Written By Thomas Perez. March 9, 2018 at 6:40PM. Originally Written October 29, 2017.
“Are the pious loved by the gods because they are Pious or are the pious, Pious, only because they are loved by the gods?” Socrates – Euthyphro Dilemma.
Many people between 1347AD to the 1600’s viewed all manners of chastisements, punishments and plagues as judgements from the Almighty. Displeased was the Almighty, so much so that, to the eye of the common people, He ravaged most of the European continent with unrelenting death; sending scores of people into the churches seeking pennace, prayer, intercession and advice. When that didn’t work, people began to practice the disciplines of asceticism – a self inflecting punishment or chastisement of the body by means of self mutilation, whipping, self inflicted amputees, long dangerous fastings and overall denials of all fleshy goods. It was thought that perhaps the only way they can be reconciled back to God and into a better relationship with the Almighty was to demonstrate to Him their utter disgust for they own flesh. But it was to no avail. Europe remained caught in the shadows of death, even to the point of total annihilation by what became known as “The Black Death” or “Bubonic Plague.”
It is estimated that anywhere from 75-200 million people were killed by it. Moreover, not only did the plague manage to wipe out millions, but it also managed to bring people into a psychological view of themselves and to question into account the possible reasons, if any, should a society or even one individual suffer. Thus they, as well as many today, had/have what I would call an “Antique” awaking of a “Renaissance” of some sort. It is interesting to note that the plague (1300-1600) took place during most of the Renaissance period (1300-1700). Thus the people started thinking of the opening question above. People of today take that same question and apply it to both periods of history into their psyche without knowing it. The question entails a “why.” Why is this happening to you/us? When we do this, we apply a “Antique Renaissance” of sorts.
However, centuries before the Black Death, the Renaissance and Socrates; the question of “why” was asked in the Hebrew Old Testament. The question is with reference to the piety of Job; a righteous man, beloved and favored by God, devoid of habitual sin or iniquity (Job 1-2). However, unfortunate circumstances begin to take place in which Job loses his property and children, except for his wife. Job began to also suffer physical health issues for no apparent reason. Broken and confused, Job began to wonder why he was going through such calamities. Naturally, his friends, three in particular, began to question his integrity, citing that perhaps he has sinned or committed an act of some sort that was displeasing to God. Thus the punishment. Each friend had an explanation for the suffering of Job.
Eliphaz said; “Even as I have seen those who plow iniqity and sow trouble reap the same” (Job 4:8). Eliphaz further cited; “Therefore do not despise the chastening of the almighty (5:17). Bildad and Zophar went on to cite that Job simply needed to repent of his errors, ways and/or wrong doing. Job held firm to his conviction and innocence. But later he began to question the validity for the case of chastisement and punishments as a result of wrongs committed. Because in his case, he had not committed a sin, transgression or crime against God. Thus his confusion.
The moral and value of the story tells us that even today when calamities begin to fall upon individuals it may, or may not be, the result of a just punishment or chastisement. However, in Greek legends, such as the character of Agamemnon, who appears in The Iliad; recompenses, punishments and chastisements are due to the recklessness of an individual’s life devoted to vice and questionable immoral characteristics. Some recompenses, according to the tale of Agamemnon, are the result of family vices. The issue of family vices being passed on to an offspring in Greek mythology is strikingly similar to the earlier Hebrew idea pertaining to the sins of the parents being passed on to their offspring (Exodus 20:5, 34:7, Numbers 14:18, Deuteronomy 5:9). However, the opposite of such is just as applicable to human thought today as the former was, and is. The righteousness, moral and ethical conduct of a just family is often passed on to their offspring, especially when raised properly during the early years of childhood development.
As The Iliad demonstrates, in reference to the character of Agamemnon and his family, Agamemnon’s family was plagued by murder, rape, incest, betrayal and treachery. These consequences are due to the crimes committed by his ancestors, even to the point of being cursed by Myrtilus. However, it must be understood that both questions pertaining to the piousness of an individual or the reckless action of an individual, are often left to indiscretions, almost to the point of ambiguousness. One can indeed suffer for no reason whatsoever, while another can suffer for reasons only known behind closed doors.
