Several years ago there was a popular movie titled "The Doctor." It was about an insensitive, heartless, physician with a terrible bedside manner who cared very little about people. He was a professional who treated his patients just a little better than he treated animals, although he was aware that these patients were the means to enable him to maintain a more than adequate income for his lifestyle.
As the story goes, the physician became ill himself. He soon discovered that he had cancer. He had to become a patient and learn to deal with the complicated medical giant of hospitals and doctors as any other patient. He soon became very acquainted with some of the difficulties of being sick and having to survive medical tests and treatments which he had been prescribing for others for years.
The physician recovered from his bout with cancer, but it changed him completely. As the movie ends, it shows a physician at work who feels compassion for all his patients. Man, even in the depths of depravity, is often able to perceive and portray themes of justice like this one. We often have heard the proverbial "he got a dose of his own medicine." That was the theme of the movie. Other fitting adages are "What goes around comes around," "tit for tat," and "poetic justice."
What the world has captured in proverbial sayings, the word of God delineates as a principle of God’s justice. It is not a natural law that exists in an evolutionary world, but rather the exhibition and execution of God’s justice in his word and in his good providence in the life of men before they die. In other words, it is a principle of Scripture that God often executes his own justice in this world in such a way that those who do evil get a dose of their own medicine. What goes around does indeed come around!
Justice in History
The theme of this article is that the equity of God’s justice is not always reserved for a future life, but sometimes can be clearly seen in the life we live now. We shall approach this theme by first appealing to the Scriptures and then conclude with some typical examples. This principle can be seen operative in Scriptures in at least two ways. First, God himself mandated this equity principle in the judicial laws of the Old Testament. Second, we can find numerous historical examples in the Bible where God executed this principle in the lives of men. Third, modern examples can be illustrated which should make us all fearful of sin and God’s justice. The penalty received for sin in this life is often identical to the harm perpetrated against a victim.
First, the equity principle that "what goes around comes around" was mandated by God in the judicial laws of the Old Testament. Leviticus 24: 17-19 states, "Whoever kills any man shall surely be put to death. Whoever kills an animal shall make it good animal for animal. If a man causes disfigurement of his neighbor, as he has done, so shall it be done to him — fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; as he has caused disfigurement of a man, so shall it be done to him."
Setting aside the theonomic issue about the application of this passage today, it should be noticed that the underlying principle of equity reflects God’s character of justice. The penalty received is identical to the harm perpetrated. This law has often been referred to as the "lex talionis" (law of vengeance) of Scripture, but I think we have missed a more important point since it teaches something of the attributes of God, and his methods of executing justice in the world in which we live. Damage to the eye must be penalized with damage to the eye. Death itself is the only satisfactory penalty for murder. The point is, "as he has done, so shall it be done to him. . . ." What goes around will come around. God’s demand for equity in this life is manifested by his mandating it in his judicial laws.
In Deuteronomy 19:15-21, in the context of the law establishing the necessity of two or three witnesses, with regard to a false witness, the Bible says, "then you shall do to him as he thought to have done to his brother. . . ." The penalty due a man who falsely accuses another was to suffer the same penalty of the one accused if the accused had been found guilty. Falsely accusing a brother of a crime deserving 39 lashes means that the false accuser must receive 39 lashes. The penalty received is identical to the harm perpetrated (in this case, by false accusation). Indeed, what goes around comes around.
In Matthew 26:51-52, during the incident where "one of those who were with Jesus" cut off the ear of the servant of the high priest with a sword, Jesus rebuked the act by reiterating this judicial principle in using language specific to the occasion, saying "all who take up the sword will perish by the sword." In other words, if you live by the sword, you shall die by the sword. You will not die by hanging or by the piercing arrow of a bow, but rather by the sword. We see again that the penalty received is identical to the harm perpetuated. What goes around comes around. This is an application of the general principle which supports the judicial law of the Old Testament.
In Matthew 7:1-5, Jesus warns about sinful judgment. He then states unequivocally that "with what judgment you judge, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you." Here again we see the same principle of judicial equity underlying the Old Testament judicial law being applied by Christ in the Sermon on the Mount. The same measure for measure, and the same judgment for judgment is still the rule. How you deal with others, it shall likewise be done unto you.
