But God avenges

Psalm 99:4, 6, 8-9 Mighty King, lover of justice, you have established fairness. You have acted with justice and righteousness throughout Israel. . . They cried to the Lord for help, and he answered them. . . O Lord our God you answered them. You were a forgiving God to them, but you punished them when they went wrong. Exalt the Lord our God, for he is holy!

Most English translations say God avenges or takes vengeance, rather than God punishes. These phrases might strike us as strong and disconcerting, but I find them comforting. Isn’t God loving and kind? Yes! AND he is holy and just. What would a world be like if there were no consequences for wrongdoing? Even more frightening: What would a world be like if vengeance or punishment were up to us individually?

In Brazil, I had the privilege of working with victims of incest. Anger was a natural and appropriate part of what they had to deal with. But there was always the temptation to become obsessed with personally paying back the aggressor for the harm he had done. The need to see justice done in the face of betrayal is powerful.

The courts have their place, but many times, significant healing took place when a person was able to give over to God the right to avenge and punish, knowing he promises to do it. And he promises to do it with justice, fairness, and righteousness. No one else knows all the factors at work in each situation. No one else can unerringly hold justice and mercy together. No one else can be fully holy and at the same time fully loving. Only God has that kind of wisdom.

Don’t let anger control you (Ephesians 4:26 quoting Psalm 4:4). How is that possible, when we have been victimized? Fully acknowledge the ugliness and wounding of the sin that was committed against us. Fully acknowledge our anger. Allow ourselves to feel and express to God the profound pain that is behind the anger and fuels it. Acknowledge that only God can appropriately avenge our suffering and thank him that he will do so. Offer all of that to God: our emotions, our wounding, our limitations, our needs. Ask him to take it from us and free us, so that the sin committed against us no longer dominates our lives.

I had the privilege of watching this dynamic many times. It surprised and amazed me that often, after going through all this, the person would spontaneously express forgiveness for the offender. It flowed naturally from the exquisite sense of freedom coming from entrusting to God the heavy burden of retribution.

Exalt the Lord our God, for he is holy!

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