“Vengeance”

“Vengeance.” Is that a loaded word or what? When we hear that word it’s easy to think of the word “revenge.” But it’s unfair to couple those two words together, at least biblically speaking. Maybe we pair these two words because they sound a lot alike. Say it aloud. “Veng-eance.” “Re-venge.” Do you see the similarity? However, biblically speaking, these two words couldn’t be more different. We know what revenge is. Revenge is getting back at someone because they harmed you.

“Revenge” is a transitive verb and is defined by Mirriam-Webster this way:

1to avenge (oneself or another) usually by retaliating in kind or degree
2to inflict injury in return for 
For example, if someone punched you in the arm and you retaliated by hitting them back. Another example would be if someone cut you off in traffic and you responded by cutting them off. That’s revenge. But “vengeance” is different, much different. Mirriam-Wesbter defines it this way:
punishment inflicted in retaliation for an injury or offense retribution

 with a vengeance

1with great force or vehemence 
2to an extreme or excessive degree 
And biblically speaking we see the context in which vengeance is attributed to certain behaviors of God. Now from personal conversations with many people (both Christian and non) believe that God is an angry, upset, disappointed, and non-caring God. Most believe this to be true because of what they read in the bible. However, they misinterpret the word “vengeance” and thus, attribute this term unrightly to God’s Personhood and character.
The example I want to look at today is Psalm 94. The psalmist’s urgent concern in this psalm is that the righteous are being oppressed, the wicked are prospering, and it does not look as though God cares. The psalmist thus pleads with God to punish the wicked. And verse one is the object of our focus today. Verse one states the following:

LORD, God of vengeance,

O God of vengeance, shine forth!

Misdefining “vengeance,” one would argue that the psalmist is calling for an angry God to come and destroy the “wicked” (cf. v.3). After all, verse two states…

Rise up, O judge of the earth; repay to the proud what they deserve! 

If the psalmist is not speaking to an angry God, then what kind of God is he speaking to? After all, the psalmist is calling on the God of vengeance to repay someone for what they deserve. Let’s stop and think through this. Is this really a bad petition to God? I don’t think so. The bible tells us that God loves justice. In fact, the author of Hebrews (10:20) states that God will judge His own people! In other words, He will bring justice to His own people. That’s fair isn’t it? And if God says He will judge His own people, isn’t it fair that He would also judge those who have rejected Him? Now, let me be clear; I am no judge, nor do I pass judgment on anyone. But God is a just God. God loves justice. In order to be a good God He must.

Vengeance from God is not in the sense of uncontrolled vindictiveness, but in the sense of just retribution by the eternal Judge for trespasses against his law. Would we expect less from such a Judge? I don’t think so. God is a God of justice and that is something that can be both a comforting and a scary idea. I suppose it depends on where you stand with God. What’s comforting as a Christian is that if God indeed is the ultimate Judge and I am one day going to face Him, according to Scripture Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross has covered my past, present, and future sins and I am justified before Him because Jesus took upon Himself what the Christian deserves. That’s extremely humbling and beautiful in every way. If this is true, and I believe that it is, then I have no reason to fret about being held accountable by God at Judgment Day. Understand, this is no way gives permission for a Christian to act however he/she wants regardless of God’s Law; nor does it lend to no earthly consequences that may follow sinful actions. This has everything to do with the Christian’s relationship and standing with the Almighty God, both today, on Judgment Day, and for eternity.

Romans 3:23 makes it clear that all humans have sinned and that it only takes one sin to render you and I deserving of eternal punishment. Sounds harsh, but that’s what it says. In fact, the first time the word “sin” appears in this verse, it is rendered singular and not plural. Thus, the wage of just one singular sin is eternal death. For the non-Christian I fear this truth. But God has given every man an answer. Jesus. No matter what you’ve done, what you’re into, how you feel, God is a loving Father with open arms. Before He makes changes to your life, He simply wants to receive you and hold you, forgive you and redeem you, and justify you before His own eyes. That’s the beginning of the journey and, in my opinion the most important part, because until that conversion happens nothing else will happen.

God is a God of love. And because He is a God of love, He loves justice and so we should love appropriate justice. When we seek justice with an attitude of retaliation the we are seeking revenge. We should forgive the person or people who have caused us damage, but also seek justice and fair restitution accordingly. May God direct your paths, each of you (Proverbs 3:5-6).