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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “28 Pranks Later”
Rainbow Dash gets rather out-of-hand in this episode. While it’s well-known that she likes causing pranks, in this episode she got into a rather bad streak; constantly pranking those who wouldn’t appreciate it and being more interested in her ability to fool and trick others rather than making a laugh both she and the “prankee” would enjoy. Eventually, it got so bad that the residents of Ponyville decided to teach her a lesson. They worked out a town-wide prank of a zombie invasion as a result of eating tainted cookies to fool Rainbow Dash, ending up scaring and upsetting her quite a bit; showing her firsthand what it felt like to get pranked by someone more interested in getting the best of her than making sure it was enjoyable for everyone involved.
There’s a lot of terms for this sort of thing. “Teaching a lesson”, “giving a taste of their own medicine”, “getting even”, etc. The fact of the matter is those are all nice ways of saying one of two things…and possibly both: justice or vengeance.
Humans naturally long for justice. I think it’s part of our makeup, DNA, or even souls. As children, obviously when something happens to us such as another child steals one of our toys, or we get blamed for something a sibling did, we feel a desire to do the same back to the offending child or go to an adult to administer retribution. Once we get to the point where we start feeling empathy for other people, such as when we see those in public, on TV, or in books who are starving, oppressed, stolen from, or otherwise abused, we may feel sadness but we also want the offenders to be punished for it. We feel when someone does wrong, they should be made to feel the same unpleasantness that they themselves inflicted. And usually that carries forth into adulthood. Sure, there are some adults of certain qualities of character who are able to forgive and overlook wrongdoing, but that’s usually a matter of moral choice and self-discipline, and, at least at the more basal level, they likely still have the feeling of wanting to inflict retribution even if they don’t act on it. The reason we seem to gravitate to the idea of superheroes is, in part, because we like the idea of someone having the power to impose justice on those who, through their own power or cunning, can avoid having to suffer the penalty for their actions.
Yet there are many times in which people shy away from the idea of justice. In some cases, such as with many (but not all) Christians, it’s because we think of the times we ourselves did something wrong that demanded retribution, but we wished that people would have been compassionate and understanding of our motives and, therefore, been lenient. We are even encouraged to think of that in regards to forgiving the sins and crimes of others, or simply giving people another chance. In other cases, it’s because people realize that humans are imperfect. We’re prone to bias and hate that clouds our judgment for giving people the punishment they deserve; whether we defer to an easier punishment on people we favor or whether we condemn with a stronger punishment on people we hate.
Another reason, however, stems from the other side of the “justice coin”: vengeance. Justice is seen as a good thing, while vengeance is seen as a bad thing. While administering justice is seen as an important thing for society and even an invaluable virtue, vengeance is seen as something terrible: the feeling of positive energy, thrill, or even a rush from hurting someone in response to having been hurt by them. Some say that vengeance is distinct from justice. For one thing, vengeance is applied to all situations, including where the hurt that is being redressed is imaginary or unwarranted. (Case in point, if you turned in a co-worker for lying, causing them to get fired, and they responded by slashing your tires, that wouldn’t be considered justice but vengeance.) For another thing, justice is considered to be something fair and equitable to the hurt, while vengeance is something that can go beyond what was called for and disproportionate to the crime.
But the fact is one can make the argument that justice falls entirely within the sphere of vengeance as “righteous vengeance”. Some can even make the argument that the only difference between justice and vengeance is that vengeance is where you punish someone yourself; justice is where you get your peers to do it for you. We are left with a situation in which we feel unpleasant and uncomfortable about something we pride as a virtue. As a result, something that we all feel and are told to aspire to becomes something potentially miserable and terrifying.
When considering the Bible in the view of justice and vengeance, things become more troubling than ever. One of the leading criticisms non-Christians have of the Bible is the claim that God has such a different stance on vengeance in the Old Testament and the New Testament that he’s two different individuals. In the Old Testament, God was often severe: smiting and killing men, women, and children by the tens of thousands. Punishing those who violated his commandments and, in one case, even nearly annihilating everything on Earth as a result of sin (Genesis 6:5-13). Great, terrible, and wrathful. By comparison, in the New Testament God is portrayed more as a loving father; having such compassion and mercy toward Israel as well as the human race as to have his only Son put to death for the sins of mankind that they may be with him forever.
