Apr 30 - Is God Unjust?

Is God Unjust?

April 30, 2017

Ecclesiastes 8:14

 

April 30th, 2017

IS GOD UNJUST?

 

A very evil drug dealer who evaded the authorities by fleeing into the Amazon jungle, suddenly finds himself surrounded by a bloodthirsty group of natives. Even though he never gives God a second thought, he quietly mutters to himself, “Oh God, I’m dead.”  All of a sudden, a ray of sunlight finds his way through the canopy and shines on the man, and he hears a voice saying, “No, you are NOT dead.  Pick up that stone at your feet and hit the chief, the one standing closest to you, as hard as you can on the head.”  So the drug dealer picks up the stone and proceeds to hit the chief as hard as he can on the head.  As he stands above the chief’s body surrounded by 100 tribe members with a look of shock on their faces, he hears the voice again, “Okay . . . . . NOW you’re dead.”

 

An odd view of God, isn’t it?  But then, what is our view of God, and what he is like, or perhaps what should he be like?  Do we want a God who punishes bad people on the spot?  Do we want a God who does not allow innocent people, and animals for that matter, to suffer?

 

The problem of pain and suffering is one of the arguments against the existence of a good and loving God.  Personally I think that a lot of people have stepped back from God, either into doubt or into atheism, because they have such a hard time reconciling the suffering in the world with a God who should be able to do something about it.

 

Now, if God wasn’t loving or caring, the suffering of the innocent would not be a problem at all.  For example, the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans didn’t think that their gods and goddesses had to be good and fair and just.  Their gods were vain, jealous, sexually promiscuous, unkind and unfair.

 

To those ancients, evil and injustice in the world simply reflected the capricious character of their deities, who did not love them.  And while they brought sacrifices as a means of averting evil, there were no guarantees that they would have the desired effect. 

 

On the other hand, if someone has the view that God is supposed to bless the good people and punish the bad people in this life, then injustice and the suffering of the innocent, as well as the flourishing of the violent and evil, in fact does become a problem. 

 

For example, injustice was an issue for the author of the OT book of Ecclesiastes, wisdom literature purportedly written by Solomon (highly unlikely), even though the author is never identified in the book. 

 

In my meaningless life I have seen everything.  There is a good man who dies early despite his goodness.  And there is a wicked man who lives a long life despite his evildoing.                                          Ecclesiastes 7:15

 

Here the author simply comments on one injustice ... the length of life. According to the author, bad people should die young and good people should have a long life.  The problem is that the reverse can be true.

 

This is meaningless on the earth:  There are good people who receive in life what the wicked deserve.  And there are wicked people who receive in life what the good deserve.  I say, this is meaningless as well.

                                                          Ecclesiastes 8:14

 

The author thinks that bad things should happen to bad people and good things should happen to good people.  He thinks that it is meaningless when the reverse is true. 

 

Things are the same for everyone.  The same things happen to those who do what is right and to whose who are wicked, to the good as well as the evil, to the clean and the unclean, to the one who sacrifices [at the temple, indicating that this is someone devout] and to the one who does not sacrifice.  What happens to the good person happens to the sinner, to the one who swears as to the one who does not utter an oath.  This is an evil that happens everywhere under the sun, that he same events happen to everyone.                                                                     Ecclesiastes 9:2-3

 

The premise is the same.  Good people should be blessed and bad people should be cursed.  But the reality is that good and bad happen to everyone regardless of their character.  Maybe you remember Jesus speaking about the fact that God allows the sun to shine and the rain to fall (both signs of blessing) on both good and bad people?[1]

 

Here the writer of Ecclesiastes points out what he has implied in the previous passage, that the actual state of affairs is simply wrong.  It’s “an evil”. It should not be that way.

 

Injustice, that is, the suffering of the innocent, as well as the prosperity of the wicked, raises exactly the same kind of consternation in the book of Job (also ancient wisdom literature).  First there is the point that evil people can and do take advantage of those who have little or nothing.

