What are we to do when people make our lives a misery? Can we ask God to “smite” them?
Christians are not immune from difficulties and we are certainly not immune from having enemies or people who take pleasure in seeing us fall. In fact, 2 Timothy 3:12 suggests that all of us who attempt to live a Christ-like life will suffer some form of persecution for our faith.
In the Old Testament, particularly in the Psalms, there are many instances of God’s people responding to being oppressed, attacked or persecuted (see also Part 3 – “Negative” Emotions). They sometimes didn’t just pray for help and rescue, but for the downfall of their enemies:
- “Let the heads of those who surround me be covered with the trouble their lips have caused. Let burning coals fall on them; may they be thrown into the fire, into miry pits, never to rise… may disaster hunt down men of violence.” (Psalm 140:9-11, NIV)
- “May his days be few… May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow. May his children be wandering beggars… May a creditor seize all he has… May their sins always remain before the LORD, that he may cut off the memory of them from the earth.” (Psalm 109:8-15, NIV)
- “O daughter of Babylon, doomed to be destroyed, blessed shall he be who repays you with what you have done to us! Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock!” (Psalm 137:8-9, ESV)
These are strong words and rightly make us feel very uncomfortable. They are full of raw emotion and show the ugly side of our humanity; evil behaviour so often results in a spiral of evil thoughts and the desire for revenge that can then lead to other evil acts that perpetuate the cycle.
Some verses in the New Testament seem to take a different attitude:
- “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!” (Matthew 5:44, NLT)
- “Never take revenge, my friends, but instead let God’s anger do it. For the scripture says, I will take revenge, I will pay back, says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19, GNT)
So, can we still pray for our enemies to be punished? Jesus certainly seems to have wanted to soften the attitude of God’s people towards their enemies. Yet, Paul appears to suggest that the only thing that would be wrong would be actually carrying out revenge ourselves – praying for God to take revenge on our behalf looks (according to Romans 12:19) to be ok.
How might we reconcile these apparently divergent views? We might say that those who wrote the Old Testament were still on a learning curve – they hadn’t yet realised that God wanted them to be different to other nations by not demanding horrific revenge and reprisals. But, that doesn’t really account for Paul’s advice.
An alternative possibility might be to recognise that we do get wronged and are angered by it and the best way to deal with this is to vent before God, telling him what we would (in our anger) wish on others. This avoids taking revenge ourselves and puts the matter in God’s hands. Indeed, the New Testament still suggests that some will unfortunately be on the receiving end of some form of punishment from God – punishment for wrong is not simply an Old Testament idea.
Leaving matters with God involves us trusting him to do the right thing. It involves a long term commitment on our part to divine justice rather than a quick tit for tat. God can take our angry, twisted wishes for violence and translate them into true justice and in his timing – maybe soon, maybe a long time off, perhaps not until Christ returns.
Yet, although this “venting” may be more healthy than taking matters into our own hands, it still falls short of where we can aim to be – following the example of Jesus. Once we have dealt with our negative feelings, we can be transformed by God as we release them into his hands and allow ourselves to see our enemies in a new light.
God can transform our anger into a loving concern for those who have wronged us. Like Jesus, we can come to the point where we can pray for their forgiveness, because they do not know what they are really doing.
Our anger can serve a positive function by indicating that injustice has been done – we have indeed been wronged and God has been sinned against. Yet, it is not up to us to remedy things. We are right to notice sin and injustice and right to voice it to God. The right thing to do then is to leave it with him and pray for our enemies in love.
What do you think? Can you vent your anger before God or do you just hope it goes away? Can you find ways to pray for your enemies in love whilst also praying for justice?
© Joe Lenton, July 2012