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On Divine Vengeance [Jul. 24th, 2007|09:34 am]
Dan
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. "But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in doing so you will heap burning coals on his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
~ Ro 12.19-21

For awhile now, I have suspected that God claims a monopoly on vengeance because the divine implementation of vengeance might look very different than we imagine it to be.

You see, we have tended to imagine vengeance as punitive, as retributive, and, usually, as some form of violence -- "an eye for an eye," and the sort of thing prescribed in the Lex Taliones. Such an understanding of vengeance declares that the punishment must be "equal in magnitude" to the crime. Hence, the more violent the crime, the more violent the punishment. Yet what is the result of this? An ever-expanding spiral of violence.

However, Ro 12 makes it clear that Christians are not to engage in any form of vengeance. Rather than "repaying" those who wrong them, Christians are to respond with acts of mercy. Instead of ensuring a form of punishment that is equal in magnitude to the crimes committed against them, Christians are to respond with a form of grace that matches the violence of the wrongdoing. Hence, the more violent the crime, the more gracious the response of the Christian community. And what is the result of this? Evil is overcome with good.

Indeed, where this begins to become intriguing is that this is precisely the way in which Jesus overcame evil. On the cross, God declared his judgment on sinners and, behold, it was a judgment of grace and of forgiveness. On the cross, Jesus suffered at the hands of violent men, crying out, "Father, forgive them!" and evil was overcome with good.

Hence, we come to see why God claims sole ownership over vengeance. We are too inclined to see grace and vengeance as opposites. On the cross, God reveals his vengeance as grace. We tend to think that vengeance means inflicting violence on others. On the cross, God shows us that vengeance means taking violence onto ourselves. We tend to think of wrath as a destructive force. On the cross, God's wrath is revealed as God's wounded, but life-giving, love.

Which leads me back to one of my favourite biblical passages, Is 35.3-4, which goes as follows:

Strengthen the feeble hands,
steady the knees that give way;
say to those with fearful hearts,
"Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come,
he will come with vengeance;
with divine retribution
he will come to save you."


The vengeance of God is our salvation. It is salvation for "the oppressed" and it is salvation for "the oppressor." This, I think, is good news.

Maranatha, come quickly and save us, Lord Jesus. Amen.
linkReply

Comments:
From: ext_40684
2007-07-25 05:14 pm (UTC)
Good post. I've come to the conclusion that it's a mistake for Christians to subscribe to "just war" theory, as I have done in the past. I still think there's such a thing as a just war, from a purely secular point of view. But since I'm taking my cue from Brueggemann these days, I now maintain that Christians ought to imagine and articulate another way of being, however "out of touch" it may appear from the perspective of the present world order.

I wonder about the implications of your argument from the perspective of atonement theory. The standard evangelical line is that Jesus took upon himself God's vengeance that would otherwise have been directed at us. You seem to be saying that God does not punish sin, period: not in us, and not in Jesus. But perhaps I'm pressing your argument in a direction you hadn't intended.
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[User Picture]From: poserorprophet
2007-07-25 10:27 pm (UTC)
Well, I'm glad that you've concluded that Christians cannot formulate a "just war" theory. I agree that such a thing may exist from some other view points, but, like Brueggemann and yourself these days, I am much more interested in what can or should exist from a Christian point of view.

As for the way in which the "atonement theory" relates to this post, well, there is much that I find troublesome about the standard evangelical line. Personally, I'm much more drawn to the Christus Victor model.

So does God, then, "punish" sin? I think so, but not as many of us tend to imagine. The punishment for sin, as far as I can tell, is being abandoned to the consequences of our own decisions. According to this view, punishment has much more to do with divine absence and inactivity, than it has to do with divine presence and action. Hence, I would argue that when God does return, when God chooses to act and become present once again, it is in the manner that I described in this post. Furthermore, such an understanding of "punishment" is one that sees God as sharing in our punishment -- sure, we experience "exile" because of our sins, but God also goes into "exile" because of our sins. This punishment for sin is simply the suffering that sin produces, and it is a suffering that God shares with us. This shared suffering reaches its climax on the cross and in Jesus' descent into hell. From here on out, we now discover God with the godforsaken.

