RETRIBUTION: A Reflection from the Interpath Traditions Posted August 6, 2023 by admin@interfaith

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A Reflection from the Interpath Traditions
by Thomas P. Bonacci, C.P.

August 6, 2023

Retribution is a harsh word often applied to the Judgement Day of God’s wrath. Retribution implies a certain revenge for misdeeds and injustices suffered. Some think it is only “natural “to exact revenge if one suffers unjustly at the hands of another. Human history is replete with stories of human outrage over the supposed misdeeds of others. Vigilante gangs, lynching mobs, and even corrupt courts of law have all engaged in what they might call “righteous revenge.” 

In more civilized societies, the urge for retribution is held in check by Courts of Law motivated by the pursuit of truth and the practice of justice for all. In some countries, the judiciary is a separate branch of government empowered to assure the rights and dignity of everyone. Nothing corrupts a society faster than a corrupt judiciary motivated by the desire for revenge.

The Bible celebrates God as just and merciful. The biblical idea of divine justice checks the inhuman tendency to be vindicative and self-righteous.  In Romans 12: 19, Paul is ironic when he teaches us to let God’s wrath seize the day. Paul knows from his own experience that the “wrath of God” is no less than God’s mercy and unbounded love. 

Many people understand God’s wrath as vindicative or retributive. Such understandings reduce the Divine to no less than a transitional desire to reward the good and punish the bad. The Bible ultimately teaches a God who is transformative. Think for a moment of one of the Promises of Alcoholics Anonymous: God will do for us what we could not do for ourselves. Evil and wrongdoing must constantly be confronted and condemned. Human beings must suffer the consequence of any misdeed. Ultimately, however, forgiveness must be the order of the day and transformation of one’s life the goal. 

Consider Psalm 130: 3-4:

 If you, Lord, mark our sins,
        who could stand?
 But with you, O God, there is forgiveness,
          so that we can, with reverence, serve you.

A life motivated by revenge is not worth living and certainly does not honor the Creator of us all. The time has come to stop using the Name of God to condemn other people. The heart of a self-righteous person is as dangerous as a lethal weapon. We must disarm our hearts, honoring the God in whose image we are fashioned.    

Blessings and gratitude to you, Holy Community, for all the times you practice peace, reconciliation, justice, and understanding. Blessings to you for all the times you acted like God in your respect for others, even those you might have confronted.