CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

All human beings, deep down, have a thirst for justice, and this manifests itself in a desire to see evildoers punished. We are properly outraged at heinous crimes like rape, murder and genocide and want to see the perpetrators pay. We enjoy movies in which the 'bad guys' get their comeuppance (I remember literally jumping out of my seat with clenched fist with a loud cry of 'Yes!' when Lancelot hacked Prince Malagant to death in First Knight, to name one of many examples). 'Eye for an eye' and 'tooth for a tooth' just seems right. The moral law must be upheld, and punishments meted out consistently and without exception. Anything less would seem to underestimate the gravity of wrongdoing and let people 'off the hook' who shouldn't be let off.


Retributive justice is very intuitively appealing. It just seems obvious that punishment must be meted out for wrongdoing. We see it as entirely just and proper for a murderer to be sentenced to life imprisonment or even execution. We gain a certain satisfaction from imagining the cruel treatment that a rapist might suffer in prison. And we think no punishment is harsh enough for a perpetrator of genocide like Hitler or Pol Pot.

But when we really think about it, although we feel that punishment should be meted out for wrongdoing, is it true that justice has actually been done? So the Nazi officers who were tried and sentenced to death at Nuremberg got what they deserved...but their victims are still dead, and the survivors traumatized. The husband of a murdered wife may feel a sense of satisfaction watching the murderer go to the electric chair, but the wife is still gone, and nothing, not even the satisfaction of seeing punishment meted out can fully compensate for that loss.

I suggest that what really lies behind our desire for justice is not for punishment to be meted out, but things to be made right.

Let me illustrate with a less dramatic example. Suppose a thief breaks into my house and steals a priceless heirloom. The thief is caught without the heirloom ever being found, and is sentenced to pay a fine or goes to jail. Yes, that may be appropriate, but what I really want is my heirloom back. The punishment of the thief does not compensate for the loss of the heirloom.

Now imagine that a thief steals the heirloom, but feels guilty about it (and really guilty, not just worried that he might be caught, but guilty because he realizes he's done me wrong) and returns it to me with sincere apologies. Is there any need for me to report the incident to the police? If I am impressed with his remorse and have recovered the heirloom, why should any further punishment be necessary? And even if I don't recover the heirloom, but the thief comes to me in remorse and promises to do whatever is in his power to make it up to me, why should I not forgive him? The thief's remorse might even be the opportunity for us to become friends, to be reconciled and no longer at cross purposes.

Now it seems obvious to us that even if that kind of response might be appropriate in such situations, it would obviously be perverse when dealing with the perpetrator of genocide, for example. But why is that exactly?

For one thing, the perpetrators of genocide and other heinous crimes are notorious for rationalizing their behavior so that they find it impossible to see that they have done anything wrong. Even when confronted with overwhelming evidence of their culpability, they will flatly deny it and not shed so much as a tear for their victims.

Second, the suffering, pain and anguish they cause to their victims seems overwhelming and irreversible. The harassment, the torture and the death cannot be undone. Justice cries out for compensation.

Third, to be lenient to such criminals would seem to threaten the social order by trivializing wrongdoing, whereas a proper sense of the severity of wrongdoing is essential for social cohesion. If would-be murderers, rapists, abusers, etc. knew that they would probably be let off the hook, they would run wild. Society would break down.

But what if the following conditions held: suppose the perpetrators of genocide were to become fully aware of the enormity of their crimes and were overwhelmed with remorse (again not just because they were caught but because they realized how deeply they wronged and violated their victims), all the hurt and suffering of the victims were completely erased so that the dead came back to life and wounds healed, including their memories so that they did not even remember the pain and anguish of their persecution, and a new society appeared in which it would be impossible for any further abuses to take place? Would we still demand that the perpetrators suffer?

It seems to me that retributive justice is an accommodation to our fallen condition. Jesus said that it was because of the hardness of the Israelites' hearts that Moses allowed people to divorce (Matthew 19:8), and it seems that the same is true for the whole scheme of retribution. In this fallen world we are often confronted with wrongdoers we don't know are truly repentant (or that we do know actually aren't), the majority of crimes cause harm which cannot be taken back, undone or made up for, and in the face of the blackness of the human heart the state must consistently enforce the law to maintain social cohesion. Even in the face of sincere repentance and a desire on the part of those wronged to forgive, the state must enforce punishments so as to not give the impression that people can commit crime with impunity.

In such a condition, the only compensation that those who lose a loved one to murder can get is the satisfaction of knowing that the murderer is being punished. And in order to maintain its authority, the state has no choice but to uphold the law and mete out punishment. Note however that this is only partial compensation: it is not justice, because the loved one is still dead, and the murderer may still be unrepentant. True justice would be for things to be made right: the dead loved one restored to life, and the murderer repentant.

