“Do not say, ‘I will repay evil’; wait for the Lord, and he will deliver you.” (ESV)
When we have been affronted by some evil, or when we see someone else who has been affected by it, our natural response is to want to repay it.
Throughout the whole of human history, our natural response has been to repay in kind when we have been dealt an offense. And this is right, isn’t it? If something is wrong, we need to act to set it right. For someone who doesn’t believe in a just god, this is obviously necessary, because who else is going to do it? But even for those who believe in a God who is perfect in justice this should be something that is good and right, yes? After all, this would be our participating in His character of justice.
And yet, the clear and consistent witness of Scripture is that repaying evil is God’s prerogative and His alone. Here’s why: When we seek to repay evil, as I’ve already said, our natural approach is to respond in kind. More than that, our approach is to respond in such a manner that the offender knows better than to consider repeating the offense. In other words, in our attempt to not only repay the evil, but show enough strength that the evil is not perpetrated a second time, we cross over from justice to injustice. We respond in kind and then raise the bar. This only invites a response from the offender who has now become the offended. By this the problem continues indefinitely.
When we are willing to wait on the Lord, however, we can rest assured that justice will always be done. Perfectly. It will not always be done in the manner or in the time we would prefer, but then perfect justice and wisdom aren’t part of our sin-broken character as they are His. With God, we can know for certain that when justice is done it will be done completely. Nothing will be left out. He will repay every evil in a manner exactly suited to the offense. This is good news for the offended. What is even better news is that if the offender has embraced Christ, throwing himself on His mercy, God’s justice has already been satisfied in the crucifixion and instead of an enemy, we have a brother in Christ.
Now, this does not at all mean we don’t work for justice in this life. We should absolutely work to see justice done. But repaying evil isn’t something that falls within our purview. Preventing it, yes. Repaying it, no. Instead, we are to respond to evil with good and let God take care of the rest.
And if that sounds unsatisfying, consider this: It is an enormous burden off our shoulders to do this. When we take this approach, we don’t have to worry about repaying evil and figuring out how far is far enough to set things right. We can just love the offender and wait for God to get things resolved properly. What freedom that allows us! The temptation will certainly be there when we are offended, but when we take this path of righteousness, things will always turn out better in the end.