The Lord curses the house of the wicked, but he blesses the home of the upright. [Proverbs 3:33 (NLT)]
The godly eat to their hearts’ content, but the belly of the wicked goes hungry. [Proverbs 13:25 (NLT)]
Backsliders get what they deserve; good people receive their reward. [Proverbs 14:14 (NLT)]
When writing about the faulty theology of Job and his friends, I thought of when Jesus’s disciples questioned why a man had been born blind. Showing their belief in retribution theology and never considering that sin might have nothing to do with it, they asked whether the man’s blindness was because of his sins or those of his parents. Jesus’s answer, however, makes it clear that no one’s sins were the cause: “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him.” [John 9:3] After Jesus restored his sight, the man testified before the Pharisees that, “If this man were not from God, he couldn’t have done it.” [John 9:33] Disliking that answer, retribution theology reared its ugly head again when the Pharisees accused the once blind man of being born a sinner and threw him out of the synagogue.
People made wrong assumptions about the Apostle Paul’s troubles when he was shipwrecked on the island of Malta. A snake bit him as he gathered sticks and laid them on the fire. Seeing the viper hanging from his hand, the islanders automatically assumed he was an escaped murderer and that dying from a snake bite would be exactly what he deserved. Paul shook the snake into the fire and, when the snake’s venom didn’t kill the Apostle, he proved their first assumption wrong. Then, because Paul survived unscathed, they assumed he was a god! Wrong on both counts: neither snake bite nor miraculous recovery indicate sinner or saint!
A quick reading of the blessings and curses in Proverbs can make us think that retribution theology is correct. Rather than God’s promises, however, Solomon’s proverbs give us wide-ranging wisdom on life. Generally speaking, godly living usually results in a good life and what goes around often comes around when it comes to wickedness, but there’s no guarantee of either on this side of the grass. That sightless man didn’t deserve to be born blind any more than Job deserved his suffering, Joseph deserved being sold into slavery, Jeremiah deserved getting thrown into a mud-filled cistern, Naomi and Ruth deserved widowhood, James deserved beheading, Stephen deserved stoning, or Paul deserved the snake bite, imprisonment, beatings, or the “thorn in his flesh.”
Although the concept of sowing and reaping is Biblical, we must be wary of being like the people of Malta, the disciples, and Job’s friends by judging people’s righteousness (or unrighteousness) by their external circumstances. There is no easy explanation for human suffering and we can’t possibly see into people’s hearts to know the depth of either their wickedness or righteousness. We must never presume guilt before innocence, assign blame without reason, assume people have caused their own troubles, or make presumptions based on stereotypes. Let us never forget that bad things happen to good people and good things happen to the bad. Someday, God will judge the world and there will be perfect justice. A day will come when every man will reap exactly what he’s sown but, until then, let’s be cautious in our assumptions about guilt and innocence.