Awhile ago, there was something of a debate on here as to whether it was legitimate for Christians to desire the destruction of their enemies. I argued–not being an outright pacifist–that, although it might be legitimate in certain cases to take action to kill enemies, it would never be legitimate to rejoice in that action; we might have to destroy our enemies in rare cases, but we should never desire their destruction. Various Biblical counterexamples were alleged against my position, and it was suggested that perhaps the difference between my interlocutor and I was that his position was logically a pure Calvinist position, whereas I tended to qualify my Calvinism with a heavy dose of Barthianism.
So I was intrigued today to come across, in Calvin’s commentary on Romans 12:14-21, a resounding and powerful statement of the need for Christians always to desire the good and the salvation of their enemies–not only not to take vengeance, but not to desire that vengeance be taken:
“In this passage, Paul requires a train of conduct yet more difficult, not to pray for evil and curses to light on the heads of our enemies, but to wish them every kind of prosperity, and supplicate God to grant them every blessing, however much they may harass, and treat us with the most barbarous inhumanity. We ought to labour after the attainment of this mildness with the more intense diligence, in proportion to the difficulty of its attainment….”
“Prayer for our enemies is more difficult than to refrain from the active revenging of an injury which we have suffered. For there are some characters, who, notwithstanding they hold their hands from violence, and are not driven on by a desire of injuring their enemies, would still be glad to find destruction or loss befall them from another quarter. Even if the injured are so much appeased as to wish no evil to their foes, yet scarce one in a hundred desires the safety and prosperity of the injurer; a large portion has immediate recourse, without feeling any shame, to horrid imprecations. But God, by his word, not only restrains our hands from any act of violence and injury, but also subdues all bitter feelings in our minds. Nay, he even desires us to be solicitous for the eternal salvation of those, who bring ruin on themselves by cruelly harassing us in an unjust manner.”
“Not only does Paul prohibit us from executing vengeance with our own power, but we are not to indulge such a desire in our hearts; and on this ground any distinction between private and public vengeance is altogether vain and frivolous; for that person is no more to be excused, who implores the aid of the magistrate with a malevolent intention, and a determined resolution to revenge, than we can acquit the voluntary contriver of plans for self-revenge; nay, we ought not always to ask God, as will afterwards appear, to avenge us; for if our requests for this purpose arise from private affection and passion, and not from the pure zeal of the spirit, we do not make God our judge, but a servant of our depraved desires. We are not therefore to give place to wrath in any other way than by patiently waiting for the proper season for deliverance, wishing and praying, in the mean time, that such as now vex and disquiet us may become our friends by repentance.”
“We ought not, indeed, to supplicate God to avenge our enemies, but should pray for their conversion, that they may become our friends; and if they pursue their wicked career, they will experience the same judgment, which other despisers of God may expect.”
Of course, then the question remains–what do we do with the imprecatory Psalms?