The God of Retribution

So I have to admit something.  When I read the prophet Jeremiah, in my head his words always come out like Samuel L. Jackson’s character in the movie Pulp Fiction (clip rated PG-13, FYI).  Jeremiah always sounds, in my mind, just a touch upset.

In the Daily Eucharist readings for today, Jeremiah 20:7-13, it is verse 12 that stands out for me.  The prophet exclaims:

“O Lord of hosts, you test the righteous,
you see the heart and the mind;
let me see your retribution upon them,
for to you I have committed my cause.”

The “them” to whom Jeremiah is referring are those who do not believe the word of the LORD that Jeremiah proclaims.  This includes not only his enemies, but his close friends who look for ways to make him stumble because he has proclaimed the Word of God.   And, the prophet is quite sick and tired of both his call as a prophet, but also with being mocked and persecuted by friend and enemy alike.  Finally he breaks down in verse 12 and begs God to level God’s retribution against those who would do him harm.  Jeremiah simply wants it all to stop and he wants those who have caused HIM harm to suffer at the hand of God.    It is one of the things I like best about Jeremiah:  he is so very, very real and an easy example to relate to.

One can look at the fabric of our nation and see that we have felt this way about a number of people collectively: the Native Americans, the Japanese, the British, the terrorists who plotted and executed their plans on 9/11…and I’m sure many others the closer we look, and deeper we dig into our nation’s history.  I wonder if there have been moments when you have felt that same as the lamenting Jeremiah–that whoever was causing you pain, suffering, or just making your life more difficult than it needed to be–that they should suffer glorious retribution.

But in the end, perhaps taking the route that the prophet does in verse 13 is the best way forward.  Jeremiah proclaims:

“Sing to the Lord;
praise the Lord!
For he has delivered the life of the needy
from the hands of evildoers.”


Perhaps, in those moments of wishing God’s wrath on those who have done us ill, let us pray that we will feel God’s presence most keenly.   But instead of demanding retribution,  may we hope for a pouring out of our love on others, on the broken and suffering world.

In the name of Christ,


About matthewhanisian

Associate Rector at St. Alban's Episcopal Church, Washington, D.C.
This entry was posted in The Rev. Matthew R. Hanisian and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The God of Retribution

  1. Jo says:

    … and may we lay it out in anger like the psalmists if we need to (I do!), and then just give it to God to hopefully make room in our hearts.

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