GIVE BACK . . . Let the vengeance be applied to the proper place

Give back to her as she has given; pay her back double for what she has done. Mix her a double portion from her own cup. Give her as much torture and grief as the glory and luxury she gave herself. In her heart she boasts, “I sit as queen; I am not a widow, and I will never mourn.” Therefore in one day her plagues will overtake her: death, mourning and famine. She will be consumed by fire, for mighty is the Lord God who judges her.” (Reference: Revelation 18:6-8 )

First let’s identify the focus of this verse; Babylon – the generic enemy of the people who lived during the time of Jesus, and the decades following. Also included in this generic group is Rome, more precisely the rulers in Rome that persecuted and oppressed the early Christians. It is no wonder than that the historic Anabaptist read into this passage indictments against their generic enemy, the state church at the time of the Reformation. Walter of Stoelwijk wrote about this enemy of his fellow believers saying, “Let all apostate Christians, who return to the Roman Babylon, from which they had separated, and make friendship with the whore whom they had hated bear this in mind. What shall we say to such unstable persons? How can men who once knew the truth be so blinded as to depart from Christ Jesus their only Saviour, and return to the infamous accursed whore of Babylon, the mother of all unrighteousness, and queen of all the children of unbelief and cursing, who has become their comfort and protection, yea, their idol . . . . Woe unto such perverse men, who depart from righteousness, from light to darkness, from life to death, and go from Jesus Christ to antichrist, seeking consolation from Satan, and not in God. Woe unto such fearful ones, who fear those who can kill only the body, more than God, the Almighty Lord, who can cast both body and soul into eternal damnation. Rev. 21:8; Matt. 10:28; Luke 12:4, 5. Woe unto such, that they were ever born unless they remarkably amend their ways and go out of Babylon; for the Scripture says not in vain: “Go ye out of the midst of Babylon, my people, and touch not the unclean thing, that ye be not partakers of her plagues, or sins.” Isa. 52:11; 2 Cor. 6:17; Rev. 18:4.”

I cannot, however, join in with the writer of Revelation and the historic Anabaptist in their reviling of such enemies because those enemies no longer exist! Each generation, each country, each faith group has their own enemies, those that they would cast in the role of (as several commentators label it) mystical Babylon. We all set up people, places, things that are our enemies and we relegate them to the deepest crevices of hell and vow that God will keep them there in eternal punishment! But I, beloved, do not want to be a part of such hatred and revulsion. Sure there are people, places, and things that I do not like and try to avoid. And there are people, places, and things that are contrary to my Christian beliefs. But such spewing hatred? I do not want to take a part of it.

There is a tremendous amount of hurt and anger in the world. I know, because I have been hurt . . . several times. And I will also admit I have been tempted to go down that road of . . . just venom that seethes! And have taken one or two steps towards such a destination. But it didn’t change anything; didn’t even make me really feel any better. But I could feel it corroding my spirit and soul, and determined then and there not to ever let myself feel that kind of wrath toward anyone!

So what should we do with those poisonous feelings? Vent them? Harbor them? Stuff them under a couch cushion and hope no one notices them? No, none of those beloved. We should give them over to where they belong – to God. If anyone going to carry out this plan of revenge and vengeance, let it be God. And let us not rejoice in it, but mourn that there has to be such suffering in the world.

We are fallen world, beloved, and it does not help us or the world to be glad when someone has vengeance set on them. Let us hope and pray for better outcomes for ourselves, the rest of humanity, and creation. Selah!

P.S. Beloved, I am always interested to see how my views have changed from five years ago, when last Reading the Anabaptist Bible was the year long focus. And I am continually surprised how much my views have NOT changed. I am inserting a link to what I wrote five years ago, “Double Portions of Vengeance”  I invite you to read it also.

MERCY . . . Very much hoping for mercy and not vengeance!

Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Reference: Hebrews 10:28-31 )

Do you remember that from the first books of the bible? That many things were punishable by death? I am not talking about the basic ten commandments but all the other laws that governed their lives. Many of those laws were set aside in favor of God’s law that came through Jesus Christ. The laws of Christ were/are much easier to follow, but they require not only following them but believing in Christ as the Son of God. That is what the writer of Hebrews is telling his readers, that failing to believe and follow Christ is much worse than not following the law of Moses.

But does that mean there is no recourse, no hope for mercy? Not from this excerpted passage. But we know, beloved, that there is hope, and that there is mercy. There is always hope and mercy for those who believe. And if you believe, it is NOT “a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” It is in fact a wondrous thing!

May you beloved place yourself in God’s hands, accepting and acknowledging the Son of God, honoring Christ’s holy blood that was shed for to make a covenant with God, and asking for the Spirit of Grace to be with you all your days! Selah!

