Monday, March 21, 2016

Vengeance is Mine!

If you’re like me, you probably spent the weekend binge-watching the second season of Marvel’s Daredevil on Netflix. The first four episodes pit Daredevil against one of Marvel’s most iconic anti-heroes—The Punisher. After the mob guns down his wife and children for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, Frank Castle utilizes his military training to exact revenge. Now serving as judge, jury, and executioner, The Punisher wages a one man war against those who have done him wrong, leaving bullet-riddled bodies in his wake.

Despite his murderous wrath, Punisher is actually a likable character. We relate to his loss. We understand his thirst for revenge. The desire to "get even" seems to be woven into the human psyche. Revenge and retaliation are natural instincts. In an unusual story in the Old Testament, however, David shows us a better way.

David’s victory over the hulking Philistine, Goliath, won him the admiration and affection of everyone in Israel; everyone, that is, except King Saul. Saul saw David’s valor and victory as a threat to his throne and, thus, sought repeatedly to kill David. But when faced with the opportunity to pay Saul back for all the harm he’d done, David choose a different path. He showed Saul mercy and spared his life, then announced: “May the Lord judge between us. Perhaps the Lord will punish you for what you are trying to do to me, but I will never harm you” (1 Samuel 24:12 NLT).

Rather than take revenge on his enemy, David put the matter into God’s hands. We all have a Saul in our lives. It might be an employer who unfairly fired you. It might be a spouse who abandoned you. It might be a mom or dad who failed you. It could be a friend who betrayed you. Whatever the case, you now live in the backwash of mistreatment. You have been “done wrong,” and maybe you’re waiting for your moment to get even. Instead, do what David did. Trust God to be the judge.

In the 2004 movie, The Punisher, a friend tells Frank, “Vaya con Dios, Castle. Go with God.” Frank Castle’s reply is revealing: “God's going to sit this one out.” That’s what happens when we take revenge. Payback removes God from the equation. But the Bible says: “Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, ‘I will take revenge; I will pay them back,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12:19 NLT).

God occupies the only seat on Heaven’s Supreme Court. He wears the robe and refuses to share the gavel. Only God dispenses perfect punishment. Vengeance is His job. So leave your enemies in God’s hands. 

Monday, March 7, 2016

Divided We Fall!

Two highly anticipated superhero flicks hit theaters soon. Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice releases in just two weeks and Captain America: Civil War debuts May 6. While the details differ, both of these films feature iconic superheroes pitted against one another over ideological differences. In Batman vs. Superman, the Dark Knight’s distrust of the Man of Steel leads to an epic battle between DC’s two most beloved heroes. In the comic series that inspired Civil War, Captain America and Iron Man find themselves on opposite sides of a heated political issue. Captain America’s decision to oppose Iron Man (and the White House) fractures the superhero community. Lines are drawn, sides are chosen, and chaos erupts. The ensuing melee lays waste to several square blocks of New York City. While conflicts like these make for enthralling entertainment, the fact remains—when superheroes skirmish, nobody wins.

The same is true for Christians. Unfortunately, conflict amongst Christians is all too common. With more than two hundred different denominations in the United States, it seems as though Christians will dispute and divide over just about anything—baptism, gifts of the Spirit, unconditional election, ecclesiastical structure, women’s role in ministry, homosexuality, evolution, whether or not Christians should watch Deadpool, etc. All too often we identify ourselves in terms of the particular beliefs that set us apart, rather than those that bind us together with the larger Christian world. Meanwhile, we’re oblivious to the damage we’re doing.

In the climax of Marvel’s Civil War mini-series, Captain America stands over Iron Man, ready to deliver a crippling blow. Suddenly, firefighters, EMTs and police officers tackle Cap and wrestle him to the ground. Only then does Steve Rogers lift his eyes and see the damage they’ve dealt to New York’s landscape. Tears well up in his eyes, as he says, “Oh my God… they’re right. We’re not fighting for the people anymore… we’re just fighting.” When I examine the landscape of Christianity today, I wonder if the same is true of us.

Jesus beseeched his Father, “I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one” (John 17:20-21 NLT). Paul expresses a similar sentiment, urging Christians, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3 NIV). I’m sure that by the end of each film, the superheroes will overcome their differences and unite against a common threat for the common good. May we as Christians do the same!