Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Analogies on God's Fairness

This is a pretty good blog post about the difficulties people have with accepting how God can choose to save some but not everyone, or spectacularly execute His justice on some nations in the Old Testament but not others. Doug Wilson has this to say:
If you start with the assumption that humans "don't deserve it" then of course you will come to the conclusion that we don't deserve it. And if the Bible insists we catch it anyway, then the assumption collides with our conceited faith in ourselves -- and we will think that the Bible is advocating a fundamental injustice. 
But what if we are flattering ourselves? What if the doctrine of a final judgment is not a doctrine of raging injustice, but rather raging justice? We may come to realize that our problem was not really with the justice/injustice part, but rather with the raging part. If everlasting Hell were unjust, then it would be possible for some to console themselves there. But the everlasting Hell is just, and that means there is no consolation.
And later:
If there are ten innocent citizens rounded up, and five of them are shot by a despot, there is a gross injustice. But if there are ten inmates on death row, and the governor pardons three of them, there is no injustice done at all to the remaining seven. The only question of possible injustice arises with regard to the three who were pardoned. In other words, the question of justice does not arise when we are talking about Hell. It does arise when we are talking about Heaven
The question is not "how can a just God send people to Hell?" The question concerns how a just God can allow sinners into Heaven. A God-centered concern about justice would worry far more about Heaven than Hell. A self-flattering, man-centered approach would worry aloud, and does worry aloud, about the purported justice of Hell. But we needn't worry. The Scriptures teach plainly that at the point of judgment, every mouth will be stopped. The Bible tells us that when it comes down to it, there will be nothing to say. The debates will be over.
This is the usual evangelical answer to the question of how God can be just to some, but not others: we all deserve His wrath. God is being just to those He condemns, so they can't complain about any unfairness as He elects to save some. The picture of the judge acquitting prisoners is also common. But let me offer another analogy and another perspective on this line of thought:

Suppose that one day an elementary school student's mother bakes a batch of cookies for him do what he wishes with. Despite knowing that there are 24 students in his class and that his mom baked enough cookies for them all, the boy brings 9 cookies with him and, in class, distributes them seemingly at random to 9 of his classmates. For the rest of the day, the 14 hurt students who didn't get a cookie steal dirty looks at him and conspire to get revenge on him. When they trip him in the lunch line the next day, he protests, "I was giving the other kids a gift! I don't owe any of you any cookies! It would be totally fair for me to not give anyone a cookie!"

What is the thing that parents and teachers always say about bringing treats or presents to a class? "I hope you brought enough for everyone!" By the common evangelical logic, the boy's argument is sound; none of the students have any right to protest that they didn't get a cookie. But by putting it this way, we begin to see the reasons this line of reasoning is hard for us to accept.

It's very true that the boy wasn't obligated to give anyone a cookie. If he had simply showed up with no cookies for anyone and said nothing, no one would have minded. The 14 hungry students were not unhappy merely because they didn't get a cookie, but because others did and he chose not to give them one as well. Is this envy? Was the boy correct in saying that he was totally just and fair in only giving cookies to some of the kids (we assume not merely out of favoritism), or were the 14 students right to be hurt? Maybe if I don't answer for myself, I'll start a comment conversation!


  1. Not sure about the cookie metaphor, but I generally think the evangelical worldview is unjust. If a god supposedly created everyone, then why would he make us all deserving of eternal punishment just by default of existing? Surely there could have been a better option.

  2. Great thoughts. Preview of another post I'm working on: I'm exploring how the Biblical concept of justice (especially in the OT) is sharply different from the current reformed understanding, focusing more on giving "justice" (mercy and compassion) to the disadvantaged and marginalized in Hebrew society. God's justice isn't in tension with His compassion, and it isn't used as something to fear or be protected from but something to eagerly await. If we flatten our definition of justice down to "we're all sinners, so we justly deserve death", we completely miss the point the Bible is making.