Some people in this world (like my mom) are sweet, kind, generous and helpful. They are friendly and polite to everyone. Other people (probably best not to give examples here) are mean, rude, intrusive, confrontational or just plain selfish. It’s really easy to love people in the first category, but those in the second group tend to bring out the worst in our own character. We often want to treat them the same way that they treated us. This of course, besides being contrary to God’s will, really doesn’t help to improve matters at all.
Romans 12:19 instructs us not to avenge ourselves, not to plot ways to get back at our abusers for what they have done to us. That is not to say that we shouldn’t find appropriate ways to end the abuse if it is ongoing. The most appropriate way to deal with these hurtful situations is to trust God with the outcome. If we try to do God’s job for Him, we aren’t allowing Him to defend us. If we allow Him to, He will help us to get through it, and He will decide what punishment the offenders deserve. We may not necessarily see that punishment, and it may not happen in the timing we would have chosen, but we have to trust God to know what He’s doing. This requires having enough faith to believe that God is in control and that He loves us and wants the best for us.
Romans 12:20 tells us what we should do instead. If our enemy is hungry we should feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. Whatever he needs we should help to provide it. If we do this, we will heap burning coals on his head. I have heard and read various explanations of what is meant by the heaping of burning coals. Most commentaries agree that this expression represents the pangs of conscience our good deeds and acts of love will create in the offender. They will have feelings of shame and remorse because we have treated them so much better than they have treated us. Others explain that people in that era needed to keep their fires burning constantly to provide warmth and a source of heat for cooking. If their fire went out they would have to get burning coals from a neighbour to restart their fire. They would carry these coals home in a container on their heads. Therefore heaping burning coals on a person’s head was a great kindness. Still others say that it refers to an old Egyptian ritual in which people carried pans of burning coal on their head to show their repentance.
I don’t know which of those explanations is correct, but whichever it is, it is clear that we are required to be the people that God calls us to be, and not to stoop to treating others badly even if that is the way that they have treated us. We are not to hate, even when others are hateful. Our job in this world is to love. Jesus said that the two greatest commandments were to love God and to love others. (Matthew 22:37-40, Mark 12:29-31) Love leaves no room for anger or vengeance or hatred. (I Corinthians 13:4-7) This is the way that we will represent Christ’s love to others. (John 13:35) As usual, this may not be an easy thing to do, but it is the right thing.