GOD IS JUST . . . But God’s vengeance is evident also

All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering. God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. “ (Reference: 2 Thessalonians 1:5-8 )

Some four hundred years since the Reformation, and some two thousand odd years since Christ Jesus came to Bethlehem, we still have many views of God, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit and what the end of all days will be like. Will God come? Or will it be the manifestation of Christ? Will it be like Revelation, with battle and fire? Or silent and mysterious, like the thief in the night? And the largest question of all, when?

Maeyken Deynoots (d. 1571) wrote to her brothers and sisters in the faith, “The abundant grace and mercy of God our heavenly Father, through His only, eternally begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who offered up Himself for us to God His heavenly Father, as a propitiation of our sins, that He might deliver us from the future wrath that shall come upon all them that have not obeyed the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, who shall be punished with everlasting destruction (2 Thess. 1:8); but may wisdom, power, and the consolation of the Holy Ghost, which proceeds

from both the Father and the Son, this only eternal and almighty God, by whom every good and perfect gift is given, always abide with us and you, my dear brethren and sisters, so that He may through grace make us all together fit through Himself, that we may be found worthy in the day of His coming. Amen. Luke 21:36.” Wow! Here we have a complete theology, compressed into the opening of one letter. Worthy of Paul I would say.

And it sets up well the dichotomy that is evident – God’s mercy if we would only avail ourselves of it through “Lord Jesus Christ” versus the “future wrath” and punishment of “everlasting destruction . . . in the day of His coming.” Might it be both? One scenario for the faithful believer and the other for “then that have not obeyed the Gospel”? If our God is a transcendent God (which the God-self is) there might well be two kinds of appearances – one for the faithful and one for the not-so-faithful. I will not ask, beloved, which one you might be at. But I trust and pray that we all may be counted amongst the worthy. Selah!

A THIEF IN THE NIGHT . . . So comes the consequences of sin

“Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.” (Reference: 1 Thessalonians 5:1-3 )

Like square pegs into round holes – that is what it has been like the past few days trying to match scripture passage to the themes of “Sip of Scripture” to the themes from Reading the Anabaptist Bible. The historic Anabaptists applied this verse from 1 Thessalonians to the consequences of sin and of being sinners, catching those who committed the sin unaware. Bartholomeus Panten wrote to his daughter, “For the time will come when they [those who have sinned] shall lament it, who have spent their life here in that which was not proper; for when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. 1 Thess. 5:3.”

The traditional understanding of these verses has been that Christ’s return will not be heralded by anything, so the faithful must be ready for Christ’s return. It is a different sort of spin to consider the warning being given to the sinful and what might befall them. The historic Anabaptists had a tradition of considering themselves a people apart from everyone else (and always being found living under God’s guidance), therefore seeing all others are sinful and fallen by default so logical.

That this verse is placed under the theme of “Vengeance” underlines the idea that the passage speaks to the vengeance of God coming to the sinful, as opposed to the surprising return of Christ coming to the world. The editors of Reading the Anabaptist Bible, prefacing this passage with the following, “Be prepared always, for sudden destruction will come upon those who partake in sin” give us an insight into the thinking of the historic Anabaptists.

For me it is an interesting exercise to try to discern why the historic Anabaptists might have understood and why they used verses in such unique ways. What were their theological understandings that gave rise to such interpretations? How did their experience of oppression and persecution shape their theological understandings? And I wonder how have modern Anabaptist/Mennonite understandings have changed? And how might their historic understandings and modern understandings contrast to different denominations’ understandings? If this were a theological blog, I might try to answer these questions. I think my answers might reflect more of my personal theology. And I am not persuaded that you, beloved, are needful of hearing me espouse on my theology.

What is clear is this. First, we do not know when Christ will return. Or if it will be a judging vengeful Christ, or a forgiving and reconciling Christ. Second, there will always be those who misread the signs and portent, declaring safety when it is really disaster that is coming. Third, we do know that it is never wise to be caught “with our hand in the cookie jar” – so to speak.

May you beloved never have to fear for what will come because you will always be found in God’s grace. Selah!

P.S. Beloved, this is first week that posts will be appearing for the Advent theme. It is a transition period for me, moving from one way of writing this blog and posting to another. There will be duality for the Advent season, and then moving to a less frequent schedule. There will also be the duality of finishing Reading the Anabaptist Bible and starting in on the Advent and Christmas season. May our Lord God help us to hold both themes in our hearts and minds! Selah!

