Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:21
In 1994, when South Africa made the transition from government by apartheid (imposed racial segregation) to a democracy, it faced the difficult question of how to address the crimes committed under apartheid. The country’s leaders couldn’t ignore the past, but merely imposing harsh punishments on the guilty risked deepening the country’s wounds. As Desmond Tutu, the first black Anglican Archbishop of South Africa, explained in his book No Future Without Forgiveness, “We could very well have had justice, retributive justice, and had a South Africa lying in ashes.”
Through establishing the Truth and Reconciliation Committee, the new democracy chose the difficult path of pursuing truth, justice, and mercy. Those guilty of crimes were offered a path to restoration—if they were willing to confess their crimes and seek to make restitution. Only by courageously facing the truth could the country begin to find healing.
In a way, South Africa’s dilemma mirrors the struggle we all face. We’re called to pursue both justice and mercy (Micah 6:8), but mercy is often misunderstood to be a lack of accountability, while pursuing justice can become distorted into pursuing revenge.
Our only path forward is a love that not only “hates what is evil” (Romans 12:9) but also longs for the transformation and good of our “neighbor” (13:10). Through the power of Christ’s Spirit, we can learn what it means to have a future of overcoming evil with good (12:21).
When have you witnessed times when the goal of mercy and grace seemed distorted to enable injustice? When have you seen both justice and mercy working in harmony?
Loving God, when the pain and injustice around me breaks my heart, help me to still believe in Your love and power to transform and heal. Help me to point with my life to Your justice, mercy, and love.
A distinctive of Paul’s letters is that they contain both biblical doctrine (teaching beliefs) and instruction on practical living. Having explained what the gospel is in Romans 1–11, in chapters 12–16, Paul applies it to the everyday relationships of the believer in Jesus, including our relationship with God (12:1–2), other believers (vv. 3–21), governing authorities (13:1–7), the community (vv. 8–14), the spiritually weak (14:1–15:3), and co-workers (ch. 16). Paul’s overarching emphasis in these five chapters is the importance of Christlike love in the life of the believer (12:9–10; 13:8–10; 14:15), for “love is the fulfillment of the law” (13:10). Today’s passage, Romans 12:9–21, may seem like a collection of unrelated sayings, but Paul is still talking about this love that reflects Jesus. Love for enemies (vv. 14–21) is the litmus test and demonstration of such a radical love (Matthew 5:43–48).
To learn more about the role forgiveness plays in a believer’s life, visit ChristianUniversity.org/SF107.