 

Why does the Almighty not keep times of judgment, times when those who know him see him act?  The evil move landmarks, steal flocks and pasture them, take the donkey of the fatherless, take the ox of the widow in pledge.  They drive the poor from the road ... they snatch the fatherless child from the breast ...             Job 24:1-4,9

 

Note the complaint at the very beginning of that passage.  It is really a plea for God to step in and do something about the situation.  God is called upon to bring judgment on the wicked.  This implies that Job expects that the wicked should be punished so that justice will be restored.

 

Not only do the wicked prosper.  Secondly, Job points out that the innocent poor suffer an inordinate amount, despite the hard labour that they do, which only goes to line the pockets of the wealthy evil people. 

 

The poor toil in the wilderness ... in the wasteland they gather food for their children. ... they glean the vineyard of the wicked ... they lie all night naked, without clothing, no covering against the cold, ... they cling to the rock for lack of shelter, ... they carry the sheaves, make oil for the wicked ... and tread the winepresses but suffer thirst.

The dying groan, the heart of the oppressed cries for help, yet God charges no one with wrongdoing.

                                                          Job 24:5-8,10-12

 

Again, note the complaint at the very end of that passage based on the expectation that God should step in and charge the evil with wrongdoing.  This again is a call for God to enter history and punish the evil people and bless the innocent. 

 

But all these passages clearly point out that that those who are looking for God to bring about justice in this world may be disappointed. 

 

However, the books of Ecclesiastes and Job did not wipe out the common expectation that God would in fact do just that.  Therefore, there was the common belief that should someone suffer, or be struck with a calamity, the reason is that God is punishing them for something wrong that they or perhaps their ancestors had done.[2] 

 

On the other hand, should someone have a good harvest or something really good happen in their life, then this is a sign that God was pleased with them and was blessing them because of it.  Much like the modern idea of karma ... bad actions lead to bad results while good actions lead to good results, reflect that kind of thinking as well.

 

So it shouldn’t surprise us that this was the view of Jesus’ closest followers in the first century.  There are two passages where Jesus tries to tell them that they are wrong.  The first one is found in the ninth chapter of the gospel of John

 

As Jesus walked along he saw a man who had been blind from birth.  His disciples asked Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned so this man was born blind?  Was it his parents or he himself?  Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned.  This man was born blind so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”         John 9:1-3

 

Imagine how hurtful a view such as the disciples would be.  God has caused this man to be disabled because he or his parents did something wrong.  As Jesus pointed out, the disability had nothing to do with the character of this man or his family. 

 

The second passage is found in Luke 13, where Jesus comments that the Jews from Galilee who were killed by Roman soldiers in the temple courts - and those who were killed when the tower of Siloam collapsed on them, were no more evil than anyone else in Jerusalem at the time.[3]

 

So Jesus corrected the view of his disciples, which was that a just God has to bring about justice in this life, or that a loving God has to make sure that nothing bad happened to good people in this life.  Jesus believed in a loving and caring God even though bad things happen to good people and good things to bad people all the time

 

However, the reality is that all of us, desire to see a world that is just and right and good.  Most of us hate the horror that people or nature can visit upon the innocent. 

 

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells his followers that the important thing is that their own actions are good, right, fair, just, kind and loving.  They were to treat others as they themselves would want to be treated. Jesus’ answer to injustice is to be just oneself, in fact more than just, to be merciful and kind, even to those who are enemies.  

 

Today, people who question the existence or the goodness of God because of injustice and suffering and unfairness in the world, are most often from the Western World, primarily from Canada, Europe and the US.  It seems that, despite the injustices, suffering, unfairness and poverty that is so much more pronounced in the third world, there seems to be a much greater amount of faith in those places, and a lot less doubt. 

 

The argument for Western atheists goes something like this:

 

  1. If God is good, then he would want to intervene when there is injustice.

 

There is a somewhat fatal flaw to this premise.  For one, it assumes that there cannot be another reason, other than lack of love or unconcern, why God may not want to establish justice immediately.  Could justice not be delayed? Or could there be another good reason why not to administer justice each and every time?  Is there a place for forgiveness?

