Saturday, September 14, 2013

God's Love and Justice 1

The next video I have planned for my theology series is "God's Love and Justice."  I wanted to process how I might approach it in that video.

First, both biblically and as a Wesleyan, love seems to be more ultimate in character for God than justice.  After all, the Bible never says, "God is justice" but it does say "God is love."  Similarly, the absolute commandment to end all commandments is not "an eye for an eye" but "Love God and love your neighbor." James 2:13 even says that mercy triumphs over judgment.

What then is justice?  Justice is a term of moral consequence.  In terms of science, certain causes bring certain effects. Barring intervention by God, you can bank on cause and effect in the material world, at least on the macro-scale.

We have a sense that moral and immoral actions should also have consequences.  It is arguably a God-given sense that those who do wrong should receive appropriate consequences and those who do good things should also be rewarded accordingly.  It seems to be part of the order of things.

The "law of retribution," the lex talonis, is a very old formulation of justice in relation to wronging others: "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." This formulation is over 1000 years older than the Bible, older than Abraham. Many would argue that the initial sense of the rule was actually to limit retribution rather than to ensure it. In other words, it was to make sure you didn't exact a revenge of two eyes if the other person only took one of yours.

It seems to me that the law of retribution is a excellent sense of what justice of consequence is. A person should receive a consequence for wrongdoing that is commensurate with the wrong. Notice that here we are talking about wronging another person, not about violating some abstract rule.

A person can wrong God, of course. For example, a person can fail to give God the appropriate honor. Disobeying God wrongs him in the sense that he is the ultimate authority. Some argue that it is just for even one failure in relation to God to bring in consequence an infinite time in hell. While this line of argument makes some sense, it does not seem to be the way the Bible thinks, as we will see.

Some, although not all of the Old Testament, functions with a non-intentional sense of wrongdoing, unintentional sinning.  In that respect, a person can be liable for doing wrong even when one did not intend to do so.  Uzzah reaches out to steady the Ark of the Covenant and dies accordingly.

However, the New Testament has almost nothing to say about unintentional wrongdoing. Rather, intentionality is much more the name of the game. So it would seem that the most complete understanding of justice is not oriented around the violation of absolute rules or deviation from perfection but rather around one's intentionality in relation to action.

A good action can be a sin if it is done with a wrong motive.  Similarly, a bad action can be done without blame because your intentions were virtuous. None of this denies that there actually is a standard of good and bad action, only that God is far more interested in our motives than the actual things we do.  Unclean goes from inside out, not from outside in (Mark 7:18-23)...

Is God a slave to justice? ...

1 comment:

Susan Moore said...

I've always thought that His justice is a function of His love. Because He is perfectly loving, He is also perfectly just; the two go together. If He was only loving without being just He'd be something like Santa Clause, and if He was only just and not loving we'd all end up in Hell before we were three years old.