Doctrine of Retribution – Part 1 (Introduction)

The biblical character Job endured more suffering than most people will ever experience. The “Satan” works a couple of deals with God, an act we may never understand fully, and inflicts unimaginable suffering on Job by destroying his children, his livestock and ultimately his physical body. Job’s three friends (four if you count Elihu) and mourn with Job for seven days and seven nights. Then commences the part of the book of Job that most people don’t read: the dialogue section of poetry in Job 3-42:6. Immediately in the first speech of one of Job’s friends (Eliphaz) we are introduced to an apparently prevalent belief system in the Ancient Near East. After hearing Job curse the day he was born and a desire to go back where he came Eliphaz says this:

Think now, who that was innocent ever perished?
Or where were the upright cut off?
As I have seen, those who plow iniquity
and sow trouble reap the same.
By the breath of God they perish,
and by the blast of his anger they are consumed. (Job 4:7-9; NRSV)

What Eliphaz introduces to Job in a tactless manner is what we call the Doctrine of Retribution.

DOCTRINE OF RETRIBUTION: Those who do good things in this world will reap wonderful rewards from God but those who do bad things in this world will suffer.

This is a shortened version of a more complicated definition but I think this best summarizes the doctrine. Paul talks about this doctrine a little bit in his letter to the Galatians:

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. (Gal. 6:7-9; ESV).

If we are honest, many of us are bent this way when it comes to the Christian life. When bad things happen to us we assume it is because we are doing bad things or transversely when good things happen to us we assume it is because we have prayed right, attended church right and read our bibles. The entire book of Job is a quest for one man to reconcile the fact that he has done every pious thing he could think of and has withheld evil from his house and still he is suffering. If you pay attention to the dialogue I think both sides are struggling with the doctrine. One says he has done all good and does not deserve this evil (I agree in that no person deserves suffering) and the other says he is experiencing evil therefore he must have done something wrong. A verse from Torah reminds us of this type of thinking:

But if you do not do this, you have sinned against the Lord; and be sure your sin will find you out. (Num. 32:23; NRSV)

I want to write a mini-series on this doctrine and hope to give you some biblical wisdom to shed light on the subject. I believe there are formidable ramifications to this doctrine and our youth and churches will be in serious tension if we do not stifle this type of thinking. Here is the outline

  • Introduction
  • It’s Ramifications
  • It’s Opponent
  • It’s Truth
  • Doctrine of Retribution Glorification

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