 

  1. If God is all powerful, then he could intervene whenever there is injustice.

 

By the way, any definition of God that I know assumes that he is all powerful, otherwise he would not be God. 

 

  1. Since there is injustice, either God is not good (he doesn’t want to intervene) or he is not all powerful (he cannot intervene).

 

Finally,

 

  1. It is better not to believe in God than to believe in an uncaring or powerless God. 

 

Of course, the conclusion, even if based on sound premises, is not a rational argument against the existence of God at all. It is an emotional response.

 

When we are upset or disappointed with God, when we feel that God is unfair with us, or is mean to us, or is uncaring towards us … that does not necessarily call into question his existence.  It may simply call into question his character. 

 

That’s not to say that someone who is facing pain cannot legitimately raise the question of God’s existence.  Given what happened to me, how can a loving God exist … how can a just God exist … how can a caring God exist?  But note the qualifier in each case.

 

So let’s say that people are personally confronted by a great evil in this world, let’s take, for example, the Holocaust.

 

Many Jewish people at the time of the Holocaust, particularly those who survived the concentration camps, were confounded that God would allow the slaughter of their family and friends. For many it brought about a huge crisis of faith and led some of them to reject belief in God altogether.  However that wasn’t universally the case.

 

Some ended up thinking of God as cruel, that is, that God is not good, not loving and caring, not benevolent.  As a result, some who survived Auschwitz or some other death camp, ended up ignoring God altogether, although they continued to believe that he exists.  Others felt that they had to forgive God for his cruelty before they could go on with him.

 

Some Jews who survived the Holocaust ended up believing that God is simply inscrutable, that humans simply cannot know why God would allow the slaughter of 6 million Jews, I think 1 million of those being children.  

 

This is in essence the answer we find in Job and in the prophets. Humans simply are not able to comprehend the purposes behind God’s decisions.[4]  Some felt that God may be punishing the Jewish people, but they acknowledged that they really didn’t know. 

 

Others ended up losing their belief in the existence of a personal God, and subsequently in the meaning of life.  justice Haim Cohen was one of these.

 

I thought it was better not to believe in God than to believe in a God whom I would have to hate.

                                      Haim Cohen (1911-2002)

 

But for other Jews who survived through the Holocaust, the unspeakable evil actually became a point where they turned to God and their faith in God was strengthened tremendously

 

They felt that their experience at Dachau or Auschwitz or Birkenau or Treblinka, simply highlighted the human capacity to commit atrocities, barbarism, persecution, injustice, murder and torture.  It tragically demonstrated the extent of what a corrupt ideology married to free will could lead to. 

 

And for the sake of human free will, or some other pressing reason that may escape us, God does not and will not counteract the actions of humans each and every time.  As I’ve already pointed out, to do so would be to deny someone a genuinely free choice for or against him. 

 

What this illustrates, is that we should be careful to use the pain and suffering of others to build our own case against the existence of God.

 

Of course we can use our own suffering to argue for God’s non-existence.  But we have not walked in the shoes of others or know how suffering impacted them in particular. 

 

There are four traditional philosophical arguments for the existence of God:

 

There is a universe in which it is possible that there is an entity who is morally perfect. The existence of a perfect supreme being is therefore coherent (logically consistent). Therefore the non-existence of a perfect supreme being is incoherent or logically inconsistent.

 

Of course, this argument does not really prove the existence of God at all.  If you begin with different premises you end up with a different conclusion. 

 

First cause (Cosmological) argument: The universe exists and came into existence at a point in the past. Nothing natural can come into existence in our universe unless there is something to bring it into existence; nothing natural comes from nothing. There must therefore be some being outside of the universe, something above the nature, above the natural, supernatural, that caused the universe to exist – and that would be God.  

 

To the argument that God himself needs a cause, the answer would be that he exists outside of our universe, so the laws of nature do not apply to him.  