OVERCOME EVIL . . . Do not take vengeance

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.” (Reference: Romans 12:19-21 )

For an entire year (in fact twice for an entire year!) the focus of this blog was “Bread for the Enemy.” The first year was 2008, and the second year was 2013. The scripture passage citation were taken from the book Bread for the Enemy and based on the idea found in Romans that the best way to win over an enemy is to treat as a friend. This of course precludes taking revenge and wreaking vengeance.

But throughout the two years of commenting on passages that point to, advocate for, or cry out for peace and reconciliation, I also learned a lot about revenge and vengeance. Revenge/vengeance is not a “dish best served cold” but a meal served with warmth and caring. For are you not trying prove, beloved, that you are a better person than the one who hurt you or slighted you or injured you in some way? And by your warm and caring response, you leave your “enemy” with little options. Either the person responds back to you with care and warmth, and if so you have won over an enemy. Or they ignore your response and you have shown yourself to be the better person. Or they respond back with the same hatred etc that they first had, and don’t they look like the fool and bully that they are!

Leave straight vengeance to God. Human revenge and vengeance only lasts through this lifetime, and may not even last a lifetime. God’s vengeance, while maybe not being evident in this lifetime is indisputable for the life to come and will last for an eternity!

Choose the better beloved. Whether it be motivated by pure love of those who oppose you OR by the guidance and grace of God that values shalom above all things – may you choose to feed and care for those who set themselves up as your enemies. And may you live in such a way that no one would could you their enemy. Selah!

VENGEANCE REBUKED . . . But from whence did it come?

When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” But Jesus turned and rebuked them, and they went to another village.” (Reference: Luke 9:54-56 )

The editors of Reading the Anabaptist Bible say that throughout the historic Anabaptist writings there is a caution against personal vengeance. And I suppose that is true – throughout all the fiery writings that the historic Anabaptists writings it was God they called on and God they said would “smite” those that came against them. I don’t remember them saying/writing that they would personally do the smiting.

Paul Glock wrote to his wife Else, “The Lord explained it saying if they lie about you, let your friendliness, which is a fruit of the spirit, be manifest towards all and do not reward evil with evil. For we are God’s children born through the Gospel and our heavenly Father lets his sun shine on the devout and on the godless and has never turned his mercy from them. He has at all times shown himself to be fatherly, according to his name, by giving them rain from heaven and fruitful times and has filled their hearts with joy although humanly a person might sometimes think, like John and James: “Lord, shall we ask that fire come down from heaven and devour them?” [Luke 9:54]. But Christ, who had come to save souls and not to destroy, said to them: “You do not know which spirit’s children you are.” With that he plainly gave us to understand that we are not to avenge ourselves but to learn gentleness and humility from the Master.”

My NRSV tells me that “other ancient authorities” added the comments about the disciples not knowing “which spirit’s children you are”, and I am intrigued by that footnote. Does it simply mean they did not know what they were talking about – that is, not think through what they were saying. Or does it mean that vengeance like that comes from evil spirits? Because these “other ancient authorities” are not available to elaborate, we cannot be sure. Barnes does talk about these extra part and suggests that Jesus is trying to explain to them that they may think their zeal is from love for Jesus – that is protecting and defending Jesus good name. But actually it is the disciples own opinion and attitude that is “firing” them up and it is not right or part of Jesus’/God’s plan for humanity. So beloved, shall we examine our own hearts and spirits for unGodly zeal for vengeance? I think Paul Glock would be a good instructor for this.

May you learn gentleness from our Lord, and patience with those who seem opposed to you. May your love for humanity squelch out any thoughts or inclinations for vengeance. Selah!

HURTFUL WORKS . . . Brings forth vengeance from God

Behold, saith the Lord, I will bring plagues upon the world; the sword, famine, death, and destruction. For wickedness hath exceedingly polluted the whole earth, and their hurtful works are fulfilled. Therefore saith the Lord, I will hold my tongue no more as touching their wickedness, which they profanely commit, neither will I suffer them in those things, in which they wickedly exercise themselves: behold, the innocent and righteous blood crieth unto me, and the souls of the just complain continually. And therefore, saith the Lord, I will surely avenge them, and receive unto me all the innocent blood from among them. “ (Reference: 2 Esdras 15:5-9 )

And it is asked, “How can a merciful caring God allow disaster and catastrophe to happen?” And what can we answer? That the innocent must suffer with the guilty because the guilty are deserving of it but the innocent are unfortunately in the wrong place at the wrong time? Or is it that the innocent blood that is spilled is what God receives to the God-self? Does this mean then that innocent blood must be spilled in order to avenge the innocent who have suffered? Oh beloved, this line of thinking and conversation could become depressing, maudlin, and weepy. It needs a lighter hand than I have now. Fortunately five years ago on this day (or at least when I wrote the post for this day) I had a lighter hand. In the five years that have past there have been some changes, but I will deal with much further down the page. This is what I wrote for Nov 25, 2009.

