This is a lesson hard learned and this author is very much still learning it. It is the lesson that is needed because we find ourselves leaning more toward punishing than peacemaking.
Punishment is the easy road because it is where our emotions tend to immediately drive. When we are wronged, we think retribution. The term theologians use for this is “Lex talionis.” It means that the punishment must fit the crime and anyone who has read Exodus 21:24 understands the phrase that there is an eye for an eye and tooth for tooth. We have a deep concern for justice, but mostly it is a special kind of justice – OUR justice.
While our sinful little hearts want to use Israel’s national judicial system as our own personal quest, we need to be very quick to correct ourselves. Our peace is not obtained by seeing perpetrators suffering in our swiftly enforced retribution. Revenge is never as sweet as the movies say it is. Just ask any bitter person living in the hollowness of their own hate.
As Christians we want to be biblical people, but in this area, it can be one where we so easily use the Scriptures as our own tool of retribution. A great indicator of whether you are jumping into punishment or peacemaking is to consider whether you are considering Scripture in the big context of its redemptive theme. We can find any number of passages to fit our desire for judgment rather than redemption and reconciliation. We can show people how their gossip and slander is wrong. We can rebuke liars. We can put people in the categories of evil doers, transgressors and sinners. We can even show Scriptures that rebuke God’s people for being indifferent, unjust, and divisive. We can even remember the three-step process to get someone kicked out of the church. All the while forgetting every passage that reminds us of the mercy, forgiveness, and lavishings of grace that we have received in the cross. All the while forgetting that all those other scriptures also point to our own need for the cross.
When our first thought is the cross of Christ, we see all of these other passages in their redemptive context. Yes, sadly sometimes the church has to discipline and sometimes we have to stand before each other and call a sin a sin. But when our motivation is to imitate Christ, we seek peace through the cross rather than punishment at our hand. We realize that but by the grace of God I would be walking toward an eternal hell and fully deserving of it.
One commentator has said “that we are always living in the midpoint between mercy received and mercy yet required.” That is so true. When the central theme of the cross of Christ is in our mind, we can think less of “Lex Talionis” and more of the sacrifice and mercy that we can make to bring reconciliation and peace. We think more of how we might imitate the mercy that has been shown to us.
When we are offended, our sinful hearts so easily want to forget the cross and our hands want to pick up the gavel of justice. Mercy replies, “Justice has been served on another.” Peace replies, “My own Son was treated as an enemy so that you might be reconciled.”
How will you reply? How will I reply?
Colossians 1:20-22 “and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him.”