Friday, March 12, 2010

The God of Vengeance in Luke's Gospel

David Ker suggests that the appropriate response to the vengeance of the Old Testament is to "Skip it!" As is the case with his earlier post (The Bible is not the Gospel), I resonate strongly with David's larger concerns: "The Gospel is more important than the Bible....The Gospel absorbs vengeance and defuses it, strips it of retaliation (its only weapon) and instead brings peace." Well said.

I agree that "revenge is not in our mandate," but--and here's the rub--Jesus didn't claim that vengeance (or, better, judgement) is no longer God's mandate. David points out that Jesus quoted Isaiah 61 selectively in Luke 4:18-19, stopping with the "year of the Lord's favor," and conveniently omitting the next line about the "day of vengeance of our God." Whatever the reason for this omission, it is not because
"under the new covenant that God was making with all the peoples of the world, vengeance was set aside, or you could say transferred to Christ who bore all the vengeance of God’s wrath on the cross in our place."

Jesus distinguished between the day of salvation and the day of vengeance, but I think the day of vengeance does show up later in Jesus' predictions of divine judgement. Consider, for example, Luke 10:13-15:
13 "Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. 14 But at the judgment it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for you. 15 And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? No, you will be brought down to Hades.

Or Luke 11:31-32:
31 The queen of the South will rise at the judgment with the people of this generation and condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to listen to the wisdom of Solomon, and see, something greater than Solomon is here! 32 The people of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah, and see, something greater than Jonah is here!

Or Luke 12:56-59:
56 You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time? 57 "And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right? 58 Thus, when you go with your accuser before a magistrate, on the way make an effort to settle the case, or you may be dragged before the judge, and the judge hand you over to the officer, and the officer throw you in prison. 59 I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the very last penny."
According to Miroslav Volf, "the practice of nonviolence requires a belief in divine vengeance." I agree, which means I disagree with David, and I'm concerned about a resurgent Marcionism in popular North American Christianity that distinguishes between the God of the OT and the God of the NT. But I can't help feeling like the pedant I am, nit-picking about details (albeit important ones) so far removed from the practical realities David is dealing with in Mozambique.


David Ker said...

I'm not sure we disagree that much (except about the spelling of my surname). That's a great quote from Volf and I think it captures the true fearlessness of Christian pacifism.

d. miller said...

Surname corrected.