Cleaning up the mess

Our cat is afraid of vacuum cleaners. Or more precisely, afraid of vacuum cleaners that are turned on and move. He can be quite brave and nonchalant about vacuum cleaners sitting around and silent. But if I start to move it or start the motions to get it out and use it, he takes off for parts unknown. And what, you may ask, does that have to do with today’s verse? Well, I need to vacuum today. In fact, after I finish this blog entry for today, and I am just thinking about the comparison between how the cat will feel about that and how the “wicked” inhabitants might feel about the Lord’s plans. The Lord does not ‘bother’ them when the Divine is upset but not doing anything. No, it is when the Lord makes movement or motions to start a plan that they might get upset.

It is probably not a stretch to say our cat feels like the vacuum is a plague, and dirt on the carpet could be seen as pollution; dirt as hurtful acts may be a stretch. And if you permit me to be briefly and superficially in the role of God, I am not holding back any more in my plan to clean. And I do desire the ‘innocence’ of my floor, that is dirt etc free. And if I was to anthropomorphize the carpet, it might be less than thrilled to be pounded upon and subjected to the vacuum; but it might also recognize the need for cleansing. So sure, why not let the metaphor stand. You see, much of what has ‘polluted’ the carpet is cat hair. Aahaa, you say! Now it is clear! The cat is the ‘villain’ in the metaphor.

The Anabaptists also had villains who they took to task for their behavior. Jakob Hutter in a scathing piece wrote about the lords and rules of his time. “[T]hreefold woe to you Moravian lords into all eternity! You have given in to [King] Ferdinand, the awful tyrant and enemy of divine truth—you have agreed to drive those who love and fear God out of your lands. You fear a weak, mortal man more than the living, eternal, almighty God and are willing to expel and ruthlessly persecute the children of God, old and young, even the Lord’s widows and orphans in their need and sorrow, and deliver them up to plunder, fear, great suffering, and extreme poverty. It is as if you strangled them with your own hands. We would rather be murdered for the Lord’s sake than witness such misery inflicted on innocent, God-fearing hearts. You will have to pay dearly for it, and you will have no more excuse than Pilate, [John 19:6- 12] who also did not want to crucify and kill the Lord Jesus. Yet when the Jews threatened him (by God’s plan), fear of the emperor made Pilate condemn an innocent man. You do the same, using the king as your excuse. But God has made it known through the mouth of his prophets that he will avenge innocent blood with terrible might on all who stain their hands with it.” But notice in Hutter’s remarks that Pilate was fulfilling God’s plan. In other words, Pilate could no more avoid doing as he did than our cat can avoid shedding.

This is so often the catch when we see evil happening in the world. Evil and all the other terrible things that happen in the world happen because evil first came into the world not through humanity, but through immortal opposition to God’s good. And so it is important that we leave vengeance, which is the theme for the next few days, in God’s hands. I can vacuum up what the cat sheds, but I cannot prevent the cat from shedding. And preventing the cat from shedding would take action that would severely injure the cat. So too is the task of humans on this world. We can mend as best we can the hurt the world suffers, but it is beyond our capacity to stop the Evil One.

Everyone that is touched by evil suffers; the innocent and the guilty. The innocent because the suffer for actions that they did not undertake. And the guilty because they will be punished at some point by God. May you, gentle reader, take only that action which is rightly in your power. And may God comfort you as we comfort our cat when the time of cleansing is over. Selah!

 

Since I wrote this our cat aged and passed away. He was almost 12 years old at his passing – a quite respectable age for a cat. And he is dearly missed. I loved him almost as one would love a family member. And while I might have written this in a teasing fashion, I would avenge any hurt that might have come to him, and on several occasion did!

I think that is what the writer of Esdras is saying, that our God so strongly loves and protects the innocent that the Lord’s vengeance is so all consuming. Or to borrow the metaphor in the piece I wrote some five years ago – our cat found out my desire to clean was so all consuming that I set aside my concern for him in order to clean.

Do think this is possible beloved? That God’s need and desire for vengeance against the wicked and their hurtful works is given greater priority than what might happen to the innocent? And in the shifting sands of understanding, might have the “Moravian lords” decided that order and establishment of authority take precedence over the innocents who were rounded up and persecuted? Or perhaps King Ferdinand decided that an example of not flouting civil authority must be set for other citizens under his rule?

See, I am descending into depressive and maudlin thinking! But issues of evil, wickedness, vengeance and shedding of blood are sad and despairing. May the Lord comfort you, beloved, when it feels like God’s wrath against wickedness has spilled over on to you. And may God’s comfort enfold you and heal you. Selah!