“Does God Repay Evil for Evil? No.”

Categories: Christian character, theology

"Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all." (Rom 12:17)

My question when I look at that verse is this: Why are there so many rules in the Law of Moses that require the death penalty in punishment for a particular sin? Is it one of those cases where we see a different nature of God from the Old Testament to the New? ("The God of the Old Testament would repay evil for evil, but the God of the New Testament says that we should not do that.") As far as I know, that's never a valid distinction. So then how do we explain the severe payback given to so many crimes when the same God would say, "Repay no one evil for evil"?

The answer is actually fairly simple: God's law through Moses didn't repay evil or evil. It repaid justice for evil.

And that's a distinction that's important for us to know too. Because there are plenty times when it is right to repay something painful for wickedness. It’s right to punish children for their disobedience. And it is plenty right for governments to wield their power to punish evildoers (cf. Rom. 13:1-6). But these things are intending to accomplish what is objectively right. If done correctly, we are not just in pursuit of what feels right or of accomplishing personal vengeance of some kind. We are striving to uphold real, objective justice.

The warning that Paul gave to the Roman Christians is not about vengeance or "personal” justice. We, as the people of God, ought to be in pursuit of the same kind of objective truth, righteousness, and justice that defines God's good nature. At the very least, we must give some thought to it, even if our efforts toward it are imperfect. That effort to the good is what will prove to be “honorable in the sight of all” in the long run.

- Dan Lankford, minister