Wednesday, January 21, 2009

deeds and relationships


Deeds that you perform have life
like living beings. Every action
is virtually the deed’s midwife
whose job is to prevent retraction
of something that may either lead
to benefit or punishment,
the punishment part of the deed,
like an investment, spent
long after it has been performed.

We reap from deeds what we have sown
not as a measure made for measure,
but because the deed has grown,
and finally provides displeasure
if the deed was wrong, and when
correct and virtuous can provide
a benefit like interest men
deserve––and God does not deride.

Relationships are forms of deeds––
we reap what’s sown in them, the joy
or pain that they provide not seeds
but capital that we enjoy.
For what is wrong in them we must
not judge, but must remember they
are built with tendencies to bust,
like people whom God built from clay.

Inspired by Klaus Koch’s explanation of retribution (“Is there a Doctrine of Retribution on the Old Testament?” in James L. Crenshaw, ed. Theodicy in the Old Testament (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983), 57–87, p. 59, cited in Vince Endris, “Yahweh versus Baal: A Narrative-Critical Reading of the Gideon-Abimelech Narrative,” JSOT 33( 2008): 173–95, p. 187. Endris writes:While modern views tend to believe that actions are judged (by Yahweh) either good or bad according to a previously established norm, in the Israelite understanding there was no ‘norm’ and actions were not judged. Rather, there was a built-in and inherent connection between an action and its consequences’. Yahweh’s role, then, is not as a judge who ‘deals out reward and punishment on the basis of an established norm, but rather somewhat like a “mid-wife who assists at birth” by facilitating the completion of something which previous human action had already set into action’.

© 2009 Gershon Hepner 1/21/09


  1. I believe this is similar to that over used concept called karma, which has always been impossible for me to understand very well (and equally difficult for anyone to explain, it seems).
    But I think the idea is, the results of an action are present at the very start the action begins to be performed. If the universe is made of vibrating strings ( just one theory in a bushel basket) you could say that in a single string lie both the action and the results, along a single trajectory, a single path. So that the action and the outcome are even connected by an umbilical cord of sorts, and exist for, and as a consequence of, each other.

  2. Yes, indeed what Koch, cited in my poem, postulates is very like karma, except that he implies that the consequence is actually part of the deed. This is why the Bible says that the conequences of offenses extend to the 3rd and 4th generation (Exod. 20:5; Deut. 5:9). This is usually explained as reflecting vicarious punishment. But it is actually not vicarious according to Koch any more that catching an infectious disease the fourth generation after it began would be vicarious. What Exod. 20:5 and Deut. 5:9 presuppose, according to Koch and my poem, is that the punishment for a deed in the 3rd and 4th generation is not vicarious. A mis can live for four generations, and as long as it does later generations can catch it in the same way as they might catch a bug. Incidentally, Koch's postulates is a term that has its own significance. The postulates were formulated by Robert Koch and Friedrich Loeffler in 1884 and refined and published by Koch in 1890. Koch applied the postulates to establish the etiology of anthrax and tuberculosis, but they have been generalized to other diseases. Koch's postulates are:

    The microorganism must be found in abundance in all organisms suffering from the disease.
    The microorganism must be isolated from a diseased organism and grown in pure culture.
    The cultured microorganism should cause disease when introduced into a healthy organism.
    The microorganism must be reisolated from the inoculated, diseased experimental host and identified as being identical to the original specific causative agent.

    In any case, Patti, thanks for heloing me clarifying what I wrote.

  3. It does makes sense to me- that the instant you reach out to do something- you have set things in motion you could never dream of. And so, if someone died as a result- the effects would carry on into infinite generations of course- one person removed from the gene pool. And mistakes during pregnancy- Fetal Alcohol Syndrome for example- are supposed to carry into the next generation,and maybe farther? It's very complex but your example was a good one.

  4. I like the sentiment ... but I think that it's just as often true that "no good deed goes unpunished"