Of course, there is much more to this than we have mentioned. For example, we need to recognise that we often bear the burdens of the sins of others, but what is wonderful about the Christian story is that God -- and Jesus especially -- become the model for us, showing us how to bear those burdens salvifically as we proclaim the forgiveness of sins.

Grace and peace.
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From: rickeyswindell
2008-10-09 05:28 pm (UTC)
The truth of the gospel is this: Jesus not only took upon Himself my guilt, my sin, and God’s wrath for it on the cross—he also took upon himself throughout all of his suffering MY SHAME.
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From: (Anonymous)
2007-07-25 05:47 pm (UTC)

Maybe a quibble?

For Paul(and Acts more clearly) isn't it the false judgment of humanity at the cross that is nullified in the resurrection thus revealing Christ to be God's judge over all? Christ as future judge is a primary theme not tempered by hints of this final graciousness of Jesus. How do we account for that?

Where is the warrant in Paul's thinking for seeing the cross as the revelation of GOD'S judgment, wrath, or vengeance as you have emphasized it? Isn't it rather the apocalyptic struggle with death in the grave that overcomes evil not Jesus' words of forgiveness or Jesus' disposition to his killers' violence? Aren't the historical details superfluous to the account of the Son of God descending, dying cursed, and rising to Paul?

Yours truly,
Fido
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[User Picture]From: poserorprophet
2007-07-25 10:40 pm (UTC)

Re: Maybe a quibble?

Fido,

You raise some good questions. I certainly agree with you that the cross reveals the "false judgment of humanity" and reveals Christ as God's future judge of all. However, I would also argue the the cross reveals ways in which we tend to misunderstand God's judgment, and I would hasten to add that the way in which Christ exercised judgment during his time among us surely points to the way in which he will exercise judgment at the end. The burden of proof, as they say, is on those who would posit some sort of inconsistency in Christ.

As for Paul, well, by raising the issue of Paul's awareness (or lack thereof) of the "historical details" of Jesus' life, and the ways in which those details did or did not impact his "Christology," you've opened a rather large can of worms. The debate about this rages back and forth and will probably continue to do so for some time. For what it's worth, I think that Paul was more aware of the historical details of Jesus' life than many imagine, and I think that those details had a large impact on his theology.

So what about the issue of Paul's understanding of "judgment, wrath, or vengeance" in relation to the cross? Well, when those things are defined, as I have defined them (and not as they are traditionally defined) then I think the door is opened to coherence with Paul. This, of course, relates to another large can of worms: whether or not one can describe Paul as a full-blown "universalist." I think Paul is ambiguous about this issue, and it is that ambiguity that supports the reading of judgment, wrath, and vengeance that I provide in this post.

Grace and peace.
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From: (Anonymous)
2007-07-25 09:49 pm (UTC)

Vengeance and Real God

Real God, that is The Infinitely Radiant Divine Conscious Light which shines equally on all beings, even the most morally obnoxious, is not the kind of being that instigates vengeance.

Neither is Real God in any sense whatsoever a "wrathful" being. Such language is the language of a frightened child cowering before a punitive father ---it is pure projection, the parental deity.

On the other hand the universe is a multi-dimensional indivisible oneness, full of space-time paradoxes, in which everything is in one way or another inter-connected. It is entirely psycho-physical in its nature, not just physical. It is "governed" my the immutable laws of psycho-physics. For every action there is always, in one way or another, and sooner or later, an equal and opposite inevitable reaction, response or manifestation. As you sow then thus you shall inevitably reap.

The Eastern traditions call it karma and they also point out that the laws or karma are immutable---that is, sooner or later individuals and groups will get their come-uppance. That cosmic justice may take a very long time to work itself out.

This understanding of how the psycho-physics of both individual and collective action(s)in the world work their way out is very sobering to say the least. Properly understood it calls for an uncommonly profound transformation of ones entire being.

This essay gives a unique understanding of the origins & consequences of the unspeakably dreadful politics & "culture" created in the image of the frightened child who invents the parental deity.

