“Bless those who persecute you…. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone…. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God…. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:14, 17, 19, 21)
He’s probably right.
Our culture is utterly immersed in violence, much like the ancient Roman world to which Paul wrote. Violence entertains us (e.g. gaming, film, and MMA). It increasingly expresses itself in domestic abuse, road rage, and even political rallies. We insist on the right to buy powerful weaponry for our homes. And we’re proud of our military muscle. Even Marvel’s Superheroes exhibit little character development but plenty of wham, bam, and slam.
Much of this culture of violence arises from two sources: fear and conditioning. On the one hand, we have been taught to fear everyone and everything. “Be prepared to defend yourself!” On the other hand, we have become conditioned by gaming and film. Indeed, our fantasy gaming is not just distraction. It’s rehearsal. It conditions the mind to react in specific aggressive ways to various stimuli.
The Jesus of the Gospels would not likely endorse our aggression. Nor would the Apostle Paul.
Paul had a deep conviction that violence does not overcome violence; it exacerbates it. He understood that vengeance has all sorts of difficulties.
1) We tend to over-react and respond disproportionately;
2) We usually do not know the motives or intentions of the other person, and therefore cannot exact true justice;
3) As victims, we cannot be objective, restrained, or balanced; and
4) Only God sees the true and full picture.
Can we trust Christ with vengeance? “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord” (Romans 12:19; Deuteronomy 32:35) But what if we lose something of value? What if we lose our lives?
Is not Jesus “the Resurrection and the Life” (John 11:25)?
When Paul writes to the Romans, his words must have sounded as strange and difficult to that audience as they do to us. Throughout Romans 12, he details what it means to “be transformed by the renewing of our minds” (Romans 12:2). In short, everything Paul describes is counter-cultural. The world calls it weak and foolish. Non-violence seems like an invitation to suffer. So we cry out,”Let’s get concealed-weapon permits and fight fire with fire.”
But the Gospel challenges our fear and conditioning, and our Second Amendment rights. Paradoxically, the Kingdom of non-violence prevails through peace, and Paul would urge some of us to revisit our Netflix choices, our gaming preferences, and our gun safes.