And in fact, due to our sinful condition, retribution itself can become an injustice, when the desire for revenge demands punishment out of all proportion with the crime. We see this in the very beginning, when Lamech boasts to his wives that "I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for hurting me. If Cain is to be avenged seven times as much, then Lamech seventy-seven times!" (Genesis 4:23-24) In light of this fact, we can actually read the Mosaic injunction, "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth," not as endorsing retribution, but limiting it within strict boundaries. Given that human beings desire revenge for wrongs which cannot be undone and will seek it out anyway, the law simply makes sure that it won't get out of hand.

Proponents of restorative justice are often ridiculed for being too sentimentalist and unrealistic. The suggestion is made that those who advocate for it have not experienced human evil in all its ugliness, and have a 'bleeding heart' for those who do not really deserve it.

What is surprising then is that throughout history the chief proponents of restorative justice have also been the ones that experienced the most horrific injustices. Take just one well-known example: Martin Luther King. King grew up experiencing the awful injustice of discrimination. He endured the humiliation of knowing that those around him thought of him as a second-class citizen. He was doubtless aware of the history of slavery and the horrors it contained: slave-masters raping their servant girls, ripping apart families, beating and starving their slaves, not allowing them to become educated, etc. And he certainly knew about the lynch mobs that continued to take place up to his own time, and experienced the brutality of police tactics to put down demonstrations. In this context, how could anyone not wish that the oppressors would suffer, and suffer greatly?

But King constantly affirmed that his nonviolent resistance tactics had as their aim, not only to secure the right treatment of blacks, but to be reconciled to his white brothers and sisters. The aim of non-violent resistance, he said, was never to shame or to hurt the oppressors, but to make them see the truth of the injustice they were perpetrating, and bring them back into the circle of community. These convictions did not result from King's awareness that the whites were a powerful majority, or that it would be too hard to track down each and every perpetrator of injustice, but from his understanding that the oppressors too often were blind to what they were doing but remained fellow human beings, and from his firm faith that in the struggle for justice, humanity has 'cosmic companionship'. Because he was convinced that God was a God of justice and love, he had the courage to bear injustice without striking back, just as Jesus did as he was going to his death. He was convinced that ultimately love and reconciliation would prevail.

These are just a few tentative thoughts and I still have a lot of reading and studying to do before I come to a better understanding of the spirit of biblical justice. But at this point it seems plausible to understand retribution in the Bible primarily as damage control, until God could effect a complete and perfect reconciliation in Christ.

25 comments:

JD,

Excellent post. However, it seems to me that the Bible clearly portrays God as vengeful. "vengenance is mine, I will repay saith the Lord." And since God is supposed to be just then this vengenance or retribution must be just, if one believes the Bible. Vengenance seems to be instinctive as you point out but as one reflects upon it, many see it as barbaric. Restorative justice is certainly more noble but I think you will be hard pressed to find the Bible teaching restorative justice. It seems that one would have to hold to universalism in order to see restorative justice in the Bible.

JD: The husband of a murdered wife may feel a sense of satisfaction watching the murderer go to the electric chair, but the wife is still gone, and nothing, not even the satisfaction of seeing punishment meted out can fully compensate for that loss.

Anonymous: This isn't what retributive justice is about though. Retributive justice is not about securing these ends.

Hi Ken,

Like I said I still have a lot of study to do to get a handle on the biblical model(s) of justice, but it seems to me that a strong case can in fact be made that biblical justice is fundamentally restorative. It includes a retributive element, but it is usually limited in extent (to the third and fourth generation) and pales in comparison with God's mercy and compassion (which extents to thousands of generations). Glen Stassen and David Gushee have a good chapter on the biblical view of justice in their "Kingdom Ethics". It is also striking to me that very often the word justice is found in conjunction, not with the punishment of sinners, but the mandate to uphold the cause of the widows and the oppressed, and surprisingly enough with God relenting from punishment.

And I disagree that restorative justice requires universalism, because one can be offered the chance at restoration and decisively reject it. If a South African rejected Nelson Mandela's offer of amnesty in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, what option is left but to exclude that person from community?

Anon,

Then what is retributive justice about, and if the ideal situation I outlined in my post held what would be its point?

Isn't "restorative justice" also an accommodation to our fallen condition? Is not the law itself an accommodation to our fallen condition?

