In today's sermon I posed "What is your theology of suffering?". I then proposed that for most people, a theology of retribution forms their theology of suffering. Do good things, and you can expect good things to follow. Do bad things, and you'll suffer for it. At it's heart is a view that the universe has an inherent justice to it.
Of course as we explored Job we learned that life is not so simple. Job was a righteous man. But for reasons, unknown to him, he faced incredible suffering. Elsewhere Scripture laments:“Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the faithless live at ease?” (Jeremiah 12:1).
The universe isn't governed according to a system of immediate justice. God doesn't rush to punish every sin, or reward every good.
People who have stared deeply into their souls likley recognise that they wouldn't benefit any system of instantaneous justice. While Job may be deemed 'righteous' we recognise that we fall short. Rather than clamor for justice, we hold on to the Gospel's promise of grace.
But if we can realise our need for grace, why do we fall back into this sort of thinking?
It would seem that a theology of retribution has a social payoff for those whose sins are not public. If you are materially successful this can be seen as proof of an pristine moral life as well. The fact that your business has done well can be leveraged to say that you are a respectable (moral) person too.
But I think a more sinister reason we tend to fall into retributive thinking is that it puts us in the driver's seat. God is tamed, mastered by the rules of the universe. If we do good then God must bless us. If we do evil, well then that is our choice. But as the book of Job shows us God will not be ruled by our sense of justice: Who has a claim against me that I must pay? Everything under heaven belongs to me." (Job 41:11 NIV) The prophet Isaiah echoes Job. God declares: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” (Isaiah 55: 8 NIV).
Do I think it is okay to long for justice. Certainly. There are broken things in the world that beg to be fixed. We can pray for a better arrangement even while we depend on God's grace. But should we demand that God defer to our designs for how the world ought to be run... We can do this as well. But eventually we too will find ourselves in the place of Job, who when confronted with his Creator declares: "Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know." Job 42:3 NIV
Image from "Book of Job Chapter 2-6" Sweet Media