1. www.dabase.org/coop+tol.htm Plus 2. www.coteda.com

This essay offers a criticism of the nieve, emotionally primitive, self serving, self consoling, "creator god" idea---the parental deity

3. www.aboutadidam.org/readings/parental_deity/index.html
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[User Picture]From: poserorprophet
2007-07-25 10:56 pm (UTC)

Re: Vengeance and Real God

Hey Anon,

I had some fun reading your comment, even though I would probably disagree with you about a good number of things -- not least your appropriation of Freud in conjunction with the notion of karma! For what it's worth, I find Lacan's and Zizek's interpretations of Freud to be far more interesting -- and dare I say accurate? Perhaps significant would be a better word -- than Freud himself.

However, leaving Freud aside, I fail to see how karma and the notion of the gracious (and sovereign) God of Christianity can go hand-in-hand with one another. Indeed, one of the truly wonderful aspects of the Christian story, IMHO, is precisely the announcement that God liberates us from any seemingly "immutable" laws (psycho-physical or otherwise!) of cause and effect (this liberation is what Christians call "grace" or "forgiveness").

Anyway, thanks for stopping by and making me smile. If you feel up to it, I'd be curious to hear how, in your understanding, the "Real God" that you describe can be upheld at the same time as the laws of karma. What exactly is the relationship between the "Real God" and karma?

Grace and peace,

Dan
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From: (Anonymous)
2007-07-25 10:06 pm (UTC)
"evil was overcome with good."

That is a proclamation that awaits fulfillment.

The softer the punishment, the more likely the crime will be repeated. Or are you advocating gracious forgiveness and an abandonment of punishment? I don't think the gospel story avoids punative justice. That god's wrath was visited upon Jesus instead of humanity does not remove the fact that the bible models wrath and violent judgment.

"the more violent the crime, the more gracious the response of the Christian community. And what is the result of this? Evil is overcome with good."

I find this interesting in light of an article I recently read (http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-lostfaith21jul21,0,3530015,full.story?coll=la-home-center). Clearly the soft approach of the church has been a source of great offence and disgust to those observing its handling of public and perverted abuse.

"salvation for the oppressor?" I'm not sure where this is found in christian theology? Perhaps in universal salvation models, but I don't recall that being mainstream christian teaching? The bible is full to brim with gods wrath and violence being promised and dished out upon the wicked and the oppressors.

"he will come with vengeance;
with divine retribution
he will come to save you."
It seems rather clear that vengeance was coming for someone, if not for gods people.

Skeptic
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From: (Anonymous)
2007-07-26 06:55 am (UTC)

Love Never Fails

While the bible may at times portray a wrathful God, I take great hope in the scriptures which re-iterate that His anger lasts but a moment but His favour is for a life-time.

Dr Martin Luther King was a great example of good overcoming evil.. if I may quote him here...

"We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We shall meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will, and we shall continue to love you. Throw us in jail, and we shall still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and we shall still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us half dead, and we shall still love you. But be assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win freedom, but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory."

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From: (Anonymous)
2007-07-26 11:05 am (UTC)

Re: Love Never Fails

His anger may last for a moment but the bible depicts consequences that last for eternity. It only takes a moment to do irrevocable harm. The possible brevity of his wrath still leaves us with wrath and vengeance, violent vengeance according to the bible. the bible is full of contradictory imagery about wrath and forgiveness and I'm certainly not saying that all the bible offers is wrath and violence, but that is a strong them throughout. Neither man, woman, nor child (nor animal) was safe from the god of the old testament - and although Jesus offers a softening or escape from gods wrath the bible still suggest that that same violent wrath is coming for the wicked.

I recognize the inherent and potential power of love overcoming evil, and there are a few notable examples of it, but on the whole I see love being trampled over as the general practice of the world. Pacific love conquering evil seems to me to be a minority event - in the bible and in the real world.
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From: (Anonymous)
2007-07-26 11:08 am (UTC)

Re: Love Never Fails

Uhm, that last post was mine, forgot to sign it. Sorry.