Chris,

My understanding of 'accommodation' is more specific than simply 'response' to a certain situation. What I mean is that retribution is not God's ultimate end. It's a means to an end, it limits the destructiveness of sin until a more complete reconciliation can be accomplished. Derek Flood uses the interesting analogy of a patient in critical condition who is kept on life support until life-saving surgery can be performed. The scheme of retributive justice is life support for the human condition, it keeps it from going all to hell and provides a way to compensate at least partially for injustice as God brings the history of salvation to consummation in Christ. As I argued in my post,

1)since in our fallen condition we cannot undo many of the wrongs we have done,
2)since we don't know when transgressors are sincerely repentant and
3)since due to our sinful condition we are naturally inclined to take advantage of mercy for our own selfish, destructive ends rather than let it turn our lives around,

A scheme of retributive justice keeps human society intact and human sinfulness in check. The infliction of punishment provides at least partial compensation for (1) and impartiality and strictness in the application of criminal justice compensates to some extent for (2) and (3).

Despite the fact that retributive justice does have a positive function, however, God would much rather restore sinners to right relationships than punish them. He wants the wicked to live, not die. Rather than pour out his wrath upon us for our sin, he would rather cleanse us of sin so that his wrath won't find a target. Just as the law was our schoolmaster for a time until Christ came, so retributive justice is our schoolmaster until God Himself will finally set all things right at the final judgment.

Nice application (or inadvertent but highly detailed parallel??) of George MacDonald's sermon on "Justice" there, btw. {g}

(I've been meaning to comment more on JD's series as it went along, but too much to do elsewhere, not enough time and energy...)

JRP

Ken,

It's worth pointing out that the original narrative context of that declaration "Vengeance is Mine!" and "I will repay", from the Song of Moses in Deuteronomy, is EXACTLY about literally re-tributive punishment: God is prophecying through Moses that Israel will wildly rebel against Him, and that as a result He will destroy them so utterly that (with poetic emphasis on the totality of their destruction) they "shall be neither slave nor free" (i.e. death into sheol) -- after which, and thanks to which, they will finally learn better, repent of their sins, and return to being loyal servants of God. The end result is that God will restore the rebel Israel He totally destroys to death due to their impenitent rebellion, because that's the only way those rebels will be lead to repentance and restoration.

This literal re-tribution, punishment leading to bringing rebels back under loyal tribute, is expressly the end in view there; which is why God also says in that part of the Song that He shall vindicate His people this way. Vindicating someone is a good thing for everyone involved, with a happy ending for the ones being vindicated.

(The Hebraist, in what we call his 10th chapter, quotes all this of course.)

It's still a warning: there will be zorching, especially for rebels who ought to know better and who have been given every advantage, and it would be better to avoid that, just as it would be better to be loyal and not a rebel at all. But the punishment isn't hopeless: and God's aim is a fulfillment of positive justice, and fair-togetherness (the word in Greek, translating a similar term in Hebrew, that we translate again in English as "righteousness"), with sinners.

It's a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God; but that's a lot more hopeful than falling into the hands of a merely angry God. (And thank God for that. {s!})

JRP

Also, one doesn't have to hold to universalism to also hold to restorative punishment in the Bible -- non-universalists of all stripes believe in restorative punishment in various kinds as testified to in scripture (Heb 12 being one famous example.)

That there is only restorative (i.e. re-tributive, re-medial, 'vindictive' properly speaking) punishment from God in the Bible, would of course entail universalism or vice versa. Not all statements of punishment in scripture go so far as to mention hope for the salvation from sin of the ones being punished. But not all statements of theology in scripture go so far as to include all details of trinitarian theism, either. {wry g} (Or of any theological system at all, perhaps.)

So in any case, it's a question of how best to put together the data, and why. Non-universalists have to deal with apparent hope in God's ultimate condemnation, too, just like univeralists have to deal with statements that don't mention hope to those being punished by God. (I can think of at least a few whole books in the OT along that line.)

JRP

Hi Jason,

Thanks for the comments. Interestingly enough I hadn't yet read Macdonald's sermon when I drafted this piece, but then I stumbled across it and subsequently refined my own illustration using Macdonalds'. I guess great minds think alike:) It just seemed obvious to me that what one really wants when one is wronged is restoration of the thing taken away, not punishment of the guilty, so I fished about for an adequate illustration.

I just realized you're reffing David Gushee, too. I know him personally; he teaches down here at Union University, and was one of the unofficial pastors at Northbrook (both Southern Baptist institutions) before going on to be more of a roaming interim pastor for local churches between ministries.

He's a great guy. I'm not sure where he is now, actually; I can't recall if he took up a permanent pastoral position at a Baptist or Presbyterian church somewhere. (His wife is Catholic, or her family is, so he has some sympathies in that direction.)


