Saturday, May 04, 2013

Grudem 12e: God's Moral Attributes (peace and justice)

... continued from a couple weeks ago.

10. Peace (or Order)
"God's peace means that in God's being and in his actions he is separate from all confusion and disorder, yet he is continually active in innumerable well-ordered, fully controlled, simultaneous actions" (203).

God is a God of peace, especially ultimate peace. However, the point of the passages that describe God as a God of peace seem to refer to the fact that he brings peace to us rather than to make some statement about his nature.  He is a God of peace because he ultimately brings peace, although at some times it takes some conflict to get there.

It would be easy for a certain personality to take a description like Grudem's and use it to evaluate certain situations as more or less godly because of how "orderly" or "disorderly" they seemed. Both advanced math and science indicate that there is a certain degree of what looks to us as chaos and randomness to the most fundamental level of material existence. Surprising order can emerge (seemingly) randomly from chaos.

In the end, it seems more helpful to think of peace as a characteristic of what God brings to us than to impose extraneous assumptions onto God.

11. Righteousness, Justice
"God's righteousness means that God always acts in accordance with what is right and is himself the final standard of what is right" (204). Part of God's justice for Grudem is that "it is necessary that God punish sin, for it does not deserve reward; it is wrong and deserves punishment."  He mentions Romans 3:25-26, where Christ's death demonstrates the justice of God even though he had not yet punished sins.

What is right?  Predictably, Grudem defines "whatever conforms to God's moral character is right" (204). He mentions Scriptures like Romans 9 and Job 40 where humans have no right to question God's righteousness. God does not answer Job with a justification of his actions but with a statement of his own majesty and power.

Surely all Christians will agree that God always acts in accordance with what is right.  The questions we can raise about Grudem's description and definition are 1) whether righteousness has a normal definition that is not based circularly as simply whatever God does, 2) the extent to which God is compelled to punish someone for sin, and 3) whether it is inappropriate to question God's justice.

We face the same issue here that we faced with God's goodness. Did God, when he created the world out of nothing, create as it were standards of what goodness, justice, and righteousness were?  Is there some sense in which they are built into this universe, in some way? We believe by faith that God never acts in a way that violates these standards, although at times it may seem so.

Key is to recognize that there is a normal definition of righteousness and of justice.  To say that God is righteous is to say that he does what is right, where "what is right" refers to some normal way of thinking about what is right. To say God is just is to say that he at least does not act unjustly, where there is a normal sense of what injustice is. These are not a circular concepts, as if we can really get away with just saying that the definition of righteousness is whatever God does. We can believe God is righteous and acts righteously without a circular definition.

In theory, God could be measured against these standards. While Grudem gives a couple instances where individuals are said not to question God, the whole council of God includes places where righteous individuals do question God.  Habakkuk 1 and Psalm 13 are examples.

The notion of the whole council of God is crucial when appropriating the Bible. Individual passages or books of Scripture rarely give the whole picture. For example, there are several key respects in which the book of Job only gives part of the picture on issues like the afterlife or Satan. In Romans 9 as well, Paul is probably over-making a point. This chapter is best read as a footnote in Paul's theology rather than as ground zero.

Does God have to administer justice?  Certainly Grudem thinks so. We can at least raise questions about this sentiment.  The Parable of the Prodigal Son and the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant do not picture God as having to do anything along these lines. God forgives the prodigal son and the servant that owes him an outrageous amount without anyone paying. We have to suspect that God could show mercy to anyone he wanted without demand of payment--because he is sovereign God.

Nevertheless, there is a kind of order to things that, normally, calls for justice.  If someone hurts others, if someone does evil, the universe calls for justice.  "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth." It is the order of things. This is the normal way of things and so it is completely appropriate for Paul to see Christ's death as a sacrifice that shows God cares about justice (Rom. 3:25-26).

We should not leave the question of God's righteousness without recognizing that the prevailing sense of God's righteousness in Scripture is not legal.  God's righteousness in the Old Testament often has to do with his faithfulness to his people Israel and is thus can be relational in character.

Consider Isaiah 46:13: "I am bringing my righteousness near, it is not far away; and my salvation will not be delayed. I will grant salvation to Zion, my splendor to Israel." Righteousness is parallel to bringing salvation to Israel, not because Israel deserves it or has earned it, but because God is faithful to Israel and has committed himself to them.

Similarly, the righteousness of God in Romans 1:17 is not just his justice but his faithfulness, now not only to Israel but to the whole world. [1] As always, these sorts of words have definitions that come from particular historical contexts and describe how God acts in the world. Great care must be taken in abstracting what they might mean for God's "nature," since it is so easy to substitute elements of our own historical context into our definitions without even realizing it.

12-13. Jealousy and Wrath
"God's jealousy means that God continually seeks to protect his own honor" (205). Jealousy for humans is almost always wrong, seeking to preserve our own honor. But Grudem argues it is completely appropriate for God to seek his own honor.

"God's wrath means that he intensely hates all sin" (206).  God's wrath is found in both the Old and the New Testaments.  Grudem mentions John 3:36 and Romans 1:18. Christians, however, have no reason to fear God's wrath, and Christians should also remember God's patience before executing his wrath.

Jealousy and wrath both relate directly to human emotion. As we have already suggested, emotion involves response and response means a new sense of awareness. Since God is all knowing and all aware at all points in every way, any depiction of God's emotion must be anthropopathic and figurative on some level. It is thus misleading to describe these as attributes of God's nature.

God is a just God who acts with justice. Although most biblical authors would surely have accepted the proposition that God can show mercy without expectation of any penalty, many Christian thinkers would like to say in hindsight that Christ's death justifies any mercy he has ever shown.

To say God is a jealous God is to say that God is worthy of the exclusive worship, submission, and obedience of his entire creation.  It would be just for him to "lash out in wrath" toward any part of the creation that does not worship, submit, or obey him entirely and exclusively. The biblical record indicates that sometimes he does, even though he does not literally experience these sorts of emotions.

The New Testament message is that "mercy triumphs over judgment" (Jas. 2:13). If God implements wrath, it is for good.  It is 1) to help get his people or world back on track or 2) to protect the good from the evil or 3) there may be some instances where the "order of things" needs to be satisfied by annihilation of unredeemable evil.

[1] N. T. Wright has famously suggested that righteousness here is God's "covenant faithfulness." See, for example, What Saint Paul Really Said (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), e.g., 99.

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