Full disclosure, I like the whole idea of retribution…..at least when it is directed at others. If someone wrongs me or wrongs someone I love, I totally love the idea actually. At least, in the flesh that is my humanness. I think many of you, if you’re honest with yourself, would admit the same thing. We inherently want and NEED people to get what they deserve. Stab me in the back? You’re gonna pay! Drive like a jerk, I hope you get a ticket! It aligns with the whole “eye for an eye” idea right out of our beloved Bible! And yet, when the table is turned and retribution is pointed at me, I suddenly and completely value and live dead center in the land of grace and forgiveness. Whether or not I have a contrite heart about the offense I caused, I will more often than not beg to not receive what I absolutely deserve. “I had a bad day!” “I didn’t sleep well last night!” Even, “Wow, I was a jerk to do that, it was horrible of me. Please forgive me.” In every scenario, everything in me accepts that retribution is not God’s plan and forgiveness is superior in every way.
What is right? Where should we live?
In society, this gets a little tricky for me. I mean, seriously, if you drink and drive there will be consequences. If you murder someone, there are and should be consequences. To do otherwise would be a detriment to us all. I am not advocating the removal of laws and punishments in the realm of society, rules at jobs, and that sort of thing. I think we can all agree that, though some laws may be applied in an unequal fashion, they are important to our safety and wellbeing as a community.
But how does it look in relation to our religion? Since I am a Christian, I will focus on what I know best – MY religion. In MY religion, there are tons of scriptures that tell me to forgive people. Colossians 3 says to forgive others as Jesus already forgave you. Ephesians 4 goes further saying “hey get along, stop being jerks, and show compassion and forgiveness”. It even says in John 20 if we withhold forgiveness, it will be withheld from us (among other Gospels)! However, several Old Testament verses clearly created the means in which people could and should face retribution for their actions. Exodus 32, Leviticus 26, and in Deuteronomy 7:9-10 ESV it says, “Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations, and repays to their face those who hate him, by destroying them. He will not be slack with one who hates him. He will repay him to his face.” Pretty serious retribution right there.
So, I know Jesus calls me to forgive, but God clearly established that maybe I CAN and SHOULD hold people – especially those who don’t agree with me – to a level where I am totally justified in hating and condemning them. I mean, God set the standard and I want to follow Him, so doesn’t that just seem like a natural progression? Well, that just doesn’t feel quite right to me.
So, I offer up the following to consider in relation to the whole retribution thing.
The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant
Matt 18:21-35 ESV
Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.
“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
ALL of us do not deserve the amazing gift of Grace that Jesus Christ provided to us. We can never go to church enough, tithe enough, or do anything enough to earn the gift we received. And really, Jesus never INTENDED us to earn it! So we have no room to judge others nor real room to expect retribution as we have avoided it ourselves. At least, that’s where I am in this thing called life.
What are your thought?