"Vengeance is mine; I will repay"

Can it be that God cherishes a spirit of revenge even as men do,—so great a spirit, indeed, that He holds for Himself the privilege of exercising it? If this be so, then surely mortals are justified in their desire for revenge. But how inconsistent is this with our idea of a God who is Love! The whole solution of the question lies in one's concept of God. If God is a magnified mortal, with the likes and dislikes of men, with hatred tempering His love, then one cannot expect much else than that God will act as mortals do, and revenge for wrongdoing will be one of His very reasonable desires. But, while a man may salve his own conscience because he refrains from deeds of vengeance himself, he has not advanced far morally while he endows God with weaknesses which he likes to believe are no part of himself.

Wherever men have conceived of God as personal this sense of His vengeance seems to have been strong. The Hebrews endowed Jehovah with a goodly capacity for revenge and jealousy. "I will render vengeance to mine enemies, and will reward them that hate me" is the theme of many a song that has a very human sound. While some of the Old Testament writers undoubtedly had a concept of God which very nearly approached Spirit, to most of them God was simply a tribal Deity who was jealous of the gods of other nations. And then turning to other peoples and their religions, we find similar beliefs prevailing. The Greeks must have spent a very considerable part of their time in dodging the wrath of the gods. Paris chooses Venus as the most beautiful goddess and as a reward is given Helen for a wife. Juno and Minerva, in jealousy at the choice, take their revenge by helping the Greeks in the Trojan War which follows. Prometheus plays a trick on Jove, who, in his wrath, punishes all mankind by depriving the race of fire. There is constant war and strife and jealousy on Olympus, and mankind reaps the result. The popular notion among modern Christians is that God punishes man for acting contrary to His will, and yet from the apparently arbitrary way in which the punishment often falls, it would seem to be a hard thing to discover just what the will of God is. Leaving this sense of religion for that other field which so nearly approaches it, superstition, the same phenomenon is to be found—fear of God's vengeance. The common custom of knocking on wood is nothing more nor less than a relic of the old heathen desire to appease the gods when one has tempted them by boasting.

Loyal Service
September 4, 1920

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