I think MacD went so far as to point out that even the restitution of the watch did not really fulfill justice between the sinner and the victim. Only a restoration of righteous communion between the two could do that. Punishment, avengement, and restoration of that which was wrongly taken can be beginnings to the vindication of justice, but they cannot be the end.


(I reported a fictional application of MacD's illustration myself, just the other day, here in this thread on purgatory at EU. It's from a private correspondence I had years ago with a good friend and fellow author while she was working on the thematic elements of a novel she was thinking of writing about atonement. {s!})

JRP

JD - retributive justice is just the very basic notion of offenses inherently deserving punishment, not for any specific ends other than justice itself. When you start importing these other ends, that is a utilitarian view of justice.

Anon,

You seem to be saying that retributive justice == 'basic' justice == offenses deserving punishment for no reason other than to punish those offenses.

Aside from completely divorcing justice from morality (and defining it completely negatively), this cannot possibly be how the Persons of God are just toward each other in God's own self-existence. At best (given the truth of trinitarian theism--and if some other theism is being proposed then the discussion goes back topically several notches), that kind of 'justice' has nothing at all to do with God and might even be antithetical to God.

(Also, such a supposedly 'basic' justice makes no sense of Biblical mandates for people to love one another justly--such a proposed justice isn't about loving anyone at all. Maybe not even about hating anyone either, although it's closer to that than to love.)

On the other hand, if fundamental justice is something much more than a mere legal operation of punishing the breaking of law (wherein the king may be entirely 'just' on his throne but in his garden the murderer of Naboth!), then "retributive justice" must have a purpose within that fundamental principle, or else it is a false (or at best a merely 'worldly') justice.

Leading rebels back to loyal interpersonal communion with those against whom they have sinned, especially God, would fit well within the overarching justice of God in the positive relation of the Persons with one another (not only from all eternity but as the ground of all reality). It would also, incidentally, make better sense of the etymology of the word (re-tribution). {g} And it has a lot of Biblical warrant, especially in the Jewish scriptures.

JRP

I don't know how it squares with the Biblical God, but that's what the theory of retributive justice is according to my reading. It is a 'just deserts' interpretation of justice itself. For there to be justice is for you to get what you deserve. If you commit an offense, you deserve to be punished. I'm not defending it. But before we attack it, let's be clear about what it is. Maybe I'm wrong. I've only done a few readings, but I sought to find out exactly what it entails and found several scholars arguing that it is a very basic notion with no view to any auxiliary utilitarian ends.

Jason,

The "vengenance is mine" saying, as I am sure you know, is also found in the NT in Romans 12:17-19. In the context, Paul is telling Christians not to exercise retribution for personal wrongs committed against them because that is God's job. It is hard to see any restorative justice in this passage unless one thinks that the retribution can lead to restoration. In order for that to happen, it seems to me that one would have to hold to universalism. In 2 Thess. 1:7-9, it is said that when Jesus returns he will exercise vengenance by "recompensing" (i.e. retribution)those who deny the gospel. It seems to me that its impossible to escape the concept of classic retributive justice in both the OT and NT.

I also agree with Anon that the concept of sin or evil in the Bible is deontological. In other words, according to the Bible, sins are intrinisically evil (regardless of their consequences) and thus are deserving of punishment (retribution).

I'll have to come back with some other comments later today (don't want to be late to church {g}).

However:

Ken: {{It is hard to see any restorative justice in this passage [Rom 12:14-21] unless one thinks that the retribution can lead to restoration.}}

It's very peculiar that you find it hard to see any restorative justice in this passage. The whole paragraph, practically clause by clause, seems to me to be very clearly talking about restorative justice and reconciliation with enemies. The only verse that would even vaguely suggest punishment without a goal of bringing evildoers back into tribute with God, is the second half of v.19.

The fact that this occurs within this paragraph would either indicate that we should give a place to an indignation of God which is in concert with peace and reconciliation with enemies (as everywhere else in the paragraph); or else Paul would be teaching that a man can and should be more merciful than God, and hope and pray and act evangelically for reconciliation with enemies, leaving the evil of hatred (which we are absolutely commanded against) to God. i.e., only God should do evil, not us.

The latter interpretation seems to me less than theologically coherent. (It would practically amount to a human gospel trumped eventually by the evil of God!) It is also thematically incoherent with the rest of the passage, including where Paul immediately goes on to quote one of the Proverbs about heaping burning coals on the head of enemies by helping and saving them.

