There has been a mixed bag of reactions pouring out since the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The prevalence of glowing commendations from professing Christians is a rather sad indication of just how twisted and contorted the American church truly is. Ruth Bader Ginsburg lived a life that can only be said to be in stubborn opposition to most everything the Scriptures declare is good. She unabashedly warred against traditional family structures through the normalization of homosexuality and bigamy; she likewise sought to legalize prostitution, and sex-integrate the prison system. Beyond this, she likewise sought to legally mandate the sexual integration of all armies, dormitories, fraternities/sororities, extracurricular student activities (i.e. 4H Club, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts), and any other all-girls or all-boys social clubs. While the latter can arguably be a matter of debate in some instances, using the courts to determine these things as discrimination ought to be plainly seen as problematic.
These things, however, pale in comparison to her support of unrestricted abortion, an issue over which she was lionized to defend at every single turn. Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been hailed as a feminist icon, or rather, the feminist icon, especially for her unbridled enthusiasm for abortion. While I expect no less from a culture that celebrates the death of over 600,000 innocent ones each and every year—I do expect more from those who call themselves Christian. We are beholden to the fact that the Lord hates the abomination that is baby murder (Pro. 6:16-17). The irony ought not be lost on that base of Evangelicals wishing to laud Ruth Bader Ginsburg for her accomplishments that the one who justifies the wicked is an abomination to the Lord (Pro. 17:15). One has to wonder if these irenic displays of fondness from professed Christians are born out of the rose-tinted glasses people often look upon the deceased with, or if it is simply a revelation of the god they truly serve.
Death does not canonize one as a saint, remove the stain of their wicked convictions, or diminish the vitriol they attacked the historic Christian faith with. We are at no liberties to whitewash the extent of her damage to the church. One’s liberalism is not absolved in death, unless, of course, it is absolved in the death of Christ as one flees from their former ways. Death then doesn’t change the nature and character of the individual. Death doesn’t alter which side of the spiritual realm one exists in, it simply removes the veil and regardless of one’s former thoughts, awakens us to the full truth of the matter: the contents of our beliefs matter inasmuch as the outworking of these beliefs. The true legacy of Ruth Bader Ginsburg isn’t that she helped a great mass of people, that she was an advocate, or that she knew how to ask just the right questions. The legacy of Ruth Bader Ginsburg is one of upholding the death of countless children, sexual anarchy, and rebellion to her God-given role as a judge who is to act as a conduit for righteousness.
At the same time, while it is not nearly the same quantity as when Justice Scalia died, I saw many a conservative rejoicing in her death. Hypocrisy on the left though does not validate the hypocrisy of Christians. I have been growing increasingly saddened by the tendency many Christians have to look at liberals and progressives as an enemy rather than a mission field. I understand the theological implications full well—enemies of God are the enemies of God’s people simply by virtue of having made God their enemy. There is a very real, present, and fundamental divide created among people as a result of professing the true Christ. My point has little to do with quibbling over whether or not they are an enemy. Scripture is quite clear about this reality and it does us no favors to pretend as if even Christ didn’t claim there are enemies from within and without. Rather, my point is that the distinctively Christian response to our enemies is not one where we return tit for tat, but leave room for the wrath of God, as Paul commands in Romans 12:14-21.
Romans 12 is the beginning of a new section within Paul’s broader argument to the church at Rome. Chapters 1-11 have been expressing the indicative reality of what it means to be in Christ. More clearly, Paul has been telling the church at Rome what has happened as a result of faith in Christ, which culminates in the doxology at the end of Romans 11. When chapter 12 hits, the apostle transitions to the imperatival obligation Christians have in light of that great indicative reality. In other words: Paul then gives us an understanding of what our Christian responsibility now is as those purchased to be Christ’s possession. Romans 12:14 and then vv. 17-21 are largely what I want to focus on here because it is the most pertinent to our discussion.
In verse 14, Paul writes, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse,” which comes straight from the lips of Jesus Christ in Luke 6:27-36. After a series of commands, rhetorical questions, and more commands—Christ commands His disciples: be merciful just as your Father is merciful. Their extension of mercy is bound up in the fact that God has been merciful to them, thus, the same is said for any Christian. The defining characteristic of the Christian is mercy and the reason for this is that they have been shown great mercy. We love our enemies and show them mercy as Jesus commands us to, because God loves His enemies and gives them mercy.
We love our enemies because God first loved us. It’s as simple as that. We bless them because God has blessed us. That’s why God blesses you, if you didn’t know it. It’s not for you and I to amass our wealth and treat ourselves to whatever catches our fancy. God enriches us for a particular purpose: it’s so you can go and bless others, but especially your enemies. God has saved us even, so that we might be a blessing to others (Zech. 8:13). Our enemies don’t deserve love and mercy; they don’t deserve to be blessed, don’t get me wrong—but neither do you. That is particularly why it is called mercy.
Then we pick back up in Romans 12:17 where the Apostle Paul says, “Never pay back evil for evil with anyone.” Verse 17 gives us a very clear indication that God’s design for justice is not vigilante justice. It’s not personal justice—and Paul picks this back up in Romans 13 where He talks about how the government is charged with this task. Thus, police officers, soldiers, authorities of every stripe—are servants of God whether or not they realize it (or like it). Their task is to execute God’s wrath on the evil doer and uphold the righteous standard of God. That is the job God has ordained for them to have.
