God is Not a Retributivist!

SEVERAL UNIVERSALISTS>> God is not a retributivist! You seem to have hope that God will be ALL in ALL and finally save ALL humanity, yet you portray God as an angry retributivist against sin and unrepentant sinners.  This is a wrong view of God.

ME>> A number of Universalist authors listed in my article Book Reviews have argued that traditional theology is wrong because God is characterized as a retributivist.  Their concern is that a God of love would not exact justice by getting even.  That is a good point to note.  In fact, Jesus himself made the Old Covenant obsolete with his New Covenant.  So the "eye for an eye" theology never was the final will of God.  However, care is needed in our understandings and explanations because some Universalists have seriously stepped out of bounds.  They say that the Old Testament depictions of God's wrath are not Holy Spirit inspired, but instead fallible human interpretation of world events based on a wrong view of God.

So then how should we understand God?  Is he a retributivist?

The dictionary explains:

A retributivist advocates the punishment of criminals in retribution for the harm they have inflicted.  Retributivists desire requital according to merits or deserts, especially for evil.  In the realm of religion, retributivist theology teaches the distribution of rewards and punishments in a future life.

So what does the word of God say?

First, we remember that the Holy Spirit teaches us in the Old Testament that Cain was placed under a curse for murdering his brother, yet God also was merciful to him, Genesis 4.  We also remember that God was grieved over the sinfulness of mankind and drowned the entire world except for eight people, yet God did not stop loving both the living and the dead, Genesis 6 and 1 Peter 3:19-4:6.  We also consider that God took the life of David's child to Bathsheba because of his adultery and murder of Uriah.  God then punished David even further saying the sword would never leave his household, yet David continued to be a man after God's our heart, 2 Samuel 11-12.  God punished sinners severely under the Old Covenant.

Second, we might think that the removal of the "eye for an eye" penal system has taken away all punishment under the New Covenant.  However, nothing could be further from the truth.  In fact the demands for obedience and honor to the crucified and risen Lord are now even greater!  Jesus himself warned the unbelieving Jews that Jerusalem would be leveled to the ground for their rejection of him as the Messiah, as it then was in 70 A.D., Matthew 24.  Ananias and Sapphira learned the hard way that lying to the Holy Spirit in front of the body of Christ will cost you your life, Acts 5.  King Herod did not give glory to God, but instead glorified himself and was struck dead instantly, Acts 12.  So we see that God remains the same righteous judge presently under the New Covenant as he was under the Old Covenant.  2 Peter Chapter 2 says that God will pay back harm to those that have done harm.  2 Peter Chapter 3 continues that the God who judged the ancient world with flood waters will judge the present world with fire.

Thankfully water and fire are both used to cleanse and to purify.  God's ultimate goal is not to destroy sinful humanity with death by drowning and burning.  We know this because 2 Corinthians 5:21 (WEB) says, "For him who knew no sin he made to be sin on our behalf; so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."  God himself took the ultimate penalty for ALL mankind's sin.  There will be NO eternal judgment and penalty for those for whom Christ died, that is ALL mankind.

Yet, God also understands the depth of our depravity and his fiery love does not mince words or dance around our wickedness with kid gloves.  God is perfectly willing to serve just desserts to teach us or even simply to protect his other children.

Consider the words of Isaiah and David,

"Tell those who have a fearful heart, 'Be strong. Don't be afraid. Behold, your God will come with vengeance, God's retribution. He will come and save you.' "

Isaiah 35:4 (WEB)

"David says, 'Let their table be made a snare, and a trap, a stumbling block, and a retribution to them.' "

Romans 11:9 (WEB)


Consider also the words of Malachi 3:1-6,

1) "Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me; and the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, behold, he comes!" says Yahweh of Armies. 2) "But who can endure the day of his coming? And who will stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner's fire, and like launderer's soap; 3) and he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi, and refine them as gold and silver; and they shall offer to Yahweh offerings in righteousness. 4) Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasant to Yahweh, as in the days of old, and as in ancient years. 5) I will come near to you to judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, and against the adulterers, and against the perjurers, and against those who oppress the hireling in his wages, the widow, and the fatherless, and who deprive the foreigner of justice, and don't fear me," says Yahweh of Armies. 6) "For I, Yahweh, don't change; therefore you, sons of Jacob, are not consumed.


God is the loving Father of us ALL.  And though he may pay retribution according to his wisdom, thankfully his fiery love passionately seeks our purification always and will never condemn us eternally.