Am I mistaken in believing that one’s life in the world is arranged so as to offer back to one in some way, at some time, consequences for actions taken by one, even some of which maybe thought of at the time of their doing as actions of no consequence?
Is this an illusion I have fondly subscribed to; or is there any evidence for such a state of affairs being the case?
If it were the case, the a case for a design to life might be proposed; and life itself might be supposed to take on a purgatorial aspect; of ‘the things sent to try us’ indeed being things to try us, and like a refiner’s fire to burn away dross to leave pure metal. Or going even further, as John Donne writes, it might viably be requested:
“Batter my heart three-personed God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new”
Yet if I am deluded and my surmise is mere flummery; then indeed life is aimess and the peoples are correct to spend the days and nights gleaning whatever small pleausres might be stolen from its winged flight.
In short, much evidence, apart from that of Revelation in The Bible needs to rest on this item; regarding whether God is there or whether there is nothing. Enough evidence to make all the difference.
The Biblical view is clear on this issue:
‘Your sins will find you out’ Numbers 32.23
‘You reap what you sow’ Galatians 6:7-9
‘Do not store up troubles for the evil day’ Matthew 6: 19-24
‘The wages of sin is death’ Romans 6: 23
And there is plenty more in The Bible which supplements these.
One might consider these sayings as if they are ‘the threats of the victim’ or ‘the sour grapes of life’s losers’ and so on; which would present them as wishful-thinking; the wish being father to the thoughts; perhaps as an outlet for and in life’s vanquished for their pent-up frustrations and pain? In this way the punishment envisaged to be eventually inflicted on those others who have ‘won’ in the game of life is in fact being used as a justification by the losers for their sufferings; that is; it is being used for justifying those who most cherish this idea of life having its comeuppances for all who do ill.
These points of view are the points of view likely to be held by those who are life’s ‘winners’. That these threats and those points of view of those who believe them are simply professing mere ‘sour grapes’.
The sheep and the goats; the goats being assured there is no penalty inbuilt into life for the persons who opportunely grab what they are able to from it willy-nilly.
The sheep being those led by Authority and who follow Authority willy-nilly wherever it might lead them: The Shepherd.
So is this proposition; that life somewhere along the line awards consequences not looked for nor expected upon doers of misdeeds regardless and inevitably so; is this proposition one which like the nurture/nature conflict or like the freewill/determinism philosophical arguments; one which has as much going for it one side as it has on the other, when looked at in isolation theoretically?
Philosophy looks at issues entirely abstractly; from a reasoned perspective and from one wholly sealed-off from any empirical testing; which whereupon testing transforms it into applied science and no longer philosophy. Yet The Bible is a book embedded in history; even though its claims cannot be understood as true wholly by a study of its history. And history is an empirical science/art.
Likewise the question of consequence and comeuppance has to be discussed by poring over life events as recorded and reported in history and as felt by individual lives as well as by social groupings.
So the issue of comeuppances is not a hypothetical one which might be balanced and thrown this way and that way by sheer weight of reasoning power; but instead actuality has to come in to assist in its proof or rebuttal. And what rests on the outcome of such inquiries is nothing less than an either/or choice for meaning and purpose for one’s life but more so for all life and for all existence and being. Material and immaterial ; and without limit to extent or extension.
Let’s take hearsay and folk tradition first. I would suggest nearly everyone at some time has heard a person, maybe many people express a thought thus: ‘If I had my time again and I knew then what I know now…..etc etc’ followed by a string of regrets and of putative life-mistakes. And to fortify this general wistful outlook of many people who are past their prime one might study the behaviours of such an age group and come to a conclusion that they are in general less risk taking, less adventurous, more set and habitual, and routine; and generally live their lives at a lower speed and energy level than do younger people.
Now one cannot easily say whether this lower speed and lesser energy occurs ONLY because the older population is physically now frailer and less able for strenuous exercise; or whether it also comes about because of an understanding they have arrived at that their haste very often means slip-ups and that the essential things are to take precedence over spills and thrills in life.
In simple material terms it might show itself in older persons who have provided for their old age and are enjoying the benefits of their foresight and provision; whereas those older persons who believed that the state or their families would provide for them in old age, and so who did not make their own provisions; this latter group of persons suffers in general the ills concurrent with and consequent upon what might be termed their own dereliction.
The Lord Jesus has a parable about The Ten Virgins with their Lamps (Matthew 25: 1-13) on this very subject of making adequate provision for events beforehand. The Lord Jesus indeed used everyday events and everyday behaviours in all his words and teachings on matters beyond material issues.
In simple terms, were one to holiday in Iceland and pack garments for holidaying in Spain one would either have to find a set of new outfits on landing in Iceland; or else freeze.
This provision is all wholly material and has zero connotations about goodness or evil about it; one is not a bad person because one did not provide for one’s latter years; one is not bad because one packed stupid clothing for one’s holidays. The essential aspect of life and its comeuppances is entirely an ethical dimension; one in which life says in effect: ‘You did this. You are culpable. You thought you’d get off Scot free. I am showing you now that you are not getting off Scot free.’ Life as teacher. Life as judge. Life as corrective. Life as explanatory of meaning and purpose.
I want to digress and say a few words about The Psalms before carry on. Many Psalms in The Bible are sub-Christian; by which I mean that they do not restrict themselves to the Christian message wholly and will from time to time and at place to place allow into their plaints and thoughts some expressions of revenge and harm, even violence to be suffered by others such as ‘enemies’ or ‘evil doers’. Jesus’s message notably said ‘Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you’ (Matthew 5). The Psalms in many places cannot abide in this spirit but overflow with the resentments of anguish.