When this is all combined with an accounting of the original contexts of the saying "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay" (i.e. God's special vengeance against the worst rebels, Israel in this case who of all people had the advantages to know and do better, has a goal of leading them back into loyal tribute and restoring them to blessing), then the case looks to me entirely complete.

(It might theoretically be trumped by appeal to some other exegesis; but the question will still be why we should interpret one set in light of the other. I prefer to interpret in light of trinitarian theism. {g} But that's me; other Christian commentators prefer some other light to read by. {shrug}{s!})


When I read earlier in chapter 12, Paul's exhortation that we should not be conformed to this age, but that we should be transformed by the renewing of our mind into us, to be testing anything that is the will of God, the good and well pleasing and perfect; and I consider that the world naturally tends toward the hopeless destruction of enemies, not to the self-sacrificial saving of enemies; and I remember that when we were still sinners the Father sent the Son to die for our sake, to save us?

Then it seems to me that to attribute the vengeance of mere hatred to God (while we ourselves are apparently being transformed into something better than what we are to expect of God), is not yet to be transformed out of conformance to this age--and to the spirit of this age.

JRP

Jason,

You said: It's very peculiar that you find it hard to see any restorative justice in this passage. The whole paragraph, practically clause by clause, seems to me to be very clearly talking about restorative justice and reconciliation with enemies. The only verse that would even vaguely suggest punishment without a goal of bringing evildoers back into tribute with God, is the second half of v.19.
I fail to see how "vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord" only vaguely suggest[s] punishment. The first half of v. 19 tells Christians not to seek vengeance precisely because it is God's work not theirs. This vengeance that God will exercise against his enemies is retributive not restorative as can seen by many other NT passages, such as 2 Thess. 1:7-9, in which the enemies of God are destroyed not restored.

You said: or else Paul would be teaching that a man can and should be more merciful than God, and hope and pray and act evangelically for reconciliation with enemies, leaving the evil of hatred (which we are absolutely commanded against) to God. i.e., only God should do evil, not us.
One could interpret it that way or one could interpret it to mean that the actions of God's enemies against his people are really actions against God and thus God is the one who will exercise vengeance. It is somewhat analogous to saying to a rape victim today, don't take the law into your own hands by seeking vengeance but leave it to the authorities to handle.


Again, I don't see how one can eliminate the retributive justice of God from the Scriptures without doing some major eisegesis of the text. It is clear from history that retributive justice was part of the mindset of ancient peoples (and many people today) and I don't think you can eliminate it from the Scriptures. It is true that the Scriptures present God, in some passages, as wanting to go beyond retribution and bring about restoration but the retributive principle is never eliminated.

Anon: {{But before we attack it, let's be clear about what it is.}}

I’m pretty sure you didn’t say anything different in its meaning from what it seemed to me you were saying. Thus, I’m pretty sure I was, in fact, quite clear about what it was I was attacking. {g}

For example:

{{I sought to find out exactly what it entails and found several scholars arguing that it is a very basic notion with no view to any auxiliary utilitarian ends.}}

This description leaves my theological objections exactly where they were before. But I can go further!

1.) To complain that a retributive justice which actually is “re-tributive” thereby involves “auxiliary” and “utilitarian” ends (much moreso that it wrongly elevates such auxiliary ends to primary concerns), is to complain that the fulfillment of fair-togetherness between persons (and so in the case of rebel persons, the leading of rebels into repentance and reconciliation with those they have sinned against) is merely an auxiliary and/or a merely utilitarian concern.

This divorces even a positive (much moreso a negative) version of such an ostensibly ‘retributive justice’ from what St. Paul himself (in 2 Cor 5:18-6:2) calls “the ministry of reconciliation”--which seems clearly tantamount to the proclamation of the gospel (cf Mark 1:14, and the related preparatory preaching of JohnBapt, among many other such thematic affirmations in the canonical Gospels; Luke 4:17-21 comes immediately to mind as another example.) Those who are not obeying the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ (as in Ken’s 2 Thess reference) are at least therefore refusing to repent of their sins and be reconciled with those they have sinned against (first and foremost God).

It would be extremely inconsistent theology to say that God’s just judgment and just repayment, especially in dealing out vengeance to those who are not obeying the gospel (per 2 Thess again), has nothing whatever to do with obeying or not obeying that gospel! But to divorce “retributive justice” from repentance, reconciliation and restoration of interpersonal communion and fair-togetherness, leads either to that, or to denying (despite much textual affirmation otherwise) that the gospel itself has anything to do with the fulfillment of fair-togetherness between persons.

That would be my reply even to a unitarian Christian on the topic (maybe even to a Christian, if one could be such, who didn’t believe in the existence of God at all).

