If you have been discipled as I have you might be tempted to believe grace means cutting all people some slack.
Forgive and forget.
Remember we are all sinners.
I use the term “tempted” quite intentionally. Because it is not biblical.
At least, not always.
There are actually times when grace (which should never be absent from our hearts or actions) means to pronounce judgment and bring accountability rather than cut them slack. But, there is a distinction in Scripture upon whom those judgments are made.
Spreading Like a Tree
I have seen a wicked, ruthless man,Psalm 37:35-38 (ESV)
spreading himself like a green laurel tree.
36 But he passed away, and behold, he was no more;
though I sought him, he could not be found.
37 Mark the blameless and behold the upright,
for there is a future for the man of peace.
38 But transgressors shall be altogether destroyed;
the future of the wicked shall be cut off.
We need to look at some of the words that the psalmist, King David, used.
עָרִיץ (‘ârîyṣ), which is the Hebrew word “ruthless” in the psalm, means “powerful or tyrannical.” Strongs Dictionary goes on to say it means “mighty, oppressor, in great power, strong, terrible, violent.”
Do you get the idea? This is why in abuse language “oppression” and “oppressor” are used frequently. David is speaking of a particularly wicked individual. This is someone who is particularly destructive of other people.
We know this in part because other places in Scripture tell us to that when we confront brothers, we can expect a certain amount of humility and willingness to see their sin and repent (Prov. 12:1, Rev. 3:19).
But when Scripture talks about oppressors, generally there is no such expectation and in fact, often the Bible authors tell us to stay clear of them because they are too dangerous to confront or not worth confronting (see Prov. 9:8, 22:24, Matt. 7:6).
King David in this psalm notes the hopelessness that seems to be the lot of many abuse victims. The ruthless man (oppressor) is like a green laurel tree. One commentary tells us the language refers to a “native tree” which in their interpretation means,
“The idea here is that a tree which thus remains in its own soil is more vigorous, and will attain to a larger growth, than one which is transplanted; and thus the figure becomes an emblem of a prosperous and mighty man. “Barnes Notes on the Bible
This is part of crushing effects of abuse. The oppressor seems unstoppable. He is large in the victim’s eyes and often he is large in the community’s eyes. He is prospering while the victim shrinks and suffers psychological, spiritual, and physical harm.
But David does not stop with verse 35. He goes on to say they will be destroyed. In both verse 36 and 38 there is evident judgment and accountability for the oppressor. He is “no more,” “destroyed,” and “cut off.”
And the one of peace – the victim is clearly implied – will have a future. It is like they will instead “spread like a tree.”
I don’t think I have ever talked to a victim of leadership abuse who has not at some point under the crushing weight of abuse felt he or she was without a future. They feel like they have been axed. Cut down and burned up . . . while their oppressor spreads like a tree.
They have maybe tried confronting their boss, manager, or pastor to no avail. They have maybe sought help from HR, the board of directors, the senior pastor, a church elder, or the CEO to no avail.
In fact, often they have received more abuse either by the oppressor or by the foolish ones to whom they reported who ended up being complicit as they failed to support the victim.
The oppressor became large in the eyes of those who should have been helpful.
It’s Really Real
But, the assurance that David gives is real. It may not come about as we hope or envision. But, it is real. There is a future for those who are abused.
God is not mocked by the scoffer (Prov. 9:8).
And it is God’s grace that brings that oppressor down. We ask that the ruthless be destroyed (Ps. 55) not because we lack grace, but that we wish grace to reach the oppressed. The abused. The vulnerable.
Because this is to what we, as God’s people, are called (Isaiah 58:6).
Grace to call evil, evil.
Grace to rescue the innocent.