I have spent a great deal of time talking with friends about this profound dilemma that disturbs many pe ople, myself included, from time to time. A friend reminded me of the words to one of the songs in The Sound of Music, the story of Maria and her eventual marriage to Captain Von Trapp. When he declares his love for her, she says: “Somewhere in my wicked childhood, I must have done something good.” Here we have what is called the retribution principle, a principle commonly believed throughout the world (especially the ancient world) that states that the person who does good will receive blessings and the evil person will be punished.
One sees instances of people’s belief in this principle throughout the Old Testament. Particularly vivid is the book of Job, in which three of Job’s friends insist Job is being punished for some unconfessed sin. Job keeps trying to make a case for his righteousness, implying his own belief that goodness should be rewarded. God does not answer the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”, but He does indicate that the end of the righteous will be good. We learn that in our finiteness we cannot know the mind of God or determine what He allows or doesn’t allow. Only God is sovereign, and He can choose to do or allow whatever He wishes. The great comfort for those who struggle is to know that God is present in our suffering and that suffering can be a profound teacher and refiner.