Surely thou wilt slay the wicked, O God:Psalm 139:19 (ASV)
Depart from me therefore, ye bloodthirsty men.
Psalm 139 is a wonderful psalm that gives us a lot of confidence and usually is used to instill a recognition of personal value.
But there is this four verse long passage that is kind of off topic. It is talking about hating those that hate God, that is the wicked, and asking God to take care of them.
This is a great enhancement from taking care of them yourself.
But is it compatible with Jesus’ commandment to love our enemy?
Well, let’s see.
If somebody does or says something against me, I am to forgive. To forgive does not mean to delegate vengeance to somebody else, but to withdraw fully from the right that vengeance od retributions are served in the first place.
I would say that an enemy is somebody that does or says something against me. OK, today we see as enemy everybody that does not agree with us 100%. But that is just ridiculous. To have a different opinion, even politically, does not automatically make somebody an enemy.
But even if we take that position, to love our enemy is to forgive them and let go of any wish for vengeance or retributions.
If I still hope that one day, righteousness will be restored and vengeance served, I am still holding on to whatever happened and thus have not forgiven.
Of course we can now say that the Bible tells us that righteousness will be served in the future, after death, in the end times, and at the judgement seat. Thus we are just proclaiming truth and joining God’s plan when we ask for it to happen, just like the thousands in Revelation that cried out: how long …
True, and still. If I love somebody, I want the best for them. And of course you can talk about tough love: it might be best for them that righteousness will be served.
Well, the kind of righteousness we are talking about can be rather final in nature: retributions left to God include eternal damnation.
I have another hypothesis here, and like every hypothesis, it is put out there to be challenged.
I believe that we have a strong drive and need for vengeance. It is by no means godly nor desirable, but in times of the law of the jungle served our survival needs, eliminating those that have done us harm and thus preventing further harm. Not really, because this obviously results in a spiral of hatred and vengeance.
God led us on a path to overcome this drive. He first gave rules to allow categorization of violence, harm, and sin, and gave us a catalog of how to react. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth was designed to stop vengeance from getting out of hands and spiralling into more and more violence.
He also gave us institutions to appeal to that had the power to set in place the necessary retributions. Judges, state, community, police, army, you name it.
He then told us that actually, all this power is delegated by him, and that giving it back to him is a better way of dealing than even law and institutions. He might use the law and the institutions to deal with it, though.
But then he went even a step further: let go of any right for retributions or vengeance and just love your enemy.
Our interpretation of the last days and judgement go back to a time when love your enemy was very new and still a novel idea that had to be fleshed out. Our view of heaven and hell are still driven by that need for vengeance and retributions.
Jesus wants us to love our enemies. He will hold himself to the same standard, and has demonstrated this at the cross. He himself asked the father to forgive his perpetrators. I think that sets the standard: do not hold them accountable for what they do.
Yes, he added „for they do not know what they do“. But all the other times Jesus talked about forgiveness, he did not say „as long as they do not know what they do“. On the cross, he just added this to give more weight to his prayer, not to say that this is a necessary condition for forgiveness.
Still, regarding eternal punishment, we could say that God would want to do differently, but that he respects our free will.
So he respects our free will so much that he will for eternity sustain hell or better the lake of fire so that we can get punished? Nothing exists if he does not hold it together, thus the lake of fire only exists because he wants it to.
As much as I know that sin on earth has ripple effects and multiplies over generations as well as space, at some point, eternal punishment superseeds an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. That is the nature of eternity compared with the possible effects in a finite system as this universe is according to the interpretation of the Bible we usually adhere to.
That is, eternal punishment maybe does not violate the commandment to love your enemy if we see granting freedom of free will as an act of love, but it certainly violates the lower standard of the old testament not to pay back more than was dealt out in the first place.
We can certainly say that God has the right to do whatever he does. But would he hold us accountable to higher standards than himself and punish us for things that we believe to be wrong according to his word that he actually knows that he will do them in the future?
I, as much as any body else, do not know what will happen. But for the time being, I practice to truly forgive and love my enemies, and ask the father to not hold them accountable for what they have done. And I count on God to do the same.
In the meantime, I could well imagine that hell is finite and an educational tool to have us grow into what we are supposed to be: God’s children. We are already, but we do not display and live all that is possible.
That said, I do not for a moment believe that our lives here do not matter and that we all just get to spend eternity in heaven.
I do not believe either that God is limited to deal with the stubborn for 80 years only, and then gives up as has them suffer for eternity.
Does that mean that I will not evangelize because in the end, after enough aions, all will be good for anybody? No, because I want people to experience as much blessing and as little hard times as possible.