Holman Bible Dictionary
Process of God's meting out merited requital—punishment for evil or reward for good. Retribution involves the act of paying someone back according to their behavior. Thus, many (incorrectly) think that “divine retribution” means only an expression of God's wrath. “Divine retribution,” however, involves both reward and punishment, blessing and curse. The notion of divine retribution involves questions concerning time (when will one be judged?) and method (on what basis will judgment occur?). These questions, in turn, call to mind other issues such as suffering, evil, and God's justness.
Though the exact phrase “divine retribution” does not occur in the Old Testament, the idea is quite prevalent: people will be repaid in this life for what they do—blessing for good, punishment for evil. Both sides of divine retribution can be detected in the history of ancient Israel. Abraham's obedient response to God's call resulted in his being blessed and becoming the mediator of blessing to all the world (Genesis 12:1-3 ). Israel, if they heard and obeyed God's word, would be blessed (Deuteronomy 6:1-9 ). However, banishment from Eden, the flood, and multiplication of languages followed on the heels of sin. Pharaoh and all Egypt incurred God's judgment for not yielding to God's will. Even Israel, because of her failure to place her trust in God, experienced the judgment of Exile. The Psalms affirm that the same process occurs on an individual level that occurs on the corporate. The Book of Job, however, issues a proviso to such a mechanical view of God and suffering in this life. It is dangerous to interpret all suffering as punishment. Humans cannot determine the causes of suffering and should never overlook God's patience, forgiveness, and mercy.
The New Testament also affirms that humans are rewarded and punished by God in this life (Galatians 6:7-8 ). In fact, the wage earner is a profound image for the life of Jesus' disciple. Blessing and reward come to those who live life in accordance with the reality of the kingdom of God (Matthew 5-7 ; Mark 10:41 ; Luke 10:7 ; John 9:36 ). The remarkable development in the New Testament is that reward/punishment in this life is a foretaste of that which will be experienced at the end of time. As in the Old Testament, the standard for reward and punishment is still God's character, His faithfulness. The standard has been revealed to all creation in the events surrounding the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Gospel is the standard by which God will reward and punish (Romans 2:16 ). Furthermore, since it is a revelation both of God's faithfulness and of His wrath, gospel preaching enacts the process of end-time judgment. Divine retribution, both as reward and punishment, is found in the gospel preaching and is a foretaste of the final reckoning that is to occur on that great and glorious day. See Eschatology ; Eternal Life ; Everlasting Punishment ; Future Hope .
Carey C. Newman
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