The mask of supposed justice

By Dave Henning / March 18, 2023

“The heart dresses up vengeance as if it were justice: ‘It will be perfectly fair and just — I will simply hurt them just as they did me.’  But that is seldom what happens. . . .  Soon the mask of supposed justice falls away and the face of revenge is revealed.”- Timothy Keller

“You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him.  You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself.  I am the Lord.”- Leviticus 19:17-18 (ESV)

In Chapter 6 (“Justice and Love, Honor and Abuse”) of Forgive, Timothy Keller talks about the revolutionary words about love of neighbor buried deep in the ceremonial regulations of Leviticus.  Most significantly, as scholar R. K. Harrison put it, the sentiment underlying this aphorism (Lev. 19:17-18) was unique in the ancient world and represents one of the Old Testament’s most outstanding moral precepts.”

In addition, Leviticus 19:17-18 forbade three things when one covenant believer wronged another.  Hence, like the Israelites, we are not to:

  1. Seek revenge.  However, Pastor Keller cautions, it’s not enough to simply refrain from paying the offender back in kind.
  2. Hate in our hearts.  In this text, the Hebrew word for hate literally means ‘to decrease status.’  Thus, we’re not to hold the person who wronged us in contempt and slight regard.
  3. Bear a grudge.  Even if you find negative feelings unavoidable at first, you must not sustain them over time.

Yet, Pastor Keller underscores two things believers must do.  First, the rebuke must be frank – pointedly showing the other person their error.  But, as the text indicates, we share the perpetrator’s guilt if we fail to confront the person and fail to seek to stop their behavior.  Thus, we must seek to pursue justice where it’s called for.

In conclusion, we need to combine justice and love.  Because they are combined in the Lord.  He helps us to seamlessly combine justice and mercy.

Today’s question: Do you agree that the heart dresses up vengeance in the mask of supposed justice?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Lifelong struggle – forgiveness”

About the author

Dave Henning

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