Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. On the contrary: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Vengeance is not mine. It's not yours. And it's certainly not Clint Eastwood's.
Thankfully, I already knew all of this before I watched his latest film, Gran Torino. And so this fact was merely reinforced as a result. I wouldn't recommend seeing Gran Torino, though, as it is the same old tired formula of a tough guy trying to right some wrongs (see our full review at Crosswalk right here).
Also, there's a load of "colorful" language, racism and gang violence to wade through before getting to the heart of the story of a man who goes to great lengths to help his friends (and has good intentions, for the most part), but oversteps his bounds into vengeance. That being said, I am still thinking about this movie and the concept of repaying. One of the lines in our review sums up what I'm still processing:
[Gran Torino] gives audiences a loveable rascal in Eastwood's character, and allows a flawed, racist man to be the instrument of change in the life of a young man in need of direction.
Instrument of change. Is that what Paul means in Romans 12? If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. I think so, because if you've ever been kind and tried to reach out to your enemy, then you know that there is definitely some change going on there (for both parties). And it's unexpected change, too. Your enemy usually never sees it coming and doesn't really know what to think. Especially when it feels like someone is heaping burning coals on his head.
I did a little research on that. Isn't it not very nice to make someone feel like hot things are being dumped on him or her? One Bible commentary I read through said that this phrase may refer to an Egyptian ritual where people carried around pans of burning charcoal on their heads to show their repentance. So, in essence, showing kindness to our enemies could lead to them feeling ashamed and penitent. A change of heart, perhaps.
So, it's about reaching out and basically providing nourishment for our enemies. Sounds easy enough, but if you've ever tried to do so then you know how hard it really is. Think of your worst enemy right now. We all have one in this world. Could be a family member. Could be a coworker. Maybe it's your neighbor or someone at your church. Anyone who has wronged you and for whom you hold contempt.
How can you be an "instrument of change" in someone's life when he or she has caused destruction or pain or grief or distress in yours? If you're honest, you don't really want to, right? Because it's easier for you, for me, to be overcome by evil than to overcome evil with good. We are flawed, and our flesh wants to repay! But the Lord says, "Leave that to me. I will take care of it." And he is calling us instead to love and pray for our enemies (Matthew 5:44).
Perhaps taking a baby step is all that you can muster today. This week. Or this month. Maybe just by sitting near this enemy at the lunch table. At church. In a business meeting. What would be a good first step for you to take to help build a bridge with this person? Maybe it means you just start with a "Hello. How are you?" Acknowledge his or her presence. Start chipping away at the wall. And begin a dialogue.
Sometimes we'd rather heap burning coals on our own heads than to love our worst enemies. But God can help us overcome. Through the cross, we are reconciled to him (Romans 5:10).
We are no longer his enemies, and by his example we can learn to reach out in love to others.
Intersecting Faith & Life:
Ponder these lyrics from Point of Grace's song, "The Great Divide" and consider how Christ overcame evil and reached out to you ...
Silence, trying to fathom the distance
Looking out 'cross the canyon carved by my hands
God is gracious
Sin would still separate us
Were it not for the bridge His grace has made us
His love will carry me
There's a bridge to cross the great divide
A way was made to reach the other side
The mercy of the Father cost His Son his life
His love is deep, His love is wide
There's a cross to bridge the great divide
God is faithful; on my own I'm unable
He found me hopeless, alone,
and sent a Savior
a path and promised to guide us
safely past all the sin that would divide us
His love delivers me