Does God hate Punishment? Thoughts on Romans 12:17-19

Perhaps the question should be rephrased “does god hate punishment administered by anyone other than himself?”

I recently came across the verses mentioned in the above title, which as best I can tell argue just that.  The verses in question state:

Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never 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.” Romans 12:17-19

My first thought was that, this God sounds a lot like the government, with the whole monopoly on violence and all, but the more I thought about it the more I realized this instruction must extend to governments or at least the people who make them up too.  With this in mind, I am forced to ask: if a man robbed me would turning him into the cops (with the intention of this act leading to his imprisonment) be an act of revenge? Should he simply go unpunished until God gets to deal with him directly? Do these verses forbid all measures that are purely punitive?  Note, I picked a man because, for the above, example because male criminals tend to get less sympathy, for better or worse.

The notion of opposing punishment for the sake of punishment is not one I am completely unsympathetic with.  I think the primary punishment for any crime is that the person responsible should have to correct the thing he or she did, and for this reason I find the notion of “tort” to be much more legitimate than that of “crime”.  That said, I am forced to recognize that the inability of us to consistently make criminals compensate the victims of their actions, and the propensity of some people to be dangers or at the very least menaces to themselves and others does  to some degree justify imprisoning people, if only to keep others safe.  Of course, this would not qualify as a purely punitive act.  To my knowledge the new testament falls short of tackling the implications of commands like this, which seems unsurprising since Paul’s letters were presumably written to sectarians who were not likely to gain political power anytime soon.

That said,  the next verse seems to answer the questions I raised above:

“On the contrary: If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

This combined with the New Testament teachings of “turn the other cheek” and “love thy enemies” seems to answer my question at least to some degree.  If I am robbed the proper thing to do in light of these commands is to hand over even more of my possessions to the robber.  This also, as best as I can tell, forbids the death penalty, not to mention the war on terror and really does not sit well with this business of sparing the rod spoiling the child.  It may be churlish to point how much this contrast with the Old Testament version of this God, who decrees stoning to death as the punishment for numerous petty infractions.

This sort of handing oneself and one’s possessions over to would be thugs, strikes me as highly impractical way to live or preserve one’s life and it is little wonder few if any actual Christians really did this.  Allowing acts of theft and violence to go unavenged would  reward those who engage in them and turn the rest of us into a population of victims. I do not for the life of me believe that providing food and comfort to those who wish to do harm to me will come out to me dumping hot coals on their heads, nor do I fail to see the contradictions in this justification for kindness.  While providing food and comfort to some would be enemies may win some over, for others it will only leave us vulnerable.  I very much support self defense and indemnification, and these verse unfortunately say nothing to support either of these. Perhaps, I am missing something, and I extend the invitation for any Christian to clear this up.

 

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