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Friday, March 31, 2017

Honest Lent: Heap Burning Coals

Picture of a lego, with the text "Hope you step on a". Image source.
Today for Honest Lent, we are reading Romans 12:9-21.

Specifically, I'd like to talk about this part:
Do not take revenge, my dear 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.”
... what.

Okay, the way I understand this- the way I heard it in Sunday school- was this: You should be very nice toward your enemies, because then they will feel really bad. They'll feel much worse than they'd feel if you just used normal, expected ways of fighting with them.

And... wait, so the writer of Romans thinks it's totally cool that we want to make our "enemies" feel really bad? And he's advising us on the best way to do it?

(As an aside, I'd like to point out that this will only work if your "enemy" has a conscience and also knows that you were hurt by something they did. If you don't have both those conditions met, then they will just think "oh this person is being nice/ being normal" and not really think much of it.)

And "leave room for God's wrath"- does that mean "I know you want revenge, you want to see this jerk suffer, well let me tell you the BEST way to make them suffer- let God do it"? I'm really uncomfortable with this idea that wishing bad things upon your "enemy" is totally fine, and that by obeying the bible, you can bring THE MOST bad things upon them.

Longtime readers of my blog know that I am very much NOT a fan of the idea, within Christianity, that it's not okay to have certain feelings. So yes, I very much believe it's okay to be angry at someone who treated you in an evil way. It's totally okay to hate them, and never want to see them again, etc. But in terms of actual punishment- wishing or causing actual bad things to happen to them- wow then you gotta slow down. I believe in justice but not revenge. And "is it okay for me to hurt this person in this way because they hurt me in that way?" can be a difficult moral question. I'm not saying the answer is always "no, turn the other cheek"- but I'm saying you have to be careful, because revenge is not a good thing.

But this passage in Romans doesn't advise caution, or encourage people to think about the difference between justice and revenge, or anything like that. Instead it tells you how to "heap burning coals on his head" and still maintain the appearance of kindness. And I'm not okay with that.

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