In her book entitled In the Presence of My Enemies, Gracia Burnham tells how she and her husband Martin were captured and held hostage by terrorists in the Philippine jungle, an ordeal that ended with her husband’s death. At one point during her imprisonment Gracia found a piece of paper and began writing down all the promises of the Bible she could remember. “A couple of days later when I was in a less spiritual mood,” Gracia writes, “I thought of another divine promise to add to my list: Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.”
Gracia Burnham may not have been as unspiritual as she thought. According to Revelation 6:1–10, one of the prayers of the martyrs in heaven is a prayer that God would avenge their blood. How do we reconcile this with the Bible’s theology of forgiveness and grace? The biblical doctrine of forgiveness cannot be separated from its teaching about righteousness and justice. It is God’s righteousness and justice that make it necessary for us to receive the gift of forgiveness through Jesus Christ. If we minimize the importance of divine justice, we cheapen the idea of forgiveness. The desire to see justice done is a characteristic of those who are righteous (Deut. 27:19; Ps. 33:5; Isa. 1:17; Luke 18:8).
While it is not wrong to want justice to be done, according to Romans 12:19 we must “leave room” (literally “give place”) to God and allow Him to act in His own way and time. This is necessary because we are not without our own guilt. Whatever standard we hold for others can be applied to us (Matt. 6:12, 14–15). Fortunately for us, the shed blood of Jesus Christ enables God to be “just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26).