CBI president Dr. David Schuringa wrote this Advent devotional for the Christian Reformed Church’s Office of Social Justice. Read more Advent devotionals or sign up to receive them in your inbox.
“Do not take revenge . . . ‘I will repay,’ says the Lord.”
– Romans 12:19
Without a doubt, the Old Testament overflows with payback; “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth” was the order of the day (Deut. 19:21). In fact, payback was embedded in the creation structures to keep the moral order in balance.
However, the overarching story of the Old Testament points out the obvious: sinful humans can never fully pay back God or His image-bearers whom they offend. That’s why the history of redemption looked forward to the coming of a Messiah who would provide the payback with his own life.
And that’s exactly what Jesus did. His coming to earth, which we celebrate during this Advent season, was the beginning of a new order that completely eradicated the so-called reciprocity code (Matt. 5:38–39). This new order of the day requires us to leave retribution to God if there’s hell to pay. Indeed, we are to be reconciled to God and to consider others in light of this new point of view (2 Cor. 5:14–17).
Reconciliation rings like a bell of freedom and its melody is resounding more and more in our otherwise revengeful culture. Take the story of Christopher Bazar that recently made news headlines. Christopher, while intoxicated and high, shot and killed his best friend Donald St. Laurent, and was subsequently sentenced to three years in prison for manslaughter.
Yet, Donald’s parents did not seek payback for Christopher’s crime. Instead, they begged the court to show him mercy. When Christopher was incarcerated, they lobbied for his early release and promised that they would house him and give him a job at their family’s construction company. “I believe people deserve a second chance,” Donald’s father told the astonished parole board.
This incredible story reminds us that radical forgiveness in the face of even the most gruesome of crimes is possible only because Christ came into the world. Advent reminds us of the darkness of payback in which we’d be stuck without Jesus, and helps us look forward to a new world where redemption has fully replaced the reciprocity code.
The bitterness of payback always leaves a bad taste in our mouths. But what a joy it is to know that because of Christ, we can experience true reconciliation with God and with fellow humans, which tastes as sweet as honey from the honeycomb.
Thank you, Lord Jesus, for coming into the world to rescue us from the grip of payback. May this message penetrate our culture’s propensity for revenge and ring out with the freedom and joy that reconciliation in Christ brings. Amen.