Skeptic
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From: (Anonymous)
2007-07-26 11:19 am (UTC)

Re: Love Never Fails

The greatest victory ever won was done with an act of pacific love... thanks Jesus.

Names like Dr Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Gandhi... ring any bells?

The same God who commands us to turn the other cheek, love our enemies, pray for those who seek to harm us... this same God does not follow the same standards He expects of His followers?

That's not my God anyway...
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From: (Anonymous)
2007-07-26 10:33 pm (UTC)

Re: Love Never Fails

That's some really great name-dropping...perhaps you missed the point where I said there have been some notable examples and that the inherent potential and power of love is recognized? In your zeal don't forget the countless millions who have lived (and are presently living) under the weight of cruel oppression. The stories of Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Gandhi all attest to cruel reality that so many face.

As for the "greatest victory ever won" that is still waiting to be seen. That is an article of faith not a historically observable fact. God had lots of victories in the bible - many of them through genocide and almost all through great violence and wrath. Not much cheek turning happening in the OT, and although Jesus offered a sacrificial example the eschatological underpinnings still refer to wrath, judgment, and violence.

"this same God does not follow the same standards He expects of His followers?"

Quite the contrary - I would say his followers have happily followed his standards throughout the church's bloody history.

"That's not my god anyway..."

How very protestant. The liberal freedom to pick and choose which aspects and which god to worship. I agree with you in that at least -that's not my god either.
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From: (Anonymous)
2007-07-26 10:33 pm (UTC)

Re: Love Never Fails

whoops, forgot to sign again

Skeptic
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From: (Anonymous)
2007-08-10 08:32 pm (UTC)

Re: Love Never Fails

The genocide that occurs in the OT is what some call a "severe mercy." The cultures that God allows to come to ruin are cultures that are so wicked and demonized that should they be allowed to proliferate much longer they would destroy everything in their path. Their hardness of heart and the generational sin in the lines is such that they will not turn to God. In order to defend those who would not be able to resist the harm these cultures would inflict God allows their enemies to destroy them. God could have allowed these people groups to die long before they did. He "turned his cheek" for a long time. In his mercy he was giving them the chance to repent but they didn't. We don't understand how someone could be angry and full of grace without sinning or contradicting themselves in some way. We don't understand God's holiness.

I would also like to add that the bible does have a few provisos about punishment. Jesus qualifies the eternal wrath of God by saying that more is expected of those who know more about him. Remember that Jesus' audience (the potentially damned) in the gospels were Jews- people who knew the law and claimed to live by it. Also, there are venial and mortal sins (it's not just a Catholic thing).

God justice allows him to respect our decisions. If we choose something other than him we will honor that choice. The absence of God is hell. Remeber also that God's wrath is a righteous response to evil. How can righteousness be separate from love? Violence has several meanings and not all of them are bad. Might I invite you to look further into that word?

I have been where you seem to be. I hated the vengeful God of Jacob for a long time (some 25 years). I'm still grappling with some of these issues. You're hungry for truth and I encourage you to keep searching rather than hold to the conclusion you've come to.
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From: (Anonymous)
2007-07-26 05:58 pm (UTC)
Perhaps my picture of vengeance is just as tainted as my picture of love. Perhaps my picture of success is just as tainted as my picture freedom.
Perhaps I'm not nearly as close to the kingdom as I think I am.

All of this to say, God have mercy on me.

Peter
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[User Picture]From: poserorprophet
2007-07-26 11:42 pm (UTC)
Peter,

Yes, yes, and yes. I am just as skeptical about most contemporary notions of "love" as I am suspicious of most Evangelical notions of "judgment." That said, Richard Hays has a great little section called "Why Love and Liberation Are Not Sufficient" in his Moral Vision of the New Testament. It's worth looking at if you have the time.

Grace and peace,

Dan
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From: (Anonymous)
2011-04-14 05:27 pm (UTC)

acai berry pronunciation

Time is too slow for those who wait, too swift for those who fear, too long for those who grieve, too short for those who rejoice, but for those who love, time is eternity.
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