 

Everyone, atheists included, agree that, without God, there are no moral absolutes.  However, most humans actually do hold to some moral absolutes.  This points to the probability of God’s existence.  In other words, we can only recognize injustice and unfairness if we know what justice and fairness is like to begin with. And the reality is that people don’t always agree about what is fair and just and right and good. So, who gets to define goodness, justice and fairness?  In this argument, God is the only one who can do this.

 

When we reject God because of injustice in the world, we don’t solve injustice, instead we lose the definition of injustice. 

 

The universe is ordered.  For example, a huge number of variables need to be in place for life to be able to exist.  It is extremely unlikely that these variables just happened to coincide in our universe by accident.

 

By the way, this is why some atheistic scientists have to stipulate a multiverse.  They want there to be an infinite number of parallel universes of which ours is simply the one where all the variables just happen to line up to support life.  That would make God unnecessary.

 

The teleological argument is probably the most common argument for God’s existence, regardless of whether an evangelical Christian is a proponent of young earth creationism, old earth creationism, intelligent design, or evolutionary creationism. 

 

And as an aside, if you really struggle with Christianity because you think it is against science, you may want to consider evangelical Christians such as Francis Collins or, closer to home, Denis Venema who argue for evolutionary creationism or theistic evolution.  Francis Collings headed up the human genome project.  Denis Venema is a geneticist at Trinity Western University in Langley. 

 

Or you may want to read some material by highly intelligent Christian scientists who argue against evolutionary creationism and instead for intelligent design.  One recent book along those lines is “More than Myth: Seeking the Full Truth about Genesis, Creation and Evolution.

 

Other evangelical scientists argue instead for intermittent creation or young earth creationism and there are many excellent books out there that do so, one of them being 40 Questions about Creation and Evolution

 

One thing to note about any and all of these books, is that none of them address the problem of God’s existence and injustice in the world because that is not the question they are meant to address. 

 

So here are a few questions that you may want to consider.  For one, why do we assume that, if God exists, he needs to be good and just and fair?  Where do we get that idea?  Did we simply make this up? 

 

We didn’t get it by observing nature.  Nature is not good and just and fair.  Instead, nature is red in tooth and claw, as (Alfred Lord) Tennyson put it in one of his poems (1850).[5]

 

We didn’t get this by observing the human race.  What I mean is that history has taught us that human beings are not some benevolent race. 

 

The atheistic physicist, Steven Hawking, in a lecture at the University of Cambridge in the early 2000’s, said the following:

 

The terror that stalks my mind is that we have arrived on the scene because of evolution, because of naturalistic selection.  .... And natural selection assumes natural rejection, which means we have arrived here because of our aggression.  And my hope is that somehow we can keep from eating each other up for another 100 years. At that point science would have devised a scheme to take all of us into different planets of the universe and no one atrocity would destroy all of us at the same time.                                                                         Steven Hawking

 

What Hawking was commenting on is that evolutionary theory demands that humans survived up to this point because of aggression and violence toward other humans, other creatures, in fact toward the whole planet. 

 

However, this same aggression and violence will lead to humans destroying each other and the planet in the next 100 years.  Given a closed system without God, that is the only and inevitable result.   The only hope for Steven is science making it possible for humans to reach other inhabitable planets before it destroys itself – a pretty slight hope, if you ask me. 

 

But we don’t have to believe in natural selection to realize that the human race as a whole is not benevolent.  All we need to do is look at human history in order to realize that humanity is a fallen race marred by sin. 

 

Women, children, slaves, serfs, servants, the common man, the poor, the unarmed, the weak, and the powerless had little dignity and little recourse to justice during most of human history.  The rich and powerful, the scrupulous and violent, the strongest or best armed, those without scruples or conscience, were the ones who were able to rule and oppress and kill others.  Might makes right.  While so-called civilized society tries to set boundaries to this trend, the same pattern holds true even though physical violence may no longer be considered a viable method of getting rid of the competition.

 

So we don’t get the concept of a good and loving and just God from nature or from humans.  No, we get this concept from the Scriptures.  For example, the author of the Gospel of John wrote:

 

For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in him might be saved.                                                     John 3:16

 

For God so loved the ... Jews? ... the Canadians? ... the Africans? … the Europeans? … the Asians? No!  For God so loved the world, that is, he loves every human being regardless of gender, skin colour, or age.  In the Bible we learn that every human being has dignity and value because each and every one is loved by God.