However, and quite often, what we do behind closed doors often comes into the light. Meaning that when an individual commits a sin, transgression, vice or crime, is “paper trail” of recklessness usually ends up becoming known to all. One can only hide behind closed doors for so long. Because as the Hebrew proverb illustrates for us by way of storytelling and actual citation, consequences will reveal that which has been kept secret. According to the proverb, when the time has come; “Your sin will find you out.” This age old proverb, or saying, is the same as the modern-day proverb, “You reap what you sow,” as revealed in our Judeo-Christian New Testament (Galatians 6:7). The idea of blessings and punishments for a just life or an unjust one, with their consequences resulting in good fortune or various calamities, can be seen by various anthropological values we place upon various cultural institutions. One such institution is that of the Judicial System.
In our modern-day judicial system, and even among indigenous tribes today, an individual is often given punishment for a crime, which sometimes are the result of a vice, committed. Wrong doing is often punishable by either; a fine to be paid, probation, time in jail, a life of imprisonment or even capital punishment. Again, the Hebrew proverb of “an eye for an eye” comes to mind here (Exodus 21:23-25). However, later developments of philosophical thought view an “an eye for an eye” as personal vengeance, better left to be handled by civic authorities; namely the law. And while one can forgive and not render “an eye for an eye,” one should also let the law take it’s course and recompense justice through punishments befitting the offense. Be it a temporal stay in prison, a life sentence or even something as minor as a ticket or fine; “Let the punishment fit the crime,” as we say today.
Moreover, cultural anthropological judicial systems have found their way out of society and into the everlasting ideological and theological concepts of the after life. It not only influences our laws, courts and overall appeal for punishment and justice to be given to the face of civic law breakers and wrong doers, but it also influences the theological doctrines of many – including a God who is willing to burn His creation in a literal “Lake of Fire” for all eternity for a measly 70-95 years of an average life, give or take a few. However on the other side of this coin, there exists another anthropological system based upon a life rewarded for good, honest and just living. The system, or action so to speak, is that which has become known as our “Contribution to Society.”
An individuals self worth today is often accredited to what he or she contributes to society. An individual is often seen as a contributing member of society based upon what they give into it. Excluding the disabled, mentally challenged or handicapped, a healthy and capable individual is awarded the finer things in life such as food, wages, shelter and independence based upon their willingness to become an asset to society rather than a detriment or liability. This is usually done in the form of an individual giving their time, talents, physical and mental capabilities through a mechanism known as employment. Employment can reap many benefits for others at the same time, thus making them ready and able to contribute just as well, thus ensuring the continual success of a given culture and society. While the aforementioned are cared for by their family, friends or the virtues of a just and benevolent society.
These are the benefits of a life not wasted like the endless misfortunes due to the recklessness of others like in the case of Agamemnon’s life and family, whose consequences was visited upon him and his offspring, but one whose life truly receives the fruits of his/her labor. And like Agamemnon, we can live a life of vengeance and receive a life of misfortune and calamity to ourselves and/or to our families and share what would seem like an endless cycle of retribution. Or we, like Job who was given a new family and had his abundance and property doubled for a life lived wisely, can emulate and illustrate that type of lifestyle by our own self worth and merit to society. Even if it seems that life is not fair; we too, like Job, can become good portraits of an “Antique Renaissance” of a sometimes unjust society, or a seemingly unjust God.
Let us be diligent and remember not to conform to the concepts of an “Antique Renaissance.” Because when we do, we only feed the word, “why.” And when we do that, we often blame the Father for our own calamities or apparent acts of nature, often forgetting that the “rain falls on both the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45) whether it be good (as in blessings) or bad (as in misfortunes) rain, know this; it will fall upon you. Take the bad with the good and the good with the bad. Do not blame God.