The contrast is so stark and sharp that many Christians largely ignore the Old Testament and focus on the New, or find themselves in turmoil as they try to envision how the great and terrible destroyer and conqueror of the Old Testament can possibly be as compassionate and merciful as the God of the New Testament. How can the God who visits such wrathful vengeance be the same as the God who abounds in endless mercy? And is this a testament that justice and vengeance is righteous and good or a condemnation of the same?
Those are complex questions that religious scholars have thought about for centuries and it would be wrong to try and trivialize them with pat, easy answers. (I feel many pastors do more harm than good trying to do so.) It’s likely questions we will never have fully answered in this life. However, while I will not presume to know the motives and reasons people back in the days of the Old Testament did what they did or received what they received, much less the mind of God in administering it, I can say that the reason this duality is presented to us in the Bible is far simpler.
The fact is the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament are the same individual, no matter how hard it is to reconcile. What that means for those of us who live here and now is two things.
The first is that God is overwhelmingly holy (sacred and set apart) and perfectly just. And this shouldn’t so much as strike us with manifest awe (though it does when you think on it) as fill us with fear and trembling. A God so holy and righteous that even the slightest sin can’t abide in his presence. The smallest transgression or evil is a terrible and loathsome offense to him and cannot co-exist with him in the least. It can only be met with swift, terrible, severe, and eternal judgment. In the case of our own sins, that takes the form of eternal separation from God and everlasting condemnation to Hell. The examples of the Law in the Old Testament and God’s severe punishment of those who transgressed it, brutal and intense, to say nothing of the warnings of punishments for transgressing it (Deuteronomy 28:15-68), serve as a warning to all about God’s inescapable and mighty wrath for those who violate his holiness. It is meant to impress upon us the total impossibility of trying to please God by our own efforts and to make ourselves holy in his sight and escape his terrible judgment, as well as the severe sentence that all will be under for even the smallest violation of it.
“As it is written: ‘There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one. Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit. The poison of vipers is on their lips. Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know. There is no fear of God before their eyes.'” (Romans 3:10-18)
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23)
When God promises vengeance, it means total vengeance toward all who sin…which is every last one of us. In that case, vengeance is indeed fearsome and perfect justice becomes horrifying.
The second, however, is that God fully recognizes how impossible it is for anyone to escape this eternal wrath or to become holy through their own merit, and that if he was to count the sins of mankind and administer true justice there would be none who would withstand it. He also manifested his love and mercy for us by not creating us to merely one day endure this fate, to be all but eternally condemned from the moment of being brought to life due to the demands of justice and holiness, but gave everyone not only a way out but a way to become sons of daughters of God. And, therefore, there is the New Testament and the coming of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. In His death over 2,000 years ago He fully took upon Himself the sins of all mankind and then endured the total, absolute wrath of God as perfect justice demanded inflicted on His body. In doing so, He fulfilled the towering demands of God’s justice and made a completely clean record for everyone who sinned.
“And all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.” (Romans 3:24-26)
Now God makes his mercy manifest to everyone who accepts that sacrifice made on their behalf. They now have a fully clean record and no longer need to fear God’s vengeance. Just as God in the Old Testament made manifest his power and justice, he manifests his mercy and love in the New Testament. No need for a futile attempt to “be good” or practice self-sacrifice or mortification in punishment or atonement for one’s sins, but in just accepting the precious and perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ in their place, one is now clean enough to be a child of God in his eyes.
“Know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.” (Galatians 2:16)
“So that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:7)
“The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.'” (Romans 8:15)
The Bible says that humans are made in God’s image, and perhaps no way is that made more perfectly clear than in our ideas of justice and vengeance. Part of us wants to enact justice in exchange for the evils that other people do, but part of us also shies away from the idea of vengeance–wanting to show compassion and mercy on many of the same people. God must be both perfectly just and perfectly merciful to be God, and he achieved that through the miracle and sacrifice of Jesus.
If you would like to accept this free gift and sacrifice yourself, free to all whenever they want it, you can do so by first praying the following prayer and then learning more from your local Church:
“Dear God, I confess that I am a sinner and am sorry for all the wrongs that I have done. I believe that your Son, Jesus Christ, died on the cross for my sins. Please forgive me. I invite you, Jesus, to come into my heart and life as Lord and Savior. I commit and trust my life to you. Please give me the desire to be what you want me to be and to do what you want me to do. Thank you for dying for my sins, for your free pardon, for your gift of eternal life, and for hearing and answering my prayer. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”