17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 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.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
“He hit me first!”
If you have siblings, you have probably heard this come from their lips. It is the typical eye for an eye defense that humans quite often fall into. As adults, we may no longer use our fists, but getting even is often in our sights. We want the offender to know he was wrong, so we return with like force. That will show them! The trouble is, God has a different solution to conflict.
“Do not repay anyone evil for evil,” Paul tells us. Don’t act like that. “Be careful to do what is right.” Peace and reconciliation are the goal. Repaying evil for evil in relationships is never good conflict resolution. It just keeps the fight going, driving both party’s further apart.
Instead, God says, “I’ve got this. Let Me avenge the situation in My time and how I see fit.” His timing often allows plenty of time for people to come to their senses, repent, and make things right. In the meantime, He says, “I want you to relieve their distress. If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. I want you to not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Fight back with kindness and compassion.
But what about that heaping coals bit? That doesn’t sound too kind or compassionate. There are several explanations, but here is a common one we can consider—kindness offered to the undeserving sometimes acts as a catalyst to their conscience. It contrasts their actions in the light of good, bringing shame and embarrassment. It’s an ancient saying equal to having egg on your face. Perhaps the hope here, whether by burning coals or an egg-covered face, is that repentance rather than disgrace would happen. What better “revenge” is there against evil than peace and reconciliation brought on by fighting back with love?
Has there ever been a time when compassion was your weapon of choice in a conflict?