For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Hebrews 10, verses 30-31.
Before we move off these verses, let’s talk about revenge.
Verse 30 is a quote from Deuteronomy 32:35, meaning that the quote goes back to Moses. They are part of what’s called “the Song of Moses,” which was a recitation he gave in front of the assembled Israelites. In it, he’s saying farewell to his fellow Israelites, warning them to not push God to the limit. God gave them free will but He did so in order for them to want to love Him willingly. Moses doesn’t have much time left, and he uses it to explain, one more time, the mercy and justice of the Lord. Immediately after, he says that the Lord will judge His chosen people. Left out from the book of Hebrews quote is how got “will have compassion on his servants when he sees their strength is gone and no one is left slave or free.”
On one hand God talks about judging people harshly, and on the other hand God talks about having compassion on them. My friend the atheist might be laughing at this because it would appear to give credence to his assertion that God is crazy. Except that it doesn’t.
The Song of Moses sings about the same thing the Hebrews 10 says: God is just and merciful. When you devote your heart to God, you set yourself apart from the scoffers, critics, and God-haters. When you realize how full love, peace, justice, and harmony are found only in God’s Son, Jesus, you say to the world “I believe. I’m not like the others.” Elitist? Not at all. It’s a profession of faith in understanding that the Triune God of Abraham, Issac and Jacob is a God of peace and understanding, but that, like any parent, His peace and understanding have limits. When we push our ultimate parent to His limit, should it be a surprise that we would incur His wrath?
It does no good to try to predict what that wrath would look like. Fire, tribulation, burning sulfur, the agony of hell: perhaps it could be any of these. Perhaps, too, it could be discord, anxiety, difficulty, troubles, even depression. These, too, can be God’s tools to avenge our rebellion. What did the song say: “Be careful what you wish for cause you just might get it.” Perhaps God’s wrath in our lives is coated in sensual pleasure. But notice a couple of things about whatever medium He chooses. One, whatever evils beset us, they only do because of our own pulling away from God. He’s still there, in the center, where He always is. It is us who move away; it is us who draw ourselves away from His mercy and grace. Draw far enough away and it would be as if He had drawn Himself out of our lives, which He cannot do because He loves us unconditionally.
Notice, too, that all of those pains are temporary things. They are physical or emotional difficulties that come into our lives for a relatively short time. When they do, they are actually for our good. That can be hard to see, but it’s true. God disciplines those He loves, and discipline can be tough to endure. Sometimes it’s terrible; sometimes it even lasts for years. Yet it isn’t permanent, and if we submit ourselves to it, we are disciplined, ‘discipled,’ and made stronger.
Finally, notice that God doesn’t ensnare us into the dread of His justice. We fall into it. Through some kind of circumstance, we initiate that falling. We place ourselves in rebellion against Him and, when we’ve reached the limit of His patience, we are before Him, subject to judgment. Is that fair?
Fair? What is fair but a four-letter F-word? God is the arbiter of fair. Apart from seeing fair through the lens of God, our interpretation of fairness is skewed. God owes us nothing, yet He constantly provides even if it’s only life, air, and food. We earn His judgment, yet He’s constantly working to help us avoid it. He knows that, apart from Him, we can do nothing. He understands that, with our limited comprehension, to stand guilty before Him would be a dreadful thing for our soul. God knows that revenge is a terrible thing, even if we bring His revenge on ourselves, and He’d rather spare us that consequence.
For further reading: Deuteronomy 32:35-36, Romans 12:19, Psalm 135:14, 2 Corinthians 5:11, Isaiah 19:16, Matthew 16:16; John 15:15.
Lord, I pray, discipline and mentor me that my heart may change and I may turn from my sinful ways to avert Your vengeance.