I was doing some woodworking Tuesday when my phone chirped with a CNN alert: “ISIS photo shows Jordanian fighter burned alive.” After reading that they had put him in a cage likely dressed in fuel-doused clothing, and set him afire, I angrily bellowed, “Bomb the crap out of them!”
I made the mistake of watching (don’t) the slick but horrific video the PR people at ISIS’ made of their work. Words like Sicko, savage, barbarism, and demented come to mind. There’s a kind of fury that’s almost automatic for rational people who learn of man’s extreme inhumanity towards man. Retaliation and revenge seem the only appropriate response. Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, blood for blood, death for death.
Government leaders, military and court personnel have unique responsibilities in deciding how to respond to such evil. They are …God’s servants, sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong (Romans 13:4). But God has this to say to people who follow His Son: Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the Lord (Romans 12:19).
Even though none of us can do anything about the fighter pilot’s death, are you serious? Don’t even wish for revenge?!! Choose not to hate those people? Is that even moral?
The Bible is clear that all God’s servants should advocate for justice. But is revenge for an injustice, just? (Again, be sure to distinguish between an individual follower of Jesus, and forces of justice in the government who are servants of the Lord for the protection of citizens.)
I suspect only the gospel can soften our natural inclinations. After all, who was ever treated more unjustly than the Holy Son of God? Entire books have been written about how savagely he was tortured from the beating to the flogging to the crucifixion. Yet …He did not retaliate when he was insulted, nor threaten revenge when he suffered. He left his case in the hands of God, who always judges fairly (1 Peter 2:23). Jesus was unfairly and brutally treated…, for me. It would have been just for me to be punished like he was. For me to endure torture and death, not him. Yet instead of imposing what I so justly deserved, he took my place.
A day is coming when God will right all wrongs. Will right all wrongs. He even has a score to settle on behalf of a Jordanian fighter pilot who died in early 2015. I don’t know how that works, but I don’t doubt for a moment that He’ll square things.