Yesterday, as I engaged in study in my church office, my phone made it’s characteristic noise that let me know I had received an e-mail. I reached over, tapped the screen and read: “Explosions Rock Boston Marathon Finish Line.” About 20 minutes earlier, two explosions brought the much celebrated Boston Marathon to a halt as the rescue mission began. Some had been killed. Many had been wounded. Blood was everywhere. An atmosphere of celebration and cheer turned to one of fear, chaos, shock, and gut-wrenching grief.
As I awoke this morning, I read that the death toll had risen to 3 with the number of injured climbing to well over 100. There is a grave concern that some of those who are injured will not survive.
As is the case with millions of other Americans, my heart aches. My heart is angered. How dare someone ruin something so wholesome as the Boston Marathon! It is in that place that achievement is celebrated. Hard work has paid off. And thousands of Americans line the streets to cheer and encourage folks they don’t know and have never met.
And then someone sets off two bombs!
How are Christians to think about this … at least in regard to how we think of the perpetrator? This is important because as followers of Christ, we really don’t have an option to determine for ourselves how we are to react. As Christ-followers, we need to know what the Scripture says so that we can think and respond accordingly.
Some think that we are to love and forgive the one who did this thing. Others think that he is deserving of the ‘eye for an eye’ principle. In fact, according to Scripture, he should get … both!
Let’s take a look at some relevant Scripture…
In Romans 12:9-21, we read how we as individual Christians are to relate to others. It begins with “Let love be genuine.” That makes sense because the two greatest commands are to 1) love God with everything we’ve got and 2) love everyone we encounter just as we care about ourselves.
Yet, in these verses, God acknowledges that not everyone is going to be easy to love. Thus, the need for the following verses:
Romans 12:14 “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.”
Romans 12:17 “Repay no one evil for evil…”
Romans 12:19-21 “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
I’ve heard that there was a ‘person of interest’ being guarded at a Boston hospital as soon as 2 hours after the ordeal. Could it be that they already have the perpetrator? Well, looking at the verses we’ve just read, is our only response to love him and forgive him (if he is actually the one who did this horrible thing)? Are we supposed to bless him and not exercise any sort of revenge?
If those questions are directed at individual Christians, the answer is a resounding “Yes!” But, if those questions are directed at the U.S. Judicial System, the answer is a resounding “No!”
Why do I make this distinction? Because the Bible does.
The very next verse after “overcome evil with good” is the first verse of Romans 13. In the previous verses, it stated clearly that we aren’t, as individuals, to seek revenge. We are to let God take vengeance. Well, how does God take vengeance upon the evil doer? Simply read the next verses.
Romans 13:1-4 “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.” (emphasis added)
This is how the “wrath of God” against evil mentioned in Romans 12:19 plays out. It comes through the government. God has personally set in place the governing authority over each country (He’s given each country exactly what they deserve). Further, they are set up by God to be “an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.”
Simply put, individual citizens are to show grace and mercy to the most guilty of criminals. Governments are to execute blind justice. Individuals are to love and forgive. Governments are to punish.
In fact, if you look at the three instances where the “eye for an eye” principle was commanded in Scripture (Exodus 21:24; Leviticus 24:20; Deuteronomy 19:21), you would notice that the context addresses Israel’s judicial system, not Israel’s individual citizens. The judicial system was to administer punishment equal to the crime (not greater or less than; i.e. “an eye for an eye”) and the individual citizens were not to take justice into their own hands.
So, in regard to the Boston Marathon tragedy, Christians should pray for the one responsible. We should pray for his salvation. We should pray for him to acknowledge his wrongdoing and make things right. If he was thirsty and we had water to give him, we should give it. If he is hungry, we should feed him.
But, at the same time, our judicial system should not let us down. Its purpose is to exercise blind justice. As individuals, we are to extend grace. But, for the betterment of society and as a deterrent to further crime, the judicial system should deal harshly and fairly with the perpetrator to the full extent of the law.
Grace AND ‘An eye for an eye’ apply!