July 22

Genesis 18:20-32

“Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” vs. 25

Out of love for his nephew, Lot, Abraham bargains with the Lord about the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah. It’s an old story, a part of scripture that makes us smile as we hear Abraham’s not-so-subtle argument. His point is simple, the righteous people in Sodom don’t deserve to be punished with all the wicked folks. The Lord agrees and then it’s just a matter of finding the smallest number of righteous that are needed to spare the entire city. After some back and forth they agree on the number 10. The story seems to be based on a retributive notion of justice, that people should be punished in proportion to their crimes, e.g. an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth…and the righteous should not be condemned for the sins of the wicked. Many of us have empathy with that principle…it seems right to us. But God isn’t only just, God is also merciful…and that mercy ultimately provides the basis for what is known as restorative justice. Things are made right in our world, not when people are punished, but when they are forgiven and God restores in them a clean heart and a loving spirit. Retribution may provide satisfaction but restorative justice is what transforms the world.

Thought for the Day: Why is retribution so satisfying? 

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