“Forgiveness is relinquishing your right to get even to God.”
“Put vengeance in God’s hands. He’ll take care of it.”
If I had a dollar for every time I heard that growing up I’d be giving Bill Gates a run for his money (okay, maybe not, but I still heard it a lot). But asking God to get vengeance on somebody who wronged me never quite felt like forgiveness–if anything it fueled my anger and made me feel just a tad-bit self-righteous that, haha, maybe I can’t get back at you but just you wait, God can do way worse to you than I ever could!
Not exactly forgiveness, eh?
Maybe I just misunderstood what people what people were saying. I think the more legit spiritual people who said it probably meant put the situation in God’s hands and give it up. I think the other people, those who had the wrong idea about forgiveness, genuinely meant to let God get vengeance instead of seeking it oneself. I want to address those latter people.
You see, I got to reading the Bible one day about forgiveness, and I got to reading about Jesus and His trial and crucifixion. You ever notice that when the people came against Him He wouldn’t defend Himself? He didn’t argue with them or try to stand up for Himself or His reputation. When they asked a question He would speak the simple truth (check out Luke 22). Are you the Son of God? Ye say that I am.
Let’s fast forward to the cross. When Jesus was dying He looked down on His persecutors and said, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do (Luke 23:34).” He didn’t say “Father, I’m giving vengeance to You.” He didn’t say, “Father, I’m putting vengeance in Your hands to give them what they deserve.”
No, He said, “Father, forgive them…”
Flip a few books over to Acts 7:59-60. Stephen is being stoned for speaking the truth.
“And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.”
What did Stephen pray as he kneeled down? “Lord, I’m not gonna be around much longer than a few minutes so I’m asking You to get vengeance on them”? “Lord, I can’t get back at them so I’m asking You to”? “Sure, Lord, I forgive them. I know they’ll get what’s coming to them.”
No. he prayed, “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.” He essentially mirrored Jesus’ statement on the cross: “Father, forgive them…”
You see, both Jesus and Stephen knew that their persecutors were souls with eternities ahead of them. They understood that the pain they were suffering was temporary, but that if the people who were hurting them were to die unforgiven, they would have an eternity of pain and suffering ahead of them. Jesus and Stephen saw the bigger picture.
They understood true forgiveness. It wasn’t about letting God get vengeance; it was about pleading with God for mercy. It was praying for their enemies to be saved.
Could we take it one step further? God has been in the business of blessing people since the beginning of time. We so often hear “it rains on the just and the unjust” to mean that both good and bad people have bad things happen to them. But keep in mind that in the Bible most people were farmers. Rain was a blessing. In that light, it raining on the just and unjust means that God blesses both the good and the evil.
Could we find enough forgiveness in our hearts to ask God to bless those who hurt us?
Didn’t Jesus ask that of us? (Matthew 5:44 if you care to look it up)
Let’s look on the flip side. Because there was a point where two of the disciples wanted hellfire to come down on the people who wouldn’t accept Jesus and Jesus turned around and rebuked them:
“And they did not receive him, because his face was as though he would go to Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did? But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them. And they went to another village.” Luke 9:53-56
I get the feeling that God never wanted us to give vengeance to Him to dole out.
So when we go to forgive–when we decide to “put vengeance in God’s hands” let’s do it with the attitude that we’re putting it in His nail-scarred hands. The hands that bled because of His love for us. And let that blood wash away that vengeance. After all,
“Love covers a multitude of sins.” I Peter 4:8b