To a trinitarian theist, however (and as an ortho-trin theologian and apologist myself), I would go on to say:

2.) such a notion about ‘retributive justice’ also involves either denying that the fulfillment of fair-togetherness between persons is any primary concern of God (which must be impossible if ortho-trin theism is true); or else asserting that God’s own interpersonal communion is merely an auxiliary and/or utilitarian concern (which again must be impossible if ortho-trin is true); or else asserting that God’s justice simply has nothing at all to do with God’s own characteristics of self-existence (which seems at best a non sequitur, and which could hardly be any kind of good news except in the most shallow fashion imaginable for those on the rewarding end of that justice!)

Put more simply: as a trinitarian theist, I absolutely deny that the fulfillment of fair-togetherness between persons is in any way an auxiliary or merely utilitarian concern. God is love. God’s justice (and God’s wrath, for that matter) must be consonant with that, and with that primary aim to be accomplished.

More simply again: God’s retribution must indeed be re-tribution, not not-re-tribution-at-all, if trinitarian theism is true.

(But even if ortho-trin is false, or hypothetically proposed such, I would still object on thematic grounds previously mentioned, insofar as scriptural testimony is concerned.)

JRP

JRP: {{The only verse that would even vaguely suggest punishment without a goal of bringing evildoers back into tribute with God, is the second half of v.19.}}

Ken (and afterward): {{ I fail to see how "vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord" only vaguely suggest[s] punishment.}} [Ken’s emphasis]

I fail to see that, too. Fortunately, that wasn’t at all what I wrote. {g}

Considering that I have been consistently affirming God’s punishment and not denying it, including in the comment to which you were replying, you might have done better to suspect that my long qualifying clause there could be important in figuring out what I was allowing might be even vaguely suggested there.

The punishment is exceedingly obvious; I did not deny that.

The reconciliation with enemies in that paragraph is (I said) even more extremely obvious.

That was the topic I was talking about; specifically in reply to your statement that you find it “hard to see any restorative justice in this passage”. But the whole freaking passage, leaving aside verse 19b as disputed, is about restorative justice.

Unless ‘justice’ is simply and sheerly meant to be punishment. Which I would deny, including on biblical grounds. But even then the whole paragraph (19b aside as disputed) is very clearly about restorative something. So the punishment (whether that’s all justice is supposed to be or not) is either consonant with the gist of the whole rest of the paragraph (and so is also restorative justice), or it is not.

This seems abundantly clear enough; the argument that the punishment is not (also?) restorative justice has to proceed somehow against the surrounding context (and against the OT context of the quote itself). As I commented last time, whichever way that’s attempted seems fatally dubious.

{{The first half of v. 19 tells Christians not to seek vengeance precisely because it is God's work not theirs.}}

What that means, however, is not explicitly said and must be inferred, one way or another. My inference makes vastly much more contextual sense, as well as being much more theologically coherent. {g}

In this case, humans are naturally tempted to only seek hopeless punishment, but God is better than that; so we should make a place for God’s indignation rather than to seek ‘our own’ avengement. The fact that God is intrinsically love makes God the safest, as well as most authoritative, source of vengeance: He’s going to have everyone’s best interests in view, including those He punishes. That may not be flattering to us, but then again Paul shouldn’t have to keep exhorting us to do good instead of evil for evil, if we were already entirely on the ball. {lopsided g}

{{This vengeance that God will exercise against his enemies is retributive not [re-tributive]}}

The fact that somehow we’ve gotten around to retribution meaning exactly the opposite of re-tribution, is frankly a point in favor of my interpretation. {wry g}

It would be better, if re-tribution is going to be denied for punishment, along the way you’re talking about, to call it recompensatory (or maybe recompensative) punishment. That would at least untangle a terrible linguistic snarl.

Part 2 next...

Ken: {{... as can seen by many other NT passages, such as 2 Thess. 1:7-9, in which the enemies of God are destroyed not restored.}}

Yes, I’m well aware of 2 Thess. Those rebels are wholly ruined (which is what the Greek word there translates to), which could theoretically mean a thoroughly and permanently hopeless result; and the whole ruination is coming from God in relation to God’s own intrinsic characteristics (which is what “eonian” broadly means throughout the NT, by comparison to various contexts), and could mean it goes on forever without stopping (as “eonian” often but not always involves in the NT); and restoration isn’t mentioned specifically there in 2 Thess. I have no problem acknowledging all this.

Why restoration should therefore be denied against where it is mentioned elsewhere (not least the original contexts of that Deuteronomic quote in Romans), is going to require a lot more argument, though.

