Archives For Doctrine of Retribution


1O Lord, rebuke me not in your anger,
    nor discipline me in your wrath!
For your arrows have sunk into me,
    and your hand has come down on me.

There is no soundness in my flesh
    because of your indignation;
there is no health in my bones
    because of my sin.
For my iniquities have gone over my head;
    like a heavy burden, they are too heavy for me.

My wounds stink and fester
    because of my foolishness,
I am utterly bowed down and prostrate;
    all the day I go about mourning.
For my sides are filled with burning,
    and there is no soundness in my flesh.
I am feeble and crushed;
    I groan because of the tumult of my heart.

O Lord, all my longing is before you;
    my sighing is not hidden from you.
10 My heart throbs; my strength fails me,
    and the light of my eyes—it also has gone from me.
11 My friends and companions stand aloof from my plague,
    and my nearest kin stand far off.

12 Those who seek my life lay their snares;
    those who seek my hurt speak of ruin
    and meditate treachery all day long.

13 But I am like a deaf man; I do not hear,
    like a mute man who does not open his mouth.
14 I have become like a man who does not hear,
    and in whose mouth are no rebukes.

15 But for you, O Lord, do I wait;
    it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer.
16 For I said, “Only let them not rejoice over me,
    who boast against me when my foot slips!”

17 For I am ready to fall,
    and my pain is ever before me.
18 I confess my iniquity;
    I am sorry for my sin.
19 But my foes are vigorous, they are mighty,
    and many are those who hate me wrongfully.
20 Those who render me evil for good
    accuse me because I follow after good.

21 Do not forsake me, O Lord!
    O my God, be not far from me!
22 Make haste to help me,
    O Lord, my salvation!

There is a lot to unpack here but this Psalm is a beautiful example of an Individual Lament that may be categorized as a prayer song of a sinner. Sin (or iniquity) is mentioned four times. If we are careful with our interpretation we will note that he has his complaint against his enemies but the enemies is not the problem but only a hint at the problem.  It’s like the smell of something bad but not the bad thing itself. For David, clearly the root of the problem is his sin. Smarter people than I am tell me that this is a common theme in the Ancient Near East. People do bad things so bad things happen to them (retribution). God surely warned them of the blessings and curses that would come from their obedience or disobedience (see Deuteronomy 28). So David’s symptoms are not the problem.

But that’s just it. The lament is real and the pain is real but it comes from somewhere else. Notice the physical symptoms:

  • no health in his bones – v. 3
  • sides are filled with burning – v. 7
  • he is feeble -v. 8
  • his heart throbs – v.10

You get the picture. There is an association with physical pain and mental anguish for David. Makes sense though when one considers times of anguish in their own lives. I remember a season in my life when I was going through a tough time and there were serious physical ramifications. I could not eat and I remember experiencing severe heartburn. My body ached over the anguish I was experiencing and it was gut-wrenching. The solution for David to all of this anguish seems to be in verse 18: his confession of sin and remorse for wrong-doing. There was no grey-area for David as the pain (both internal and external) he was experiencing was directly correlated to his own spiritual brokenness. You and I can sit down over a cup of coffee and smirk at his rather “unlearned” theology but David was a staunch warrior for God. He was in the trenches.

Discussion Questions

  1. Talk about a time where you experienced physical pain from spiritual anguish. What was it like? Describe the circumstances.
  2. Do you think it is right to say that many of our difficult times is due to our sinfulness? Explain.
  3. How is David’s resolve to confess his sin a helpful solution for our laments?
Advertisements

To start I want to be biblical about this and say at the front that the doctrine of retribution (DOR for now on) is something that DID occur in Scripture.  Remember Deuteronomy 28 where Moses relays all of the blessings and curses for obedience and disobedience?

“And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth” (Deut. 28:1).

“But if you will not obey the voice of the Lord your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you” (28:15).

That sounds a little like the DOR to me. Do good and be good and you will get rewarded but do evil and a nasty curse will come over you and moreover all that is among you will be destroyed. Sheesh! Look at the monarchy and the blessings and curses motif plays out to a tee as the more Israel steeps into idolatry the more their nation is turned into ruins culminating with captivity and displacement.

Yet, the idea of DOR seems to change when Christ comes. We assume (so did the Jews) that the Messiah would come and eradicate other nations and sit on his throne and rule from Zion as the king forever. Only, that’s not what the Messiah did. If there was ever a person who should reap the benefits of a doctrine like the DOR then it should have been Jesus. Only, the more good he did, the less blessed (we will define blessings later) he became. More on this in another post.

I want to look at some ramification if we believe in the DOR motif. I would first like to point out one major ramification in that I wonder if we really believe that certain things are punished now when so much evil goes unpunished. Or when good people get cancer and we wonder if the DOR could even be possible when things like this happen. There are many examples of the doctrine of retribution being played out but what came to mind was all of the religious leaders who claimed Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Consider all that was said (from a Wikipedia article entitled “Hurricane Katrina as Divine Retribution”)

  • New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin is said to have asserted in a speech on January 16, 2006, addressing the effects of Hurricane Katrina, “Surely God is mad at America”.
  • Ovadia Yosef, a prominent ultra-Orthodox Israeli rabbi, declared that Hurricane Katrina to be “God’s punishment for President Bush’s support of the August 2005 withdrawal of Jewish settlers from the Gaza strip”.[1] He added that black people died because they did not study the Torah:

    There was a tsunami and there are terrible natural disasters, because there isn’t enough Torah study… Black people reside there [New Orleans]. Blacks will study the Torah? [God said], Let’s bring a tsunami and drown them… Hundreds of thousands remained homeless. Tens of thousands have been killed. All of this because they have no God… Bush was behind the [expulsion of] Gush Katif, he encouraged Sharon to expel Gush Katif… We had 15,000 people expelled here [in Israel], and there [in America] 150,000 [were expelled]. It was God’s retribution. God does not short-change anyone.

  • Evangelical Jack Chick produced a chick tract entitled Somebody Angry? which also explained the hurricane as a sign of God’s wrath over US pressure on Israel.
  • Minister Louis Farrakhan asserted that Hurricane Katrina was “God’s way of punishing America for its warmongering and racism”.[1]Said Farrakhan, “Maybe God ain’t pleased. Maybe this caste system that pits us against each other has to be destroyed and something new and better put in its place.”
  • Less than two weeks after the Hurricane, Pat Robertson implied on the September 12th broadcast of The 700 Club that the Hurricane was God’s punishment in response to America’s abortion policy. He suggested that 9/11 and the disaster in New Orleans “could… be connected in some way.”

What’s the problem with all of this? We have no clue that this was the work of God. Furthermore why can’t we say that natural disasters occur and New Orleans is in the path of possibilities for hurricanes. If I move out to San Francisco and an earthquake of a 10.9 on the Richter Scale occurs and thousands of people die I don’t blame God. I moved out there knowing there is a possibility of earthquakes.

When we start saying God punishes certain groups of people as if we know for certain God is behind whatever it is he is using to punish I think it places us at a high level where we intimately know the things God is doing. I am not against saying God punishes people for their wrong but I am unwilling to see he does so by sending earthquakes, tornadoes, tsunamis and hurricanes. God, in 2 Peter 3:9 does not wish anyone would perish but that all would come to everlasting life.

What are your thoughts?


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