In Mark 4:24-25, we have the same lesson with an explanation attached: "For whoever has, to him more will be given; but whoever does not have, what he has will be taken away from him." Possession is rewarded with possession, and emptiness will result in more emptiness. The penalty received is identical to the crime perpetrated. What goes around comes around.
Thus the Bible teaches in propositional form the character of God who exhibits and executes his justice in this world in such a fashion that the penalty matches the crime in an identical manner. This is the way God revealed himself to man in the Scriptures, and we should expect the manifestation of this principle in the providential events of men today.
Second, this principle is taught by example in the Scriptures. Events occurring in Scripture demonstrate that this is the way God deals with people. Examples of this are easily found throughout the Bible.
In 2 Samuel 12:9-11, we find David, after his sin of adultery with Bathsheba had been confessed. Interestingly, this passage occurs after Nathan the Prophet had said, "Thou art the man," and before David’s confession in verse 13, that "I have sinned against the Lord." Following Nathan’s rebuke and before David’s confession, the Lord said,
Behold, I will raise up adversity against you from your own house, and I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of the sun.
After David heard that the penalty would be identical to the crime perpetrated, he confessed his sin to Nathan. Adultery perpetrated against another man will be punished by knowing the suffering that comes with adultery. Take another man’s wife, and another man will take your wife. What goes around comes around.
In 1 Kings 15:28-29, we see that when King Baasha became King of Israel, he killed all the house of Jeroboam. "He did not leave to Jeroboam anyone that breathed, until he had destroyed him. . . ." However, it should be noted that King Baasha would know the same suffering he had inflicted on the household of Jeroboam. In 1 Kings 16:11-12, we are told of King Zimri, the successor of Baasha, "Then it came to pass, when he began to reign, as soon as he was seated on his throne, that he killed all the household of Baasha; he did not leave him one male, neither of his relatives nor of his friends. Thus Zimri destroyed all the household of Baasha. . . ."
When you destroy another man’s household, expect your own household to be destroyed. It is again the principle of judicial equity applied in the providence of God. The penalty suffered often is identical to the crime perpetrated. What goes around comes around.
In Matthew 27:5, we are told that Judas Iscariot who betrayed Christ committed suicide. It is interesting how he died. He died by hanging. "Then he threw down the pieces of silver in the temple and departed, and went and hanged himself." Jesus died hanging from a tree. Judas hanged himself. So we see again, that the penalty received is virtually identical to the suffering from the crime perpetrated. What goes around comes around.
Having looked at some Scripture passages which demonstrate both from judicial law and from the execution of God’s providence, let us now look at some examples in our modern world obvious to those today who have eyes to see.
One of the best examples I know which illustrates that God is actively carrying out providence in such a way today is that of modern state education. For years children in the state schools have been taught the theory of evolution as if it were scientific fact. Man came from monkeys. Monkeys were our ancestors. This teaching seemed harmless enough in the 60s, when I was in the state schools, but in the long run it proved to be a dangerous lie. Looking at the state schools today, we see that the penalty which they are suffering is identical to the crime perpetrated. Many of my friends who teach in the state schools can’t wait to get out of what they call the "zoos." They retire at the age of 55 now (and some at the age of 50). My response is, "Monkey learn, monkey do." You are reaping what you sowed. If you teach children they come from monkeys, then do not be surprised when they start acting like monkeys. What would you expect? God’s law of judicial equity teaches us that the penalty received is identical to the sin perpetrated. What goes around comes around.
Another prime example is the effect of liberalism in the modern church. When neo-orthodox preachers emptied the Bible of its authority, God began emptying their churches of his people. An empty Bible will result in empty pews. Everyone knows how the mainline (now sideline) churches are losing membership and closing down churches year by year. What goes around comes around. The penalty received is identical to the harm perpetrated. Likewise, preaching the whole counsel of God will eventually bring us full (and whole) churches. As we shall see shortly, it works both ways, curse for curse and blessing for blessing. Other examples can be easily illustrated. Materialism has captured America. Should we then be surprised when people are treated like dirt?
Those who kill babies in the womb, kill their own future. Unless they can steal our children (and they are trying), then their names will die out within one generation.
Fathers who are too busy to give proper attention to their children will oftentimes find themselves alone when they grow old. You didn’t give them any time when you were young. Don’t be surprised if they don’t give you any time when they are young and you are old. What goes around comes around.