Even if we utterly leave aside all theological concerns on the topic (which I would not recommend when talking about God and an action of God), why exactly should X2 be denied as really meaning X2, where there are statements of apparently X1 + X2, because sometimes there are only statements of X1?? Why does it make sense to deny what is apparently extra information on the ground that elsewhere that information isn’t being mentioned?!

That would be principly like denying there is any such thing as a messiah of God, much less any characteristics of an ultimate messiah of God, much less any salvation from God at all, because a particular OT book says nothing at all on any of those topics.

There might be legitimate reasons to do so, on a topic-by-topic basis, but I would want to know what those reasons are for rejecting expanded information on a topic from texts that are supposed to be authoritative statements on that topic.

Isaiah 4 is one of many texts I could adduce along this line. Before going on (in chp 5) to prophesy (again) about God’s destruction of His own people due to their insistence on doing injustice instead of justice (where ‘justice’, by the way, clearly means more than merely punishing lawbreakers or even rewarding law-keepers, and much more than doing so in complete disregard for interpersonal communion as though that communion was an auxiliary or merely utilitarian goal), God finishes out a previous revelation on the total destruction coming to rebels against Him, even among His own people, by revealing what happens after that total destruction.

Namely, the righteous remnant shall come to live in His city whose names are recorded for life in Jerusalem, and the fruit of the earth will be the pride and adornment of those survivors.

But what about the people who didn’t survive, the unrighteous who were completely killed off by the spirit of judgment and the spirit of burning?

They will plead for desperate salvation from the ones in the city, begging for any terms so that their reproach will be taken away. (Wait!--weren't they all killed off? Yes, but as we know from other texts, even though it isn’t specifically mentioned here, they’ll be resurrected again!)

Will the Lord refuse this? Nope!--He's going to wash away the filth of the (rebel, adulterous) daughters of Zion, and rinse away the bloodshed of Jerusalem from her midst. How so? By that spirit of judgment and spirit of burning.

And then, once He has done so He will hopelessly destroy them, right? Nope!--why would He do that once He has finally saved them?! Instead, when He has washed away their filth and cleaned them in baptism, He will manifest to them again personally, as He did in the days of Israel’s original ‘marriage’ to YHWH (i.e. the early times of the Exodus), and His glory will be a canopy and shelter from the natural elements. They will be restored to the light of the visible presence of God as God.

This is all entirely and totally consonant with the context of vengeance (quite literally vindictive punishment, as in vindication of those rebellious people!) in the Song of Moses, quoted by St. Paul in Romans, that I noted before. Where the scope, although focusing on rebel Israel, goes beyond to the Gentiles as well.

For a variation of the same theme of restorative punishment more broadly in regard to Gentiles, Psalm 107 comes to mind off the top of my head. Those who are completely destroyed away from the presence of God (in various senses, though not absolutely away from the omnipresence of God!), live imprisoned and afflicted by God in the shadow of darkness. But God doesn’t intend for them to be there forever, and in fact intends that experience to be instrumental in finally leading them to salvation.

(It turns out that this is the context of the famous saying from the Psalms, “Those who go down to the sea in ships, the wonders of the Lord behold.” The Psalm means those pagan godless traders, and the wonders they behold are terrible fears that lead them to repent and appeal to God for salvation. Which He provides!--that was His purpose in sending them those literally awe-ful terrors.)

{{One could interpret [2 Thess] that way or one could interpret it to mean that the actions of God's enemies against his people are really actions against God and thus God is the one who will exercise vengeance.}}

Seeing as how I affirmed and didn’t deny this, I don’t know why you think this is an alternate interpretation.

Even on the terms of the interpretation that we should leave evil-doing to God, the One Who Is Good, and do good instead the evil that God does (which is the kind of interpretative option you were quoting to reply with this against), what you said still fits entirely well! “...and thus God is the one who will exercise evil vengeance” instead of us. See?

The actions of Moloch’s enemies against Moloch’s people would also really be actions against Moloch, that Moloch could quite feasibly be expected to exercise vengeance about. This doesn’t require Moloch to be doing anything other than evil to those acting against him, in exercising his vengeance.

If you want to propose God’s vengeance as being qualitatively different than the vengeance of an evil entity, then (by tautology) you need to include that qualitative difference. (Hint: a difference in sheer power levels does not amount to an ethically different difference. {g})

{{It is somewhat analogous to saying to a rape victim today, don't take the law into your own hands by seeking vengeance but leave it to the authorities to handle.}}

For which there are broadly two historical justifications: because doing so is an affront to the authorities by usurping their authority for yourself (which doesn’t have to have anything ethically good about it); and because that way the rapist, guilty or not, has the best opportunity to be treated fairly (which does have something ethically good about it, though that may be hard for the victim to understand and accept. Human nature being what it is, naturally authorities pervert that principle in order to wrongly save people so that justice is done for no one.)

