Thoughts on Job, God, and Retribution (Part 1 of 3)


I recently finished a seminary elective about God and Healing, and thought I would progressively share some of the richest moments of my studies. I’m going to start with some thoughts on the Book of Job, because this truly transformed my perspective.

Jewish scholar, Matitiahu Tsevat (now deceased) wrote a brilliance article, “The Meaning of Job,” in which he used a triangular paradigm to describe the relationship between people, God, and the retribution principle. (The retribution principle is the idea that good things happen to good people, and bad things to bad; God blesses the righteous, and punishes the wicked.)

Tsevat’s diagram is an equilateral triangle in which Job, God, and Retribution each take one point. The concept behind this is that we cannot look in two directions at once–we can look up at God, or across at our situation (or even backward, or in some other direction)–but we cannot face both directions simultaneously. Job’s friends understood God and Retribution to be true, therefore they believe Job must not be righteous as he says. Job perceives himself as righteous, so struggles between his relationship with God and expectation of retribution (nearly, but not quite, losing God in the process).

From Job’s perspective, Tsevat’s statement is true. Job’s attachment and forethought regarding the retribution principle (assumption of justice based on his relationship with God, including his own right-standing and knowledge of God’s mercy and graciousness) prevented him from resting in God within his sickness and dis-ease. From the perspective of the suffering person it is difficult to hold onto both God and Retribution, because they become contrary. Jesus himself speaks of this when he says:

You know that Hebrew Scripture sets this standard of justice and punishment: take an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say this, don’t fight against the one who is working evil against you. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, you are to turn and offer him your left cheek. If someone connives to get your shirt, give him your jacket as well. If someone forces you to walk with him for a mile, walk with him for two instead. If someone asks you for something, give it to him. If someone wants to borrow something from you, do not turn away. (Mat. 5:38-42 The Voice)

If we have retribution in mind, we naturally begin to put our hope in that–in justice, health, restoration–and it becomes difficult to “serve two masters” so to speak (Mat. 6:24). Our relationship with God lessons until our faith in Him is omitted, even if He was the intended source of the retribution. In this way the human yearning and expectation for retribution produces a mechanical faith, whereas resting in God is an organic, personal one.

God’s eternal perspective goes beyond this while also bringing cohesiveness to the retribution principle. This will be discussed further in Part 2.