More Thoughts on the Dangerous Doctrine of Divine Retribution
The doctrine of divine retribution is so neat and tidy. No muss, no fuss. If you suffer, it's because you deserve to. If you succeed, it's because you earned it. I think that's part of its appeal: it makes so much sense to us. It is how we would run the universe if we were in charge. Another part of its appeal is how close to the truth it is. God loves to bless obedience. And God does discipline his children. And we often bring bad things on ourselves. If you smoke two packs a day, overeat and refuse to exercise -- don't go blaming anyone but yourself for the health troubles you have later in life.
But God rejects a simplistic one-to-one correlation like divine retribution because it inevitably turns God into some kind of vending machine and righteousness becomes a means to an end rather than an end in and of itself.
Let me reiterate that last thought: righteousness is NOT something we use to gain something; righteousness is what is gained.
But if God is dealing in tit-for-tat tactics we will eventually stop pursuing God and start using God to gain what it is we really want.
If that's our theology, then good circumstances don't breed gratitude; they breed pride. And bad circumstances don't build character; they build despair.