Bless Those Who Curse You…How?

Posted on December 21, 2015 in Justice

Bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you...

In my last post, I identified four tensions that followers of Jesus must navigate in obeying His command to love our enemies:

  • The enemies we see are human beings who bear the image and likeness of God.
  • The Bible tells us we battle not against flesh and blood, but against spiritual forces of evil.
  • People are free to choose whom they will serve, and will reap what they sow.
  • God says vengeance is His, and He will repay.

The good news is that God has given us practical guidance for doing so. In the book of Romans, the apostle Paul portrays these tensions as matters of individual vs. nation-state conduct.

Paul starts by writing that we are not to avenge ourselves, but rather to give place to God to exercise his judgment. He quotes a Proverb of King Solomon, one given in his day for people who were leaders or aspired to leadership:

If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat;
If he is thirsty, give him water to drink;
For you will heap burning coals on his head,
And the Lord will reward you.

The imagery of “burning coals” implies retribution. So, does this proverb say God rewards us individually for avenging evil?

In ancient Middle Eastern culture, burning coals were a symbol of repentance. People carried a bowl holding burning coals on their heads as a sign they were remorseful and had turned away from wrong they had done.

The idea, then, is to bless those who curse you and do good to those who hate you, that it might move them to consider what they’re doing and change their minds. How? The proverb above implies giving practical human comfort. But it also pictures what we can do in the spiritual realm through prayer. God says the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

If we bless those who curse us and want to harm us, and they don’t turn from their evil ways, then we are to leave it to God to avenge. But that doesn’t mean He wants people to stand by and do nothing.

Paul also wrote that God invests governments with authority to restrain evil (he wrote this during the height of the brutal Roman Empire). He said government’s job is to be a terror to evil and to bear the sword as God’s avengers to execute His wrath on evildoers.

So the picture looks like this: individual followers of Jesus are to bless those who curse them and rely on government authorities to make retribution. That’s a huge responsibility, and we need to pray for our leaders to exercise it wisely.

And if the evil is in our face, right now? Self-defense is a well-established constitutional right in the United States. So if it must come to that, then we have the authority from God, as delegated to our government, to defend ourselves, our loved ones, and our neighbors. Better, we have access to the Holy Spirit for wisdom on whether and how to wield that authority in every circumstance.

As you face the present tensions and dangers in our country and our world, consider this: human laws, and the consequences of breaking them, don’t stop evildoers. Laws can’t make people love others. Laws can’t make people respect others’ rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Then what can?

My thoughts on that question in my next post. Meanwhile, consider these words from James, Jesus’ half-brother:

Let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.