From “Growing in the character of a disciple”: Chapter 12 – What it really meant by forgiving others, and what does it involve?
Forgiving others, even at its narrowest definition, also means that we must not do anything to take vengeance. We must never seek to ‘get even’ with people, or to ‘pay them back’ for what they did to us. We are to “leave room for the wrath of God”. That is we are to leave it to Him to punish people, which He certainly will do:
When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he trusted to him who judges justly.1 Peter 2:23 (RSV)
not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing.1 Peter 3:9 (NASB)
17Never pay back evil for evil to anyone Respect what is right in the sight of all men. 18If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. 19Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. 20”but if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.Romans 12:17-21 (NASB)
When King David was a young man he spent a number of years on the run from King Saul, who was persecuting him unjustly and seeking to kill him. However, David refused to take matters into his own hands or to take vengeance. Instead he asked God to intervene and judge between himself and King Saul:
12 May the Lord judge between me and you, may the Lord avenge me upon you; but my hand shall not be against you.1 Samuel 24:12 (RSV)
Seeking vengeance would also amount to usurping Jesus’ unique role as Judge. It would mean we were punishing people ourselves, instead of leaving them for Jesus to deal with. He wants us to leave it to Him to punish people, not to do it now, for ourselves:
Do not say, “I will repay evil”;Proverbs 20:22 (ESV)
wait for the Lord, and he will deliver you.
since indeed God deems it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you,2 Thessalonians 1:6 (RSV)
So, although we are not authorised to take vengeance, Jesus is authorised to do so, and He will, i.e. with all those who do not repent and do not believe in Him. We can be very sure of that. Moreover, there are circumstances in which it may even be appropriate for us to look forward with some sense of anticipation to the Day of Judgment, when Jesus will take that vengeance on our behalf.
The taking of vengeance, so long as it is done only by Jesus, is a right and proper aspect of God’s justice. Thus it is something good, for which we can give thanks, and even rejoice:
10 The righteous will rejoice when he sees the vengeance;Psalm 58:10-11 (RSV)
he will bathe his feet in the blood of the wicked.
11 Men will say, “Surely there is a reward for the righteous;
surely there is a God who judges on earth.”
8 Let the floods clap their hands;Psalm 98:8-9 (RSV)
let the hills sing for joy together
9 before the LORD, for he comes
to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
and the peoples with equity.
For example, if a person’s child has been murdered, then at the Day of Judgment, the murderer will be punished for it unless, of course, he has become a Christian in the meantime and been forgiven. But if he has not repented and been forgiven by God, then it would not necessarily be wrong for the relatives of that victim to want God’s Judgment to come, and even to take satisfaction, and achieve a sense of closure, from that Judgment when it takes place.
That is a valid way to think in relation to an unrepentant person. It is not necessarily inconsistent with having forgiven the other person, at least at the most basic level, i.e. having stepped aside and left it to Jesus to judge them. However, the position is different in relation to a wrongdoer who has, like us, repented and been saved. Such a man is forgiven, just as we are, and will not be punished. We shall examine this issue in some detail below.