice is in releasing the outcome to an authority beyond ourselves. That’s why we have law enforcement. That’s why we have courts. In this life, there is a system in place to enforce justice. It doesn’t always work out the way we think it should. Whether it’s a legal matter, or simply a moral or spiritual issue, God’s justice supersedes everything else. It’s up to God whether to show mercy, or to allow harsh consequences on us for wrongdoing.
For much of this year, I’ve had a front row seat to witness some of the most flagrant offenses one person could commit against another. It would be easy for the victim of these actions, or someone else on their behalf, to take matters into their own hands to seek revenge. I am getting a real education on the mercy and patience it takes to use the system in place in pursuit of justice. Whether the other party goes to jail, is stripped of some of, or all their earthly wealth, or gets away with it, will all be in the hands of a judge at some point.
Summarizing all this, as best I can, I come to this. Revenge is us acting as judge, jury and executioner. This is not our role, and it is inconsistent with God’s plan for us. Justice requires that we behave in a manner that is legal and consistent with the standard God has set for us. Justice is defined by an authority greater than ourselves.
I am learning that as frustrating and exhausting as it can be waiting for justice, there is a soothing peace we have in being true to God through it all. God is faithful to us when we are faithful to Him. Even if things don’t go as we would like, I trust that God’s plan will be done as we remain humble, obedient and open to seeing His hand in it all.