Voices
Illustration by Krieg Barrie

'It's not fair'

We need a God who is just

Issue: "Bleeding economy," Oct. 18, 2008

An acquaintance told me that he could not swallow the idea of hell. If God is a God of love, then He couldn't punish anyone, could He?

But it is not that simple. God is a God of love, and a God of justice as well. In fact, justice is an implication of love. Love does not stand by complacently when it sees injustice.

And what about the idea of justice? Where does it come from?

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Every parent has heard the shrill claim, "It's MINE." Many a child will even lay claim to things that in fact are not his-but he is still convinced that they are. The toy in the nursery is his because he was the first to lay claim to it. And woe betide the parent who embarks on a program of sharing. "It's not fair."

The complaint about fairness has other uses. Punishments are "not fair." The older sister getting more privileges is "not fair." Someone taking the last piece of pie is "not fair." The child wants justice.

We can listen knowingly to a child's conception of "fairness" and see some selfish twists in it. Education in "tolerance" has now gone further. It observes that not only children, but whole cultures have concepts of "fairness." And cultures differ in their views. So the mantra of "tolerance" can be used to relativize all moral claims. The variations between cultures supposedly imply that fairness is all a matter of opinion, all a matter of preference.

But even children know better. Selfish they may be, but they have a sense of right and wrong that is deeper than any culture. God made us in His image, and so we have moral standards built into us. And the moral relativists do too, if only they would admit it. They talk magnanimously about adjusting morality according to culture. But are they offended by the idea of slavery? Even in circumstances where it has social approval? Then at bottom they are not relativists.

We can make it personal. If a thief plunders your home, you know that what he did was wrong. His opinion to the contrary does not make it right. At that point, you want not mere opinions or mere tolerance. You want fairness. You want justice.

Sometimes, at least, human courts achieve some justice. But it is all useless and meaningless in the end, unless justice is larger than a human court. We need and we actually want a God who is just. We are made that way.

Will we get justice from God? Yes, we will. But it may not be what we want, because we ourselves are among the offenders. And the deepest offense is against God Himself, in our rebellion and ingratitude toward Him. "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). So there is a reason why we shy away from a God of justice. But it is not a pretty reason. We do not need an excuse, or a change in who God is, but redemption from our offenses. We need to trust Christ our Savior, who has taken away the penalty for our injustices: "For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God" (1 Peter 3:18).

Vern S. Poythress
Vern S. Poythress

Vern is professor of New Testament Interpretation at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.

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