God is so great that he sees every detail of our planet all the time. And God is so just that there is not a single injustice which doesn’t infuriate him. So if he knows everything and hates all that’s wrong, of course he “feels indignation everyday” (Psalm 7:11).
And this is not meant for terror — not if we treasure Jesus (Romans 5:9; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 5:9). Rather, it’s actually meant for our comfort. That’s what Paul is getting at in Romans 12:19, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.'”
John Piper explains,
All of you have been wronged at one time or another. Most of you, probably, have been wronged seriously by someone who has never apologized or done anything sufficient to make it right. And one of the deep hindrances to your letting that hurt and bitterness go is the conviction — the justified conviction — that justice should be done, that the fabric of the universe will unravel if people can just get away with horrible wrongs and deceive everyone. That is one of the hindrances to forgiveness and letting grudges go. It’s not the only one. We have our own sin to deal with. But it is a real one. We feel that just to let it go would be to admit that justice simply won’t be done. And we can’t do it. So we hold on to anger, and play the story over and over again with the feelings: It shouldn’t have happened; it shouldn’t have happened; it was wrong; it was wrong. How can he be so happy now when I am so miserable? It is so wrong. It is so wrong!
This word in Romans 12:19 is given to you today by God to lift that burden from you. “Never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God.” What does this mean for you? Laying down the burden of anger, laying down the practice of nursing your hurt with feelings of being wronged — laying that down — does not mean there was no great wrong against you. It does not mean there is no justice. It does not mean you will not be vindicated. It does not mean they just got away with it. No.
It means, when you lay down the burden of vengeance, God will pick it up.
This is not a subtle way of getting revenge. This is a way of giving vengeance to the one to whom it belongs. It is taking a deep breath, perhaps for the first time in decades, and feeling like now at last you may be free to love. I long so much for you to know the freedom to love.
Excerpted from Do Not Avenge Yourselves, But Give Place to Wrath, paragraphing and italics added.
For another helpful look at the wrath of God, see Tony’s post: “The Avenger.”
Topic: The Wrath of God
Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be conceited. 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”
We have grown accustomed in the modern Western world to take for granted that we have the inalienable human rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We assume that our rights should be protected by law and by force if necessary. And we feel a bewildered, almost speechless, rage when our rights are violated and nothing is done about it.
Such rights do exist, and they exist largely because of the Christian worldview that once permeated much of Western culture and to this day is the fading reason why so much freedom endures in the world. But we need to make clear that such rights were not assumed in the first century. Christianity was born in a world of totalitarianism. For 300 years there was no legal legitimacy or protection for Christianity. To convert from one of the pagan religions and say Jesus is Lord was to risk your life. This was not strange. This was the world in which the New Testament was written. Peter puts it like this—and the same thing could be written over every first-century church—“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12). In other words, it was not strange to be persecuted. What is strange historically, is that we are not.