 

If the Christian God been so fragile that he could have been argued out of existence based on injustice and suffering and pain, he would have never made it out of the first century.  First century Christians were persecuted, mistreated, thrown into prison, tortured and executed.  Yet these injustices didn’t make them stop believing in a just God.   They believed in a just God despite the fact that the world is unjust. 

 

Instead of rejecting God or thinking of him as unloving, they wrote things like we find in 1 John.

 

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. ... Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.     1 John 4:7-8

 

If God is really love and just, then he must be concerned with hate and injustice and have a solution for it.  And he does have a solution, except that we don’t like it when applied to ourselves. 

 

The Bible tells us that in the future there will be the very thing that we accuse God of neglecting: justice for all.  But, just as the writer of Job pointed out, there is no justice without judgment. 

 

This is where we often run for cover.  I mean, I want people to pay for everything they’ve done wrong, I want God to punish them.  But when I stand before God I want a pass.  I want God to say, “come on in, we have the waterfront mansion reserved for you.” 

 

I know that I fall short of my own standards.  If there’s a God, surely I fall short of his!  You and I can’t even keep each and every law in Canada.  I know that you likely drive above the posted speed limit.  Not so much as to get a ticket, but still. 

 

So I’m not nervous when it comes to people who have offended me or who have done terrible things.  I’m nervous for myself. 

 

I personally don’t want judgment, I want mercy and grace and forgiveness.  I do not want God to punish me for all the things I have said and done and thought that were wrong. 

 

The problem is that, if I don’t want a God who judges me, then maybe, just maybe, I really don’t want a God who is just.    

 

The good news of the Bible is that a just God can also be merciful.  Christians believe that God’s mercy will lead him to forgive our unjust deeds when we truly sorrow over them and turn from them. 

 

This is the reason why God didn’t send a judge, but a Saviour.  This is what Jesus said about himself:

 

For I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world.                                                               John 12:47

 

God, in his infinite wisdom, provided a way to save before he provided a way to judge. 

 

We know that there are many, many people, men, women and children, who do not get justice in this life.  But we believe that God’s people should do whatever in their power to be just themselves and to seek justice for others, all the while knowing that full justice will only come on the Day of Judgment. 

 

A just God who doesn’t judge is impossible.  The evil that people do is not an argument against God’s existence, it is evidence that everyone needs a just and merciful God.

 

For now we are left in an unjust world where good and bad happens to both the good and the bad.  And as a result we long for a time when all is mercy and justice, a time when the world is at peace, a time where there is no longer nature red in tooth and claw.  Where there is no longer any suffering and pain and sorrow and tears.  Where there will be justice that isn’t attainable in this world.  We yearn for what only a just and merciful God can one day provide

 

HOW CAN I MAKE THIS WORLD A BETTER, A MORE JUST, PLACE?

AM I ACTUALLY DOING THIS?

 

 

Prayer:  Heavenly father.  I have an ache in my heart for earth to be better.  And I thank you for giving us that hope.  However, in the meantime, while I live in this world filled with injustice, help me to be an agent for good, for kindness, for healing and compassion.  Let me realize that my own pain, my own disasters and calamities are not pointing to an uncaring God, but to a fallen humanity.   

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Your father in heaven causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good.  He sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  Matthew 5:45.  This was said in the context of treating enemies with kindness, something that reflects God’s character.

[2] While YHWH is slow to anger and abounding in Hesed, he will bring the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation. Numbers 14:18 

[3] Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem?  Luke 13:1-4

[4] “For my thoughts are not your thoughts.  Nor are your ways my ways,” declares YHWH.  “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.”  Isaiah 55:8-9

[5] In Memoriam A.H.H. (Arthur Henry Hallam), Canto 56.  Also used by Richard Dawkins in his The Selfish Gene to summarize the behaviour of all living things based on survival of the fittest.