Retributive Punishment

We often don’t know what we are talking about because our opinions are built around incomplete knowledge of the facts. This week’s lesson on Retributive Punishment serves as a prime example.

Although they expressed themselves with care and genuine concern, the friends of Job did not know what they were talking about. Their summation of the cause of Job’s suffering was wrong. They were convinced Job’s sin(s) was the cause of the calamities that had befallen him.

“If you would earnestly seek God and make your supplication to the Almighty, if you were pure and upright, surely now He would awake for you, and prosper your rightful dwelling place. Though your beginning was small, yet your latter end would increase abundantly.” Job 8:5-7

This sort of reasoning is ingrained into our thinking. Although we may not verbalize it, all of us have at times concluded that someone afflicted in some tragic way was simply reaping what they had sowed. And  who of us have not wondered the same for ourselves when we faced a personal crisis?

Christ’s disciples had this way of thinking. In many ways it seems justifiable. The nation’s history was filled with examples of divine retribution because of grievous sins.

“So they left all the commandments of the Lord their God, made for themselves a molded image and two calves, made a wooden image and worshiped all the host of heaven, and served Baal. And they caused their sons and daughters to pass through the fire, practiced witchcraft and soothsaying, and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the Lord, to provoke Him to anger. Therefore the Lord was very angry with Israel, and removed them from His sight; there was none left but the tribe of Judah alone.”

“Also Judah did not keep the commandments of the Lord their God, but walked in the statutes of Israel which they made. And the Lord rejected all the descendants of Israel, afflicted them, and delivered them into the hand of plunderers, until He had cast them from His sight.” 2 Kings 17:16-20

On one occasion as Jesus and his disciples passed by a blind man, the disciples asked Jesus whether the man was blind because he had sinned or because his parents had sinned. Those were the only two options they could imagine. Someone’s direct sin was being punished by God.

They were wrong.

“Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.” John 9:3

Luke records the same sentiments due to a tragedy that had befallen several people who died in a spectacular fashion.

“There were present at that season some who told Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answered and said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.” Luke 13:1-3

The following quotation found on Friday’s Further Thought is very insightful:

“It is very natural for human beings to think that great calamities are a sure index of great crimes and enormous sins; but men often make a mistake in thus measuring character. We are not living in the time of retributive judgment. Good and evil are mingled, and calamities come upon all. Sometimes men do pass the boundary line beyond God’s protecting care, and then Satan exercises his power upon them, and God does not interpose. Job was sorely afflicted, and his friends sought to make him acknowledge that his suffering was the result of sin, and cause him to feel under condemnation. They represented his case as that of a great sinner; but the Lord rebuked them for their judgment of His faithful servant.” — Ellen G. White Comments, The SDA Bible Commentary,vol. 3, p. 1140.

From these experiences we learn that it’s not our place to judge others as deserving of God’s wrath. The truth is we “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23.

We also find see that our views of who God is and how He operates are often flawed. We paint a picture of Him as a vengeful God anxiously waiting to punish those who refuse His instruction. That is wrong.

“The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9

His longsuffering is not just for others – it is our promise as well. Our task is to examine our own lives to see if we are in the faith. Like the Apostle Paul our purpose should be “to have always a conscience void to offence toward God, and toward men.” Acts 24:16

When the storms of life blow upon us, we need the confidence that we are living in His will and that He will bring us out to see a brighter day.

“For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God. And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight.” 1 John 3:20-22

Here are a few Hit the Mark questions for this week’s lesson discussion:

  • What does being “punished by God” mean to you?
  • Is it true that if we commit a known sin, we should expect a direct punishment from God for it, even if the punishment is delayed for years? Explain your answer.
  • Is it true that as long as you are faithful in returning tithes, regardless of how you live, you will receive blessings from God due to your faithfulness? Why yes or no?
  • Is it true that if one violates the laws of health, God will bring sickness and disease into their lives? Explain your answer.
  • Is it true that God sends judgments to force people to repent? Why yes or no?
  • What does Matthew 5:45 mean? “for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”
  • What does Matthew 7:1-2 mean? “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.”
  • Is the following statement True, Mostly True, Somewhat True or Not True: The calamities we face are God’s way of getting our attention and/or growing us. Explain your answer.

We close this week with the encouraging words of Paul. They remind us the attitude we must possess during those times that don’t make sense.

“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” 2 Corinthians 4:7-9

Until next week, let’s all continue to Hit the Mark in Sabbath School!

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