The Psalms were written perhaps 500 years before Jesus Christ was Incarnate on earth; it is not surprising they do not fully anticipate him and his will for humanity. What is surprising – I think so indeed – is that The Psalms even when at their most bloodthirsty for revenge and are expressing blind hatred; unanimously all The Psalms leave any vengeance they might desire strictly and wholly only to God for him to deliver in their behalves.
God is pleaded with to ‘strike down my enemies’ or to’ bring down the evil doer to an ignominious death and dissolution’; but never ever does any Psalm recommend vengeance by and from persons to be made on other persons directly. I am confirmed in my belief that 500 years before Christ such a situation is utterly remarkable; given that the Egyptians and the Assyrians were neighbours to the Psalm writers; and were peoples of war and of utter ruthless violence. Sandwiched between Scylla and Charybdis geographically and politically The Psalm writers never breathed a thought of directly inflicting violence on anyone when they were in the presence of their God.
This is very sound empirical evidence for the great strength for self-restraint in the Psalmists and for them leaving their most pressing urgent passionate problems on their God’s doorstep for him to handle. Not bad for an iron age race pincered between two psychopathic killer warrior nations.
Thus the interpretation of the sceptical ‘winners’ of the world’s games; that any suppositions about comeuppances for evil actions hitting individuals and nations etc in due course are mere wishful-thinking on the part of the vanquished ‘losers’; such an interpretation is countered very strongly by the self-restraint and by the respect for their God of the Psalmists. The fact of the Psalmists stands as hard historical evidence against lack of self-restraint leading to sublimated wishful-thinking.
Now as for the ethical dimension of comeuppance, which I called the idea’s basic quintessence- it has been famously said by a philosopher that ‘one is unable to derive an ought from an is’. This is to say that because X happened historically, in fact one is unable by any reasoning or logic to ascertain merely from the fact of its occurrence that it was either a good thing or a bad thing that occurred. The value judgement of ‘good’ or ’bad’ is wholly extraneous and is supper-added by our own judgements and according to the views we espouse. Christopher Marlowe puts into the mouth of his Dr Faustus in his drama:
‘There’ s nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so’
And this is a basic position of ethics regarding logic and reasoning on factual events and their values.
From such a basic position it would follow that it is impossible logically and maybe even rationally, to show that comeuppance happens or does not happen; yet psychologically, which is the area in which suffering takes place and where ills afflict and where any comeuppance might be understood and felt as such; psychologically there is plenty of room for consideration and discussion on the matter to continue. And when an objection is raised that one cannot know what goes on in another person’s head; or else that what goes on in another persons, or even one’s own, head cannot be proven; all this objection is countered by the simple facts that a) what is going on in our heads objectively is as real, possibly more real, certainly to us, than what we sense goes on outside of our heads and b) there is no greater or better way of evidence for comeuppance, or no comeuppance, than what people themselves say about their own experiences in this regard.
Now regret is not necessarily superstitious; there is plenty of, perhaps most, regret goes on which is entirely non-fantastic, non-fanciful. Regret and its associated sense of missed or lost opportunity, or of guilt or of shame; is commonplace everyday and very potent and corrective in its application. No-one I would venture has lived a life without regret. Most regret is for having done something one should not have done; or else for not doing something one ought to have done.
Note I am using the words ‘ought’ and ‘should’ and I am not concerned about the rationality of philosophy about facts and the ethical evaluations of facts. Here is just does not apply.
Psychologically what you feel is what is the case. Regret is regret is regret. Regret is a crucial concept in regard to comeuppance. It does not prove comeuppance entirely; it does indicate comeuppance very strongly.
Reparation also. Forgiveness also. Reconciliation also. Self-harm alas sometimes too. Criminals who give themselves up to the police for a sake of being willing wishing even for a punishment for their deeds. Confessions. Contrition. Reform. Renewal. Ultimately a giving of oneself to a source; The Source, of all the remedies for such pangs and miseries; provider of The Way to make one’s life and conduct better and ultimately more acceptable to oneself and to God; thus this great edifice of God and religion is not built on sand but on rock- it is not yesterday’s superstition but tomorrow’s hope and deliverance. It is not a fancy or a whim or a silly superstitiousness; it has fundamental purpose and use and of highest value and probity.
My belief very strongly is that without regard to God as a race humankind, had it not yet destroyed itself and much else in being already; would have remained descended in the pits of warrior culture, wherein the only struggle in life has been to kill and to conquer, pillage and loot, rape and rapine.
Take a look at the magnificent and huge winged lions in blue enamelled stones which formed once the gateway to Babylon or Nineveh and which stand proudly in The British Museum ground floor right now. They are astounding as art and impressive utterly; but yet they are also and convey also their brute barbarity and a vigour and vitality which is hideous and frightful, alarming and fearful to behold. Try transporting your mind back with the gates to Nineveh and then consider your response on seeing them for the first time. Sheer terror – unless you were AOK with the in-crowd Assyrians.
That barbarous horror is where we should be now but for God, and I say also but for Christ, – Mr. Kurtz’s words spring to mind ‘The horror! The horror!’.
And perhaps, I firmly believe myself that it is the case, most if not all of this benevolent effect on the world and on history which has been and continues emanating from God and his revelations and offered to us is a near direct result of humankind’s exposure to comeuppance and its regret and remorse and reparation and forgiveness and so on and so on – with all the Christian virtues interlarded also. The Lord Jesus had an apostle Peter or Cephas (‘Rock’) who when Jesus asked him whether he too was going to dessert Jesus, at a point in Jesus’s life when many were finding his Way too hard for them to follow; Peter replies ingenuously and without taking half a thought:
“Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.”
My own feelings/belief exactly.