Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Justice, fairness, and eternity

Reading is a very important need in life, and one of the things I've been working on is taking the time to do some serious reading (almost) everyday.  Part of that is a daily Bible reading plan, part is working through the stack of ebooks on my phone, and part of it is working through the actual hard copy books on the shelf that I haven't gotten through yet.  The hard copy book I'm on right now is Lee Strobel's The Case For Faith, and it is rapidly becoming one of those books that I think everyone should read, regardless of their faith or lack thereof, simply because it will challenge people in both camps.  The man, a former atheist, takes his journalistic background and delves into asking the serious, major questions and objections that people have about faith and God, interviewing various scholars of faith and philosophy to find the answers.  The first objection is a common one, that since there is evil and suffering in the world, a loving God cannot exist.  An image that he refers to several times is an old cover of TIME magazine showing an African woman holding her baby who had died in a vicious drought.  People who want to argue against God claim that because all it would have taken to save that child is rain from the heavens, from God, this is proof that there is no good, loving God.  Later in the book, the more direct question of how can a loving God kill children, specifically referencing the cleansing of the Holy Land by Israel, where God ordered Israel to put every living person in the land to the sword, regardless of age or gender. 

I'm not looking to answer those questions, but the direction I went with these questions was that we have lost sight of the difference between fair and just, as well as looking at these issues through our own finite glasses.  The slaughter of the people of the Promised Land looks horribly unfair to us, and in reality it is.  But that cleansing was not meant to be fair, it was meant to be just.  We do not have the details about how God offered those nations the opportunity to repent and turn from their sin.  Throughout the Old Testament, we see examples of how God gave individuals and nations the chance to save themselves.  Jonah gives us both, Jonah got the chance to repent from his sin of disobedience, and Nineveh got the chance to turn from their wickedness and not be destroyed.  How many times did Pharaoh have the opportunity to let Israel go free without losing every firstborn child in Egypt?  These and other examples before and after Israel took over the Promised Land show us that God doesn't just randomly smite people.  These events were deserved in the name of justice, in the name of God enforcing His rules on mankind.

The first place dissenting minds are going right now, and some agreeable minds as well, is what did that dead infant and their mother do to deserve their fate?  That delves into several other thoughts.  There is a very strong, Biblical theory that there is an age requirement to get into Hell.  People who die before that age of responsibility are spared eternal torture.  It's a deep theological theory which we don't know the exact age and it's not my point, so for the purpose of this discussion we will assume that theory is correct.  So the fate the child receives is a place in Heaven, and the fate the mother, as well as others who loved the child receive is, if they are believers or become believers later, is that internal peace and the goal of getting to join their lost loved one in Heaven when it is their time to die.  It's rather difficult to argue that those fates are unfair or unjust.  Their short term, worldly fates may seem to be, but God operates far past those limited planes.

What of the fairness and justice of this event in the eternal view?  How many people saw that picture and it burned their heart to help out not just the mother who lost her child, but the others suffering from the drought, either by prayer, awareness raising, monetary contributions or even going to Africa to provide spiritual and physical support on the ground?  How many people saw that picture, and questioned their own faith, and the internal debate bolstered their trust in God and His wisdom, or even led them to finally accept God and His word?  The short term sufferings led to much greater things, things we will in all likelihood never have a clue about until we see eternity.  Ravi Zacharius swings the idea in a different direction, with the same eternal viewpoint, he envisions nonbelievers going before God and asking "why is there all this suffering and diseases and problems?" and God's answer is "I sent you millions of souls with the answers to those problems and cures for those diseases, and you decided those lives were too inconvenient and aborted those children."  Our visions of fairness and justice have gotten so polluted by worldliness that we ignore God's visions of them.

God doesn't like watching us wallow in our sins.  He doesn't take pleasure in sending people to Hell, or meting out worldly consequences for our actions.  He does see how pain that seems interminable to us in the short term can lead to great things for the Kingdom.  How many are inspired to faith by the stories of those who have died for their faith in the past, or even by seeing those who do now in many parts of the world?  Remember the man who was born blind in John 9, who the disciples asked if his condition was punishment for his sins or his parents.  Jesus said that it was for neither, but so that God would be glorified.  Think about that for a little bit, being blind in first century Israel was a far poorer existence than being blind in modern day western culture, yet Christ Himself said the reason it happened to this man was so that the works of God could be shown.  Not only was the man healed, but read the discussion he had with the Pharisees, and think about the huge amounts of theology that are crammed into that exchange.  All because this one man enured being blind his whole life.

The world's definition of fair is coming up a lot right now, especially since it's an election year.  Some people think it is fair to take from group one and give it to group two, some think that it is fair that we all be handed the same material things so that everyone has exactly the same amount of everything.  Justice is on the lips of many as well, often believing that public opinion is interchangeable with the term.  The mess that is the Treyvon Martin case is a fine example of how clueless we are on the definition of justice.  People are screaming that George Zimmerman must face justice, and I'll be the first one to say that it is possible he needs to go to jail for unnecessarily killing that young man.  But lynching the man without a trial or even an investigation is not justice, not by a long shot.  Worldly justice is innocent until proven guilty, not trial by media.

God's justice is not trial by media either, nor is it lynch mob justice.  It only seems that way when we are looking at it through earthly eyes.  God's justice is laid out in His law, specifically for this discussion, the law that sin leads to death.  God would have been perfectly justified in smiting Adam and Eve as soon as they bit into that apple.  He was perfectly justified in flooding the world, drowning everyone but Noah and his family for their sins.  He is perfectly justified in telling us "I never knew you" if we stand before Him on our own at our judgement.  Fortunately, He was also justified in providing a way out of trying to defend ourselves in His court, by sending Jesus to stand in for us in His death.  That is still justice, only the justice is served to one who was willing to accept it on our part. 

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