Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Justice of God: A Defense

The Bible is unequivocal that God is always just. However, numerous verses are cited to dispute this claim. For instance, one atheist blogger has collected many such verses. Here’s one of them:

  • God will prevent people from hearing and understanding "lest they ... convert and be healed." [It then cites Isaiah 6:10] “Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed."
It sounds as if God has hardened the hearts of innocent people, people who really want the truth, preventing them from finding salvation. If this is the case, then it would appear that God is not just.

However, I think that if we are sensitive to the context, we will understand God’s judgment in a different way. Isaiah 29 presents the almost identical message:

  • Be stunned and amazed, blind yourselves and be sightless; be drunk, but not from wine, stagger, but not from beer. The Lord has brought over you a deep sleep: He has sealed your eyes (the prophets); he has covered your heads (the seers). (Isaiah 29:9-10)
In this context, it becomes clear that God hadn’t passed judgment on the innocent seekers:

  • The Lord says: "These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men. Therefore once more I will astound these people with wonder upon wonder; the wisdom of the wise will perish, the intelligence of the intelligent will vanish." (Isaiah 29:13-14)
It appears that God’s judgment is against those whose “hearts are far from me,” and not the innocent. This now brings us to another question. How will the “intelligence of the intelligent will vanish?” Will God accomplish this hardening of heart and mind proactively or passively by merely letting people go their own way to reap the natural consequences of their rejection of God?

Paul tackles this question, claiming that God merely allows us to have the desires of our heart:

  • For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. (Romans 1:21-24)
Is there anything unjust about allowing us to go our own freely chosen way? Must God endlessly endure rejection? Shouldn’t there be appropriate consequences for sin? And it seems that allowing people to have their own way is the most appropriate consequence.

The atheist blogger also claims that:

  • “God will cause us to believe lies so that he can damn our souls to hell.” [He then cites Second Thess. 2:11-12] “And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.”
Again, we have to ask whether these people sought the “strong delusion” to substitute for the truth about God. Conveniently, the atheist blogger left out the preceding verse:

  • They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. (2 Thes. 2:10)
These weren’t innocent people but rather those who wanted the “strong delusion.” And they got the very thing that they wanted. However, did God proactively send this “strong delusion” or did He merely allow His despisers to have the very thing that they wanted? I favor the latter, but perhaps this distinction is not significant. The important thing is that these folk received the very thing that they wanted.

However, the atheist will then protest that if God is love, then He should save everyone. The blogger derisively cites Romans 9:19:

  • Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, [and he hardens whom he wants to harden.]
This, however, isn’t a question of justice. Justice requires that we receive what we deserve. However, we all deserve punishment (Romans 3:10-23; 6:23). Instead, it is a matter of mercy that God would save anyone. However, mercy, unlike justice, can be discriminate. For example, I can invite anyone I like to my party. My neighbor cannot accuse me of injustice if I fail to invite him. While justice is about fairness and equal treatment, mercy is about one’s free choice to use his resources in any way he pleases.

Consequently, we cannot fault God for not saving everyone. It’s completely His choice. It’s not a violation of any principle of justice.

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