Friday, October 27, 2006

A Brief Apology for Divine Retribution

Are Job and Deuteronomy at odds?

Many scholars and homilists say so, but they have not looked closely at the logic. They rightly want to stress, with the book of Job, that you cannot assume that someone in pain is getting their just desserts for some sin. As true as that is, it does not mean there is no such thing as divine retribution and that Deuteronomy, which emphasizes retribution, had got it wrong. Consider the following computer slide (click to greatly enlarge):

Deuteronomy's concern with divine retribution (covenant curses) would fall in the overlap of the two circles that I have drawn. This overlap zone represents the cases where the suffering we see around us is the result of sin. I hope that it is clear from the diagram that the existence of this overlap zone does not at all mean that suffering is necessarily punishment. Absolutely, much suffering that we see around us is innocent, unjust suffering. The entire portion of the left-hand circle that does not overlap with the circle on the right represents suffering that has nothing to do with divine punishment for sin.

Both OT and NT know well that there is a deed-consequence pattern in life, and that God intervenes to punish sin, but neither testament calls us to be illogical and to apply this pattern to our experience superficially or rigidly!


Blogger Eliz F said...

What a fabulous post!! We are SO uncomfortable with a theology in which God holds us accountable (which as Dr. Cook knows is part of my thesis). I have often heard people say "Well the God I worship doesn't punish people," and while sometimes pastorally such sentiments are necessary, sometimes I worry that people speaking about "the God [they] know" reflects them speaking about a God they themselves created, not the God revealed in Scripture.

Fri Oct 27, 07:00:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger S and C said...

Thanks for the comment, Elizabeth! ---S.

Fri Oct 27, 07:12:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger Tyler F. Williams said...

Wouldn't you say, however, that there is a difference in empahsis between books like Deuteronomy, Proverbs, Chronicles, etc., and Job and (especially) Ecclesiastes? It seems to me that there were different schools of thought in ancient Israel regarding how they framed the notion of retribution (e.g., even between Chronicles and Kings you find a shift to more immediate retribution, do you not?).

Fri Oct 27, 05:45:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger S and C said...

Hi Tyler! Yes, I'm sure your right that the idea of retribution receives different emphases and nuances across differing traditions and books. Part of this would have to do with which particular theological "battles" were being fought in each case. For example, it has always seemed to me that Detueronomy is addressing Israel largely as a whole, whereas Job is focussing on the level of the individual. Can you say more about the shift to immediate retribution that you mention? I would be very interested. Thanks, ---Steve

Fri Oct 27, 07:03:00 PM GMT-5  

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