Retribution and Its Consuming Fire

“Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. For ‘Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.’” 1 Peter 3:9-12 (ESV)

From what planet did the man writing these verses come from? Equal retaliation for an evil deed is a must on everyone’s agenda! Eye for eye, tooth for tooth—right? Isn’t that what the good book teaches? History gives countless stories of deep animosities, sometimes stretched over generations, of bigotry and hatred. Occasionally cultures have warred for so long that the original violation is lost to proverbial Father-Time.

Recently I’ve been alarmed by the countless modern cultural icons pressing vengeance as a remedy for evil. While every malevolent deed must be judged and punished, it’s no longer satisfying enough to let government deal with penalization. Maybe it’s a lack of trust as laws have become too lenient, or fear that a wrong will go unanswered—whatever the justification, personal revenge has sought a place in modern western civilization. It’s become a rarity to watch a TV show where a main character does not have some personal vendetta to execute upon some horrible dastardly villain—the system is broken. I’m not justifying wickedness mind you; it’s just that accepting vigilantism as de facto places a danger upon culture. Each man becomes a god executing their own form of justice upon their nemesis—it’s a wild-west mentality deposing the rule of law.

When avenging an evil (achieving justice) becomes revenge (which seems to find a home from hatred), there are not many steps until a soul is brought to seeking vengeance (the hot desire for retribution). Whiles all three highlighted words refer to “getting even” for having injured you or yours, the difference appears to be the degree in which you allow self to be consumed with anger over evil done against you. Retribution becomes a consuming fire controlling the mind of a vindictive individual. Sleep, sound sleep is no longer available as the weight of reprisal bears upon a psyche. Truly, retribution is a dark night of the soul. More and more our modern western society is falling prey to the barbarianism of personal vengeance. This happens in every society that slips away from the truth of God who says, “Vengeance is Mine.”

If there’s to be an end to allowing the passion of retribution and its consuming fire from commanding a soul, a return to believing that “God is against all those who do evil” is necessary. He will execute punishment upon the wicked! But this belief is difficult to accomplish if you don’t believe in God in the first place. The anger deeply embedded in vengeance can only eat at the soul. However, the command in 1 Peter 3 is more than just letting go of anger, it’s the actual expectation of not repaying evil for evil. In fact, Peter is so radical with his appeal that he includes the action of blessing the one who deserves reviling—crazy thought. Oh, I know the radio talk show hosts and intellectuals of western culture will have a hissy over this advice. “Eye for eye, tooth for tooth” I hear them crying—until we’re all blind and toothless! This type of vigilantism is the only direction you can go when you refuse to believe in a God who is just and righteous—you end up with a fiery anger consuming your life.

But to those choosing a belief that the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and the promise of God’s ears being open to their prayer; preservation is extended. And the dominate characteristic of such an individual—they have peace! The answer: Let him seek peace and pursue it.

J. Robert Hanson


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