Have you ever felt tempted to do what you can, in your own strength, to retaliate? Someone has hurt or offended you, broken trust or confidence, done what ought not to be done, and you want to fight back. You clinch your fists, grit your teeth, and prepare to pounce at the first sign of your opponent. If you could just get your hands on them…
Human justice wants that. We want the satisfaction, feel we are owed the right to mete out punishment on a wrongdoer. We think that whatever wounds we’ve experienced at their hands will somehow be healed by wounding them in kind. That’s all the justice we’re capable of, eye for eye, tooth for tooth.
Thank God he is just.
Sometimes the psalms sound harsh in the way they speak of God’s enemies (21:8-12). God will swallow them up, consume them in his wrath, cut off their descendants from the face of the earth. I love verse 12 that says God will “aim at their faces with your bows.” The psalmist says to his enemies, “God’s going to hit you in the face! With an arrow!” The sound of it strikes me as funny (and somewhat disturbing), but I think we are meant to find real comfort in it.
The fact is that there are people in the world (and in the church) who use worldly methods to gain power for themselves. And humanly speaking, they are stronger than the godly. But God’s weakness is stronger than man’s power, as we’ve been reminded in 1 Corinthians. And this psalm’s opening verse, “O Lord, in your strength the king rejoices, and in your salvation how greatly he exults,” shows great faith. The king could strike out against his enemies, but instead he commits himself to the Lord, body and soul, kingdom and family. Little Israel is exposed to the armies of all its enemies, but the king trusts not in the strength of Israel’s military strategy, but in the Lord: “For the king trusts in the Lord, and through the steadfast love of the Most High he shall not be moved” (21:7).
We can either put our trust in our own strength or in God’s. Those who trust in their own strength and take matters into their own hands will, for a time, appear to prosper. But if we respond in kind, we miss out on the rich blessings of the “joy of [God’s] presence” (21:6). Dwelling in God’s presence means not returning sin for sin, but singing and praising God’s power (21:13).
God holds all justice in his hands. When we put our faith in his justice, we are suddenly free from needing to grasp after power. We are liberated from seeking human justice to put our faith in the Almighty who will one day judge the living and the dead. Refraining from asserting our rights, willingly turning the other cheek when someone has wronged us requires faith in a final judgment in which God will right every wrong and wipe away every tear.
I will sing and praise God’s power. All justice and judgment are his. Through the love of the Most High I will not be moved. I don’t have to strike my enemy in the face when he’s done so to me; God’s arrows will find his face on that Day.
Or, by God’s grace, perhaps he will so change me, so radically elevate me by the gospel of his love and mercy that I will one day be able to respond to injustice with Christ’s own prayer, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Perhaps the gospel will one day so penetrate my heart that, rather than desire divine justice upon my enemy, I will want them to see mercy as I have. With man, with me, this is truly impossible. Thank God nothing is impossible for him.