The larger idea behind all of this though is that vengeance is built into the fabric of every society—and when that society either refuses to punish the wicked, or they abuse their God-given power by sanctioning wickedness, they invite the wrath of God to come upon that nation. God demands punishment in the here and now for those who break His Law, because those moral failures are legitimately harmful for the society at large and an affront to God. This is sin in a nutshell, and particularly why we are to oppose the enshrining of sin in civil law. The job of those in such positions of authority is to honor God in their roles; they are to pay homage to the Son by ruling according to His standard, lest they be consumed in God’s anger (Ps. 2:10-12).
It must be said that Ruth Bader Ginsburg was no exception to this charge. She was undoubtedly placed into authority by the Lord Himself (Rom. 13:1). It is not just those whom we like that are placed in authority, but all authorities, which is particularly why we are commanded to pray for those in authority (1 Tim. 2:2-4). The content of our prayers is no less bound to their well-being as their ability to rule in righteousness so that peace may be established, and we can, as a result of that peace, preach the gospel without opposition. All of this, again, centralizes around the idea that the genuine convert of Christ does not wish to see their enemies consumed in wrath, but rather, that such wrath can be meted out upon the person of Jesus Christ.
What we need to further understand though is that private revenge has no place in the life of the Christian. We do not retaliate; we do not seek pay them back. We do not seek to return evil for evil. Instead, we seek to do what is honorable in the sight of everyone. This is similar to what the apostle Peter has in mind in 1 Pet. 2:12, where he speaks of the fact that though they may slander us as evildoers, these very same good works we do are the means by which unbelievers will come to glorify God on the day of visitation. While there is debate on the precise meaning of the phrase, “…the day of visitation,” what it refers to is the salvation of these same Gentiles who slandered believers. Thus, the idea is bound up again, in showing mercy for the sake of highlighting the mercy God has had with us. In other words: it is all driven out of wanting to see the gospel go forth so that enemies of God are turned into friends.
However, Romans 12:18 is interesting because Paul acknowledges there is a possibility you won’t be able to keep at peace with all men. You are to do everything in your power to be at peace with everyone—no exceptions. Yet sometimes you do everything you can to reconcile; you bend over backwards, and they still don’t want peace with you. That’s ok. There is a time where peace is not an option. There is a time to stand firm in the truth and stand for what’s right; we do not concede ground on the truth. We do not concede ground on many a thing, and for a good reason. There is likewise a time for self-defense; there is even a time for just war—but, every other reasonable means has to be exhausted. Whatever is in your power to do within reason to keep the peace, you are required to do.
In Verse 19 then the apostle Paul writes, “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God.” Why? For this reason: “…for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.” The natural impulse you and I have is to return injury for injury, but the command of Paul here is that we leave room for the wrath of God. The reason is clear; vengeance belongs to Him. He is the Master of wrath and vengeance. He will perfectly execute vengeance upon the evil doer. We’re not called to help God carry out this vengeance; we are to lay vengeance at the feet of the One to whom it belongs and can execute it in perfection. He will repay every idle and slanderous word. He will judge every sinful deed. He will even weigh the thoughts and intentions of every person’s heart.
This is ultimately at the heart of a passage like Proverbs 24:17-18 when it says, “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and do not let you heart be glad when he stumbles; or the Lord will see it and be displeased, and turn His anger away from him.” The guarantee is that God will one day no longer bear in patience with the world and His burning anger will consume the wicked—and we are explicitly called to not rejoice in their downfall, nor their death, because if we do, the Lord will turn away His anger. In other words: by leaving room for the wrath of God, we will see ultimate justice actually come to pass, both in the here and now and on the Day of Judgment to come.
So the question arises: how do we leave room for the wrath of God? Romans 12:20-21 tells us clearly, “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” The idea Paul speaks to here is that by us not returning evil for evil, we will bring our enemies to open shame by doing good. A burning shame, but a shame that Lord willing, can lead them to repentance rather than wrath. What that very clearly means is that you have to have your enemy’s best interests at heart even when they are not willing to do the same for you. If you can do that, you will not be overcome by evil, but you will overcome evil with good. You’ll be a victor, not a victim, because ultimately you know that no matter what happens in the end, God is the one who promises to punish the wicked. You do it with the ultimate hope that God will save them in Christ, but you know that regardless, God will not let sin go unpunished.
That’s a distinctly Christian thing. The world seeks to overcome evil with evil—the church is called to overcome evil with good. That becomes very practical when you stop to think about it. If you want to boil it down to one thing: you help them. The way you make room for the wrath of God is that you help them. We know the wrath of God is a certainty—we know God will judge all the nations of the earth one day even as they continue to mock and revile that reality. That very fact is what frees you and I up to be a blessing to our enemies. Even if they were to harm us for trying to do them good, we know that God will be the faithful Judge of all the earth and avenge us. Yet we do it with the ultimate hope that God will be pleased to bring them to repentance and faith. If we understand grace, we want them to escape His eternal wrath, because we know just how terrible that wrath truly is.
This becomes all the more sobering as we reflect on the life and legacy of a person like Ruth Bader Ginsburg. At the end of her life, Ruth Bader Ginsburg stood before the true and righteous Judge of all the earth and learned, perhaps for the first time in her life, what justice actually looked like. Christians can and should be glad that the greatest legacy she left will be one where she is no longer a force of terror for the unborn, yet we must not delight in her death. We of all people know that it is assigned to every man to die and then face judgment (Heb. 9:27). We of all people know that unless she repented in earnest at the very last minute, she has faced such judgment, one which we should be loathe to see any person face. If the Lord does not delight in the death of the wicked because He desires all to come to repentance, we ought not presume we can do otherwise. We have a radically different and better way than this shown to us, in that we have been given the distinct honor to love the unlovable, which was the same thing someone did for you and I prior to us knowing Christ.