Hi all. This is just a quick follow up. My post on Who Pays? took a different turn than I intended. I think I got a little convicted while I was writing, and so talked about unseen consequences and personal responsibility for pain and turmoil in the world.
I actually meant to explore what God’s justice means for us when we are wronged. I thought a look at God’s vengeance and repayment in the case of Hagar would address the problem of justice being so seemingly arbitrarily meeted out—sometimes people have to deal with the consequences of their unrighteous actions and sometimes they just get away with them.
Does that mean God sometimes cares and sometimes doesn’t?
I think our post-cross perspective can lend to the idea that God overlooks sin—that any kind of desire for recompense or restitution is petty and evil. But God’s character and standards are revealed in the Old Testament Law. All that eye for an eye stuff is a reflection of his perfect justice. He didn’t trade in part of his character at the cross. It is because of his uncompromising character that the cross was necessary. The price for wickedness and rebellion had to be paid. And it was. Forgiveness is available. Because of Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf we can be freed from the power of sin and restored to relationship with God.
But people still wrong each other every day. However much guilt we may bear, we also suffer undeserved cruelty and injustice at the hands of others. And we can turn on the news and watch it happening all over the world. The effects of sin are not all nullified because of the cross.
Followers of Christ are not be vengeful when we are wronged. Those who hurt us may be undeserving of our mercy, but we are undeserving of Christ’s. It just isn’t our place.* However, God is not any less concerned with crime, abuse, victimization, and exploitation than he was in the days of Ezekiel and Jeremiah.
Ezekiel 22:29-31 (NASB)
29 “The people of the land have practiced oppression and committed robbery, and they have wronged the poor and needy and have oppressed the sojourner without justice.
30 “I searched for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand in the gap before Me for the land, so that I would not destroy it; but I found no one.
31 “Thus I have poured out My indignation on them; I have consumed them with the fire of My wrath; their way I have brought upon their heads,” declares the Lord GOD.
Jeremiah 22:13-17 (NASB)
13 “Woe to him who builds his house without righteousness And his upper rooms without justice, Who uses his neighbor’s services without pay And does not give him his wages,
14 Who says, ‘I will build myself a roomy house With spacious upper rooms, And cut out its windows, Paneling it with cedar and painting it bright red.’
15 “Do you become a king because you are competing in cedar? Did not your father eat and drink And do justice and righteousness? Then it was well with him.
16 “He pled the cause of the afflicted and needy; Then it was well. Is not that what it means to know Me?” Declares the LORD.
17 “But your eyes and your heart Are intent only upon your own dishonest gain, And on shedding innocent blood And on practicing oppression and extortion.”
In fact, God says the reason we don’t need to repay is because he’s got it.
Romans 12:19 (NASB)
19 Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord.
Justice doesn’t mean we won’t feel the effects of others’ sins. Hagar suffered much before she even heard from God that he cared. And then she continued to suffer at the hands of her oppressors. But God told her he’d take care of it, see it made right—and he did.
As far as I can tell, the bottom line is that we just can’t know how God’s justice will work out in any given situation. We don’t have the perspective to see exactly how freedom, grace, mercy, justice, and God’s overall plan for mankind are being weaved together according to his purposes. Will the unjust be called to account quickly? Will the offense be championed through God’s guidance in the development of world history? Will the consequences of some sins not be answered until the final outpouring of wrath?
What we can know is that he sees and he cares. Retribution is not wrong…it just isn’t ours. God, himself, takes up our offenses when we are wronged. He is not passive. He is passionate. One way or another, he sees to it that all wrongs are made right.
At least that’s how I understand it. What do you think?
*(Just to be clear, I’m talking about individual believers here—this is no kind of statement about civil authority, criminal justice, or military ethics.)