I should expand a little bit on the doctrine of divine retribution, especially because I’m currently reading for a paper about Wisdom Literature, of which this doctrine is a distinctive.
The doctrine of divine retribution shows up throughout wisdom literature, but the term “divine Retribution” doesn’t really cover it well; much of the time, it’s an acknowledgment of cause and effect. “If you do this, good things will happen; if you do that, bad things will happen.” Another feature of wisdom literature is that it is usually quite general – so these statements of cause and effect are always very broad, general statements of what most people would call common sense. Everyone knows that if you’re associated with criminals, you’re very likely to be in serious trouble or danger; killers are often killed.
The divine aspect comes into play when a connection is made between this cause-and-effect order of the universe and the God who created it to be so. Some see this cause-and-effect relationship as a result of the order of the universe, put into affect at creation by God, and others see the consequences being directly (or indirectly) worked out by God. In the first view God is much more passive, but either way it could be said that people tend to get what they deserve as the just consequences of their actions, and this retribution comes about through an act of God, either directly or indirectly. Thus, it is still “divine retribution”.
Of course, another major feature of wisdom literature is that it often questions this ancient notion of a created order. Many of the sages recognized that bad things happen to good people, and good things happen to bad people. This is the entire notion behind Job, and is reflected on heavily in Ecclesiastes and some Psalms. The question “why do bad things happen to good people?” is an ancient one, and it is not directly answered in scripture; we are left with the sure knowledge that God is our saviour and vindicator, that he knows justice, and in some texts, that there will eventually be a judgment day to bring these wrongs to right.
Even taking all of that into account, this notion that natural disasters are divine retribution is absolute garbage.
A few days ago I was listening to Q on CBC radio 1, and the interview was with one of the sons of the leader of the Westboro Baptist Church. He left home when he was 18, as soon as he was legally able to leave without fear of being brought back against his will – apparently there was all kinds of abuse and power mongering from his father. That was 30 years ago. Now, he’s an atheist who speaks alongside people such as Richard Dawkins, though he appeared to have none of Dawkins’ arrogance and venom. He said a lot of things about religion, and interestingly enough I agreed with everything he said until he said that we don’t need religion anymore. It became apparent that he and I both disagree with a certain representation of religion – the type he had fled, namely, and even some less radical yet similar notions of Christianity – and yet to him that meant that religion itself was wrong and unnecessary. It seemed that all religion had been boiled down to a few very conservative notions of Christianity (though I grant that I only heard one interview, not his entire position). It’s sad that he and I can agree on so much, and yet have such polar opposite responses to it: I am driven to know God more, to know what he’s REALLY like, while this guy has become convinced that God isn’t even real.
So to you, sir, and others who have been turned away from a Church that is so often judgmental, abusive, and backwards: I apologize. I hope that somehow we can make it right.