Is “Calling Down Fire” Really Necessary?

It is human nature to desire for judgment to immediately fall on those who harm us or those we love. This is especially true for survivors of sexual abuse. I once led a support group of sexual abuse survivors comprised of several leaders in the church. Without exception, everyone longed for their abusers to be punished, and most fantasized about doing it themselves! Can you relate? How can we deal with our desires for vengeance?

Today in my quiet time, a short passage caught my eye in Luke 9:51-56. It’s the story of James and John’s desire to call down fire on a Samaritan village that rejected Jesus. Scripture doesn’t give exact details about what happened in that village, but they were obviously hurt and offended. Furthermore, wasn’t it scriptural to call down fire? They were probably remembering when Elijah did that in II Kings 1! So, why did Jesus rebuke them now? I asked the Holy Spirit to teach me about this brief passage recorded only in the Gospel of Luke.

In II Kings 1, when Elijah called down fire on the soldiers who were sent to apprehend him, he was revealing the true God’s power while protecting himself from wicked King Ahaziah. It is interesting to note that King Ahaziah was the son of King Ahab, whose wife, Jezabel, was famous for killing hundreds of prophets like Elijah. Ahaziah also worshipped Baal, a false god who routinely received child sacrifices upon his altar fires! In Luke 9:51-56, James and John, on the other hand, desired to punish the Samaritans for offenses that had already occurred. They were seeking vengeance against people who rejected them and their Lord. So, if Jesus rebuked them for desiring to call down fire as an act of vengeance, how should we respond to those who have so grievously disrespected and abused us?

As I continued to read, I realized that Jesus actually taught his disciples in chapter 10 how to respond to abuse and rejection as they went to the next villages. He offered two ways to respond. The first was “to let your peace return to you,” and the second was “to shake the dust off your feet.”  I had never really considered these two directives in relation to abusive situations before.

My spiritual mentor used to say, “You never lose your peace over someone else’s sin.” At the time, I interpreted this to mean that only my own sin should cause me to lose my peace, but today as I meditated on this scripture in Luke, I understood another possible meaning was to never surrender your peace on account of someone else’s hurtful actions toward you. In other words, to never let another person’s mistreatment and rejection of you cause you to doubt your value or impact your relationship with God. Their abusive actions are not your fault. Therefore, it’s important to fully acknowledge their actions as their problem and to let “your peace” return to you. What freedom is found when we can finally put the responsibility for these actions where they belong rather than attempting to take responsibility upon ourselves by continuing to struggle with false accusations, shame, hopelessness, and even desires for revenge. God enables us to be at peace with Him and within ourselves regardless of how others relate to us.

The second way Jesus taught his disciples to respond to mistreatment and rejection was to shake the dust off their feet! In other words, don’t let the things that happened there still cling to you! We do not need the acceptance or approval of those who rejected us, no matter how much we may have wanted it. We cannot force anyone to receive our love or to honor us either, no matter how much we may have intended to bless them. Their failure to receive us as people of value and worth is truly their loss. Jesus said, as a warning to them, we need to shake the dust off our feet publicly (in the streets) indicating to everyone that we no longer desire to continue in relationship. Shaking the dust is also a warning to them that their actions have consequences. There is no admonition here to continue subjecting ourselves to abuse when it is in our power to walk away!

Lastly, Jesus also told them to tell those who rejected them that “the Kingdom of God has come near.” The Kingdom of God came near in the form of healing for those who received Jesus and his disciples, but it also came near in the form of judgment for those who rejected them. Jesus went on to explain what would happen to the cities that rejected them on the day of judgment.

Nevertheless, for most of us victims, judgment can’t come fast enough, so we try to make ourselves prosecutors, judges, and executioners just like James and John did. God assures us in II Peter 3:7-9 that judgment is sure even if it seems delayed:  “By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead, He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”

I have a dear friend whose father molested her and several other family members and friends as children. Since he passed away, she has delighted in the hope that he is now presumably in hell. She is troubled by even the suggestion that he may have turned to Christ on his deathbed, and simply cannot entertain the thought of encountering him again in Heaven. What she and many other people fail to consider is that if true repentance had actually occurred—even on an abuser’s death bed—his heart would have been completely changed. The man she would be reunited with in Heaven would not be the same man who so grievously abused her and others here on earth. Instead, for eternity, he would have become the dad she had always needed him to be. He would of necessity be a new creation or he wouldn’t be in Heaven at all.

That’s what the hope of the gospel is really all about—It not only provides a residence in Heaven when believers die, it also readies them to live there! God often delays judgment here on earth to give people an opportunity to turn to Him in genuine faith and repentance and to be transformed into the men and women he created them to be. Sometimes that happens, like it did with the thief on the cross. With God all things are possible, even the redemption of serious criminals. However, I personally believe such conversions are extremely rare. The reality is that sin hardens hearts over time to a point where conviction of sin no longer occurs. My friend can rest assured that she will not be reunited with anyone in Heaven who is indifferent to their past sins against others or desires to continue a predatory lifestyle.

Consequently, we do not need to worry about avenging ourselves. God is more than capable of taking care of that for us when the time is right. If James and John had called down fire on their persecutors, physical destruction could have occurred in that moment, but in the end, Jesus will judge things in such a way that evil is completely destroyed, righteousness is restored, and everything is made new.  Our part is to trust Him, reclaiming our own peace, and shaking the dust off our feet in the meantime.

How do you feel about waiting for Jesus to deal with your abuser? What might “letting your peace return to you” and “shaking the dust off your feet” look like for you practically speaking?

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