You know you can always make a good movie plot if you throw in a vigilante. I’m thinking Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino, Denzel Washington in John Q Public, Nicolas Cage in Seeking Justice, Jodie Foster in The Brave One and if you go back a really long way, Charles Bronson in the Death Wish series. There’s something captivating about the regular guy taking justice into his own hands and exacting revenge for a wrong. At least, in movies and TV shows.
In real life though, we have a problem with vigilantes and vigilante groups, because often things get out of hand as the retaliation escalates, hurting innocent people. The definition of vigilante is “taking the law into one’s own hands without any legal authority”. Did you get that last phrase, “without any legal authority?” Every law enforcement system has its flaws, and if a wrongful act is overlooked or not pursued, it’s a natural tendency of the human heart to want justice to be done.
Vigilante acts might not seem all that frequent. Yeah, we read about it on news feeds occasionally. Actually, I think there are millions of vigilante acts every hour that never make the news. Committed by people you know. Committed by you. These vigilante acts are spiritual.
We see injustice, or we are the victim of injustice, and we want things to be right, even in the smallest of measures. So we set out to make things right, by golly. (It’s really being vengeful, but that doesn’t sound very nice, so we call it making things right.)
There are at least two problems with this. One, it rips up our hearts, because we were not designed to harbor the bitterness that is a byproduct, which fuels the vengeance even more. It’s a vicious cycle. We live with toxic junk in our spirits and it contaminates even those relationships around us where everything is all good. The toxicity can’t help but leak out. And two, justice is not our job or responsibility. That’s God’s role, and God’s alone. We want to say, Yeah, but God’s not doing anything about it, so I have to step in!” When we say that, we’re really saying, “God is not doing it right, so I’ll be God on this one.” Really?
God’s ways are higher (and better) than our ways of doing things. Yes, we live in a broken world, and yes, God sees the injustice (even when we are the ones inflicting it). Take a deep breath (or two or three) and relax.
The Lord gives righteousness and justice to all who are treated unfairly. Psalms 103:6 (NLT)
Righteousness and restoration are God’s jobs. They are His very nature. God is able, and much more capable than you or me to make things right.
Our job is to leave it in His hands, and know that He will make things right through His justice AND mercy. And, hey, if we allow him, He will even work all things for good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28).
Rev. Greg Griffin is a Board Certified Pastoral Counselor and Forgiveness Coach in private practice in Marietta, GA. His specialty is relationship repair and rescue- helping partners, spouses, and parents and their adolescents. He’s also the author of Dungeon Times Survival Guide, and Vital Faith.