{{It is clear from history that retributive justice was part of the mindset of ancient peoples (and many people today) and I don't think you can eliminate it from the Scriptures.}}

Obviously I agree! But then, I actually mean re-tributive justice, not merely recompensatory justice. {g}

Merely recompensatory ‘justice’ (which at most is merely legalistic, and doesn’t necessarily have to have anything to do with ethics) was also a part of the mindset of ancient peoples (and modern ones), and that quite evidently includes (sometimes) the people who wrote the scriptures (and maybe more often the people being written about in the scriptures). What I deny is that God is concerned with only recompensatory justice.

{{Again, I don't see how one can eliminate the retributive justice of God from the Scriptures without doing some major eisegesis of the text.}}

I recall analyzing your quote from Romans on exegetical grounds. I don’t recall you replying to any of my actual exegesis, though.

I don’t mind appealing to metaphysical principles either, of course, especially under the theology of trinitarian theism; I even prefer it to some degree! You may with some plausibility regard that as “major eisegesis” if you wish. I notice, perhaps incidentally, that you have replied to even less of that than any of my exegesis. {g}

But to explain why we should read hopelessness over hope, where one text seems to indicate no hope and another text does, will however involve just as much “eisegesis”, in the sense of appealing to overarching principles, as explaining why it is better to read hope over hopelessness.

At any rate, I don’t have to eliminate the recompensatory justice of God; I easily include it all within the restorative (properly re-tributive, vindictive) justice of God. The lesser is well and entirely fulfilled within and by the greater.

JRP

Jason,

I misunderstood your position. If I understand it correctly now, you are saying that recompensatory justice (classical retributism) is part of God's scheme of justice but does not exhaust it and in reality does not reflect his ultimate goal, which is restorative justice. If that is what you are saying, then I can agree. The Bible presents God as being ultimately concerned about undoing the damage done by sin. However, I cannot agree that the Bible teaches that all men will ultimately be saved.

Jason,

One more thing. I see the Bible as teaching that recompensatory justice (classical retributism) is a necessary means to accomplish the end of restorative justice. IOW, restoration cannot occur without recompense being administered.

Ken: {{If I understand it correctly now, you are saying that recompensatory justice (classical retributism) is part of God's scheme of justice but does not exhaust it and in reality does not reflect his ultimate goal, which is restorative justice. If that is what you are saying, then I can agree.}}

Yes, that's it. I'm sorry you somehow thought I was denying recompensatory justice (which came to be known as retributism as commonly understood today, and admittedly for much of Christian history.) I only meant that this is not God's primary intention, nor the goal He is primarily acting toward, but is fulfilled within His larger goals (including, I would say, truly re-tributive justice.)

(I can be pretty gung-ho about affirming recompensatory justice, actually. {g} That weapon isn't standing in a pool of blood on the cover of my book because the user reconciled with the evildoer he stabbed it in, after all... {lol!} Nor is the topic of much larger positive justice, including in punishment and wrath, completely foreign to that novel, however. {lopsided g})

{{I see the Bible as teaching that recompensatory justice (classical retributism) is a necessary means to accomplish the end of restorative justice. IOW, restoration cannot occur without recompense being administered.}}

I don't doubt for a single moment that this is true. I might be horrified, actually, by the notion that it wasn't true!

{{The Bible presents God as being ultimately concerned about undoing the damage done by sin.}}

Certainly we can both agree on that; and even mean most of the same things by it, I think. {s!}

We apparently only disagree about whether God will be competent and/or persistent enough to achieve His ultimate goal (so far as sin is concerned) of restorative justice; and so settles for only recompensatory justice at last for some people. (And even then, only in a merely punitive sense that doesn't even manage to fully compensate victims of the sinner. The sinner may be fully paid back, in a way, but the victim only gets partial compensation of what she might have otherwise received, on this soteriological plan. Sin hyperexceeds grace after all.)

I, however, bet on God. {g} And I think at least sometimes the authors of scripture managed to bet on God succeeding in His ultimate goal, too--supposing His ultimate victory was not in fact actually revealed to them, despite possible appearances otherwise.

I believe His achievement of ultimate victory was actually revealed to them on occasion; but obviously I have to acknowledge that, even if this happened, such an extensive revelation didn't happen all the time.

JRP

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