What Marvel & Netflix's The Punisher Gets Wrong About The Vengeance of God
A few years ago, I enjoyed binge watching Marvel’s The Punisher on Netflix. Sadly, the show has now been cancelled, but perhaps it will show up again at some point either on Hulu or Disney Plus. Season two was particularly interesting for a variety of reasons. Warning, if you haven’t watched the series, there are some spoilers ahead. The themes of punishment verses redemption were frequently cited throughout the drama along with the subplot of sex crimes against children. I believe it is central to our humanity that these particular themes resonate so deeply in us. From an early age, even those of us that aren’t all that religious, come to understand intuitively that we want some kind of justice to exist in this world and in the one that follows. Typically, this justice is on a spectrum between mere punishment and restorative redemption depending on how heinous we estimate the crime and how closely the perception of the offense impacts us.
Frank Castle a.k.a. The Punisher is a hero that is both damaged and complicated, giving the character depth and forcing viewers to wrestle with issues of justice and vengeance. I found the story to be well written along with a host of questions. For instance, Frank is haunted by the death of his family, relentlessly seeking vengeance on their behalf, a vengeance that is never fully quenched. Frank Castle lives in a continual state of anguish, guilt, and loneliness, never able to find an identity outside of the one he has embraced as a brutal executioner of those who escape existing law enforcement structures. The questions of identity and redemption are hallmark themes to season two of the The Punisher.
Romans chapter 12 verses 19-21 says:
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Here we have in verse 19 the phrase, “wrath of God.” “Never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’' Wrath is connected with God’s response to something that deserves vengeance. And then it says, “I will repay.” So God’s wrath is treated as a repayment to man for something man has done. So just taking this verse alone with its pieces, we could venture a definition of the wrath of God like this: the wrath of God is God’s settled anger toward sin expressed in the repayment of suitable vengeance on the guilty sinner.
When we think of taking “revenge” we are often inclined of thinking about physically hurting someone, because the word is used in that context almost all the time. But here, what I would like to do is NOT focus on revenge as a physical action, but rather, as an emotional and verbal action. I mean this in both ways—the one giving and the one receiving.
When someone hurts us by either saying something about us…ignoring us…not including us…
Jesus implores both Christians and non-Christians not to seek “revenge.”
So you ask, what then are we called to do?
Know who you are: In other words, remember always that we follow Christ and if we want to follow Christ, we have to represent him appropriately. For example, let us say that someone hurt us by saying something that is very hurtful. Do we immediately say something hurtful back to them? If the hurtful words were done without us being there, do we call around to everyone and give a “piece of our mind” about how we feel about the other person? This type of behavior does not lead the other person to repentance; rather it makes the problem bigger and worse. Christ reminds us that he came to save. Similarly, we are called to save others, not seek revenge on them by our words. If we are in the “right,” no words spoken can come against us. The Bible says, “no weapon that is fashioned against you shall succeed…this is the heritage of the servants of the LORD and their vindication from me, declares the LORD.” (Isaiah 54:17) Finally, when you know you are in Christ, you leave revenge up to the Lord. The Bible says, “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves…for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19)
Think: Often, when we get angry and we want to immediately say what is on our mind. Rather than doing that why not let our minds settle down, so that we can think clearly and rationally, so as to make a wise decision about talking to the other person about how they hurt us…rejected us…or ignored us? It’s always better to pray about it first before speaking. Further, it is also possible that we need to fast to seek God’s guidance in regard to how respond appropriately.
Keep going: It’s interesting to note that in the Gospel reading Jesus kept walking toward Jerusalem. In life there will always be “distractions.” As Christians, we have to keep moving. Either we can let the words or actions of others deter our faith in God; or we can keep moving. I don’t mean to say that we need to be ignorant or play “dumb.” But rather, continue on with what we are doing in life with a peaceful confidence that the Lord will fight our battles for us.