Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Bad Theology: Retribution

The excerpts below are from chapter 6, Retribution and Other Bad Ideas --Biblical Theology in Marva Dawn's book Being Well When We're Ill  (2008).

    ...[S]ome people seem to have an inordinate need to blame somebody...Maybe it is because they feel more in control of the enigma of evil if they can accuse someone. This was brought home by the headline in the news today. A gunman killed 32 people yesterday at a Virginia Technical University and immediately people began blaming the administration... the brutality of the destruction terrifies us; we feel a need to blame someone.

    ...The bad theology people express to us is extremely harmful. It not only cuts us to the quick and damages our sense of ourselves...but it also sabotages our understanding of the nature of the Trinity. Often it arises from the speaker's own faulty conception of God --in many cases the idea that God the Father is a wrathful and stern Judge whom Jesus had to placate by His sacrifice of Himself on the cross.

    This is one reason that I so often emphasize that God is Trinity. All three Persons share the same gracious essence. All three Persons were willing to go to the extreme lengths that it took to reconcile us to God's Self, and all three participated in the act of redemption. All three Persons love us unconditionally and perfectly. The Triune God desires our salvation and does not operate on the basis of retribution.

   Retribution is such a bad theology that an entire book of the Bible [Job] is devoted to denouncing it. ...[Retribution] is the doctrine that God gives "tit for tat" --a specific punishment or reward when we do evil or good.

   ...The cosmos is not founded on retribution. Its cornerstone is the character of God, who is boundlessly wise, everlastingly gracious, and unceasingly mysterious. God does not blame us for our sufferings; instead He wants to dwell with us in them and show us Himself.

...Why do we and other people so often feel that we have to give explanations? Could we rather not learn in the face of calamity to grieve over it first and leave the mysteries in God's gracious care?

...God's perfect will is our well-being. But the Trinity is working with us in a broken world that contains evils caused by many other forces. It is not that God doesn't have the power to supersede the will of these forces, but that out of His perfect love He will not mess with our free will and the natural laws of creation. So tragedies happen because this is an evil world, presently under the reign of it's ruler, as Jesus acknowledges Satan to be and yet asserts that he has been driven out.

    Sometimes also, for our well-being, God does allow tribulations to enter our lives. Here we truly must apportion wide space for mystery, because we do not and cannot know what purposes God might accomplish through our sufferings, nor should we try to distinguish decisively (as some actually try!) between what troubles are sheer tragedies of evil and what are permitted in order that we might  be changed. We simply know that evil is evil and that we will no doubt be transformed if we rest in God in the face of it.

   To think that everything that happens is precisely God's will is to malign God's character and to ignore human free will and all the forces of evil at work in the world. We certainly can, however, believe that even in bad situations, evil times, and dangerous places God will be at work. God never abandons us, but He will always be there with us to give us help and abiding hope.