When you destroy other people, do not be surprised when other people destroy you. When your tongue is like an unquenchable fire, don’t be surprised when the tongues of others will burn your own ears as they speak to your friends about you. If you gossip about others, they are probably right now gossiping about you. What goes around comes around. If you sinfully divide a church, then God may very well divide you. You may live the rest of your life with a tug of war in your own conscience. Division for division comes to men as well "eye for eye, or tooth for tooth."
Pre-millenialists (a-millenailists as well) saw defeat in the future of our culture. This was a lack of faith on their part. They saw defeat, and God gave it to them. Look at our culture today, and you see a defeated culture given to those who have a defeated faith.
Pietism gave the world over to unbelievers, and the church became irrelevant. Pietists have reaped what they sowed in the future. The church as a whole is as irrelevant in the modern culture as a blacksmith in Detroit during the height of the automobile industry. What goes around comes around. On the other hand, just think where our culture would be today if during the last century the whole counsel of God had been preached with a Biblical world and life view, looking for the victory of Christ in days ahead! Hope and faith would have been rewarded with blessing from God.
Also, along this line, it is interesting how the Bible associates such a close connection between men’s false hopes and how God reacts in response to those hopes. In Psalm 115 the psalmist proceeds to describe the impotence of false gods, and concludes in verse 8 that "those who make them are like them, so is everyone who trusts in them." God has so ordered his providence that men will often reflect the characteristics of their idols. They will even begin to look like them. You may very well become what you love in this world. Idols eventually consume you and you take on their attributes. How many young people wear Jordan tennis-shoes just because they are trying to look like their idol?
Before I conclude this article, I need to mention three other points. Already, I hope the reader sees the divine threat of receiving in kind the penalty which results from the crime or sin perpetrated. This ought to make us all fear God more than we ever have before. It ought to make us pursue holiness and to mourn over our own sin. You are not exempt! Examine yourself to see if you are reaping what you have sown in kind in the lives of others!
The Sovereignty of God
However, we must also be careful to remember that God is sovereign and oftentimes we may suffer much, and it may be presumptuous to associate all suffering with the principle of "what goes around comes around." God has various reasons for causing men to suffer different trials. It may be wise to examine yourself to see if your malady is identical with a sin committed against another. Yet, we must also remember, that what we suffer may not always be a penalty in kind for some particular sin.
The Rewards of God
Second, it is important to remember that this principle of "what goes around comes around" has also a positive aspect, as I mentioned previously. As curse may be returned for curse, the Scriptures also teach that blessing will be returned for blessing. Gentleness and patience given to others will come back to you in the form of gentleness and patience from others: "Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy" (Mt. 5:7). If we do good unto others, then we should expect good to be done unto us. Generally, what we give is what we will receive. To love our brother in Christ is to build up a storehouse of love that will return to us in times of need. As a pastor I see this principle of blessing for blessing manifesting itself in the church all the time. In 2 Corinthians 9:6, Paul says, "But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully." Not only does lacking good works result in a life lacking real joy, but overflowing kindness will bring to you overflowing charity from others. Christ said in Luke 6:38, "Give, and it will be give to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you."
The Gospel of God
Thirdly, this principle can also help us to understand the gospel. In regard to justification by faith, this equity principle is not the basis for our relationship with God, or our hope for the future. As a matter of fact, it is just the opposite. In terms of our justification, what goes around does not come around. Christ himself takes the penalty for our sin, and he guarantees our future free from the final condemnation of God. This is the good news, that what we should justly expect from God we will not suffer, because Christ became our substitute and the penalty of our sins was laid upon him.
In conclusion, as we hold onto the hope we have in Christ in being justified by faith, we still must remember that the equity of God’s justice is still operative in this world as we deal with other people on a daily basis. We can generally expect to get back what we give. Paul wrote to the Galatians and said,
Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.
It is true that "what goes around comes around." This is not just good material for a popular movie. It is not just a proverbial saying captured by men living under the common grace of God. It is not natural law. This is the evidence of God’s justice exhibited in the judicial laws of the Old Testament, and executed in his providence both in history and in the modern day. To God be the glory for both his justice and mercy.
- Larry E. Ball
Rev. Larry Ball is pastor of Bridwell Heights Presbyterian Church, Kingsport, Tennessee. He is also a CPA.