Surprisingly, yes! Should we be like God? Not in this way. In mercy, yes; in vengeance, no.
“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’ (from Deuteronomy 32:35, where God makes it clear in the context that He takes care of the underdog). 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’ (from Proverbs 25:21). Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:19-21).
How counterintuitive can you get? Our instinct is to do what is fair. The law tells us what that is: an eye for an eye, (Exodus 21:25). You take his eye; he takes yours. Jesus quotes this Old Testament passage, then introduces a new ethic. Instead of justice, mercy. As the brother of Jesus wrote, “Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13). God is after something much higher than getting even. Jesus says, “Be merciful, even as your father is merciful” (Luke 6:36), and that includes enemies. Loving adversaries proves our sonship, our connection to a loving Father.
We have a capacity to forgive those who hurt us, not an item in most people’s toolbox. That enables us to respond with the opposite spirit to what came our way. People are not expecting it. The purpose is to throw them off balance by returning good for evil, hopefully helping them to come to terms with a kind Father “who makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and send rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). Today God will water the gardens of people who despise him. And he wants children who act like their Father. Hopefully, our response rather than our reaction brings them up short (the hot coals), and we are able to introduce them to a merciful and mighty God! What a plan!
The heaping of burning coals is meant to lead to the softening of an enemy. What if it doesn’t? Can we take revenge at that point? No, we are not qualified. We do not see the situation with perfect clarity. We are too personally involved to bring justice into the mix. But God can. He would rather punish the enemy, if that is the only option, than having us try to administer justice. Ours could get vindictive. We might take two teeth out because it hurt so much, and we would excuse our angry reaction. Only a just God can bring proper vengeance on an unrepentant rebel. But He would rather turn the table of evil by overcoming it with good. Oh God is good!! If God is this kind (as well as all-powerful), he can work that kind of response in you and me.