Sunday, May 04, 2014

G9. God's justice in the context of his love.

More theology in bullet points...
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G9. God's justice fits within the context of his love.

God loves everything he has created. However, since has given freedom to the creation, humanity sometimes does things that he does not love. So, "God loves the sinner, but not the sin."

There is a significant strand within Scripture pointing to God's "hatred" of sin. Deuteronomy 12:31 speaks of God hating some of the practices of the people Israel would displace, such as the practice of sending one's children through fire. Although the picture of human hatred helps us see how seriously wrong such practices were, the Bible is somewhat anthropomorphic here. We are seeing God in human terms.

So in what way does God hate sin? To what extent are biblical portraits of God's justice anthropomorphisms to which the people of the Bible could relate?

In a later article, we will look at what sin is. There are two senses to the word in the Bible: 1) to do wrong and 2) to wrong someone. We wrong others when we do them harm. We do wrong when we do something that contradicts the love of God or the love of others. We can do such things intentionally and we can do such things unintentionally.

Because God loves all of his creation, including Satan, he clearly desires that we do not harm others, whether intentionally or unintentionally. Might we say that he "hates it" when we harm others? If we say such things, we are speaking figuratively. He also "hates" the moral harm we do to ourselves when we harm others or do wrong. These are anthropomorphisms that help our puny mind relate to God's values.

When we do wrong and we do not even know it, God wants us to learn. If we do not harm others in the process, he is the patient teacher. We obviously cannot harm him. Our wrongs to him are less than a two year old swatting at us with a pillow. He is only concerned with the moral harm we are doing to ourselves.

But "sin properly so called," in John Wesley's words, is when we intentionally do wrong when we know better. This is the only sin that God weighs toward our eternal destiny. In anthropomorphic terms, this is the sin that really makes God angry when it combines with harming others. It calls forth God's justice.

How does God's justice fit with his love? It does seem that we must pick one of these two characteristics of God as more basic. If justice is more basic, then we must fit God's love within the framework of his justice. It is very common for Christians to do so. Some more or less insist that God cannot show one ounce of mercy to his creation unless someone pays elsewhere, like Jesus.

But love is God's primary attribute. The Prophets and Gospels alike indicate that God does not need sacrifice to forgive. Sacrifice satisfies the order of things. It is important for us. It is not essential for God. To say otherwise is to override the higher prophetic strand of Scripture on the topic with the lesser sacrificial one. It is to make God a slave to a rule that is higher than him, rather than to affirm his freedom in the face of his own creation.

Love is God's primary attribute in relation to the creation, not justice. Indeed, God's justice usually serves a loving purpose. First, God's justice is often his protection of others from harm. When God brings us to justice, he is often protecting others from the harm we might do to them. So a first function of God's justice is protection.

Second, however, God's justice is often his discipline toward us, to steer us in a better direction. His justice, in that sense, is action to move us toward redemption, like a parent that disciplines a child in order to motivate a positive change in attitude or behavior.  So a second function of God's justice is redemption.

There is a third function of justice. Justice is nothing more than the appropriate consequences for human choices. Natural law is a good example of justice. If we jump out of a plane without a parachute, the ground is not unloving when it greets us. It is simply showing us the consequences of our action.

The ancient world even before the Bible had worked out the essence of moral justice--"an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" (Exod. 24:24). It is not unloving for a high handed murderer to be put to death, for this is what the murderer has earned. It is the natural consequence of his or her action in moral law.

God as a God of love wants the redemption even of the murderer. So God has often shown grace to murderers. But God also knows when a murderer will never change direction. He knows when the murderer will kill again. He knows the negative impact an unpunished murderer can have on others.

There is a situation where God's justice eliminates. This is not unloving because it is not unloving to let a person experience the consequences of his or her actions. Justice is not unloving. God in his wisdom sometimes does not extend grace but justly eliminates the wrongdoer. Hell would of course be the consummate example of such elimination. We will discuss debates over the nature of hell in a later article.

So God's justice fits within the context of his love. God is free to forgive. God is free to protect. God is free to discipline. God is free to eliminate.

Next week: G10. To say God is holy is to say God is God.

4 comments:

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Isn't your "bullet point" to justify Christian "behavioral therapy"?

The Church's understanding of "moral order" is the Law of God. And just as Steve DeNeff's sermon today, one must choose "life or death". God's law is "life", while any other understanding or way is "death". If one denies the Absolute, then one is "out from under" the protection of God (as Bill Gothard would affirm). Redemption of one's "sins" cannot happen apart from submitting to "the discipline of the Church" under God's sanctioned Authority. And, if one chooses death, then one is ultimately headed toward destruction and hell.

It sounds as if one must conform oneself to a particular moral image, and moral authority, to be a Christian. That means that one is not developed apart from the paternalism (oversight) of the Church. Self determination is anathema to "life in God".
I disagree, as Egoism, is not egotism. One must love oneself, before they can love another. Self interest is of value, unless one wants to affirm co-dependency and annihlation of personhood. Therefore, understanding what one's passions are, are important. Steve DeNeff seemed to preach against passions, as ill-begotten and self-destructive.

All passions are not destructive, but can be. It is only when the Church has particular definitions about "sanctification" that it becomes important to deny one's passions, as they are seen as limiting one's vision of "God" as the ULTIMATE or ONLY.

I think if one chooses to believe in "God", then God is Big enough to encompass all of life, apart from sectarian, or "sacred" defintions.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Whenever you set up God's Justice within God's Love, then, you've chosen to set up a "redemptive" strand to "justice", which is about "grace"... the Catholic view that "nature is graced", instead of the "nature is against grace", or "nature is perfected by grace" affirms this view.

If "nature is graced", then it is a matter of understanding what nature and what grace is/means.

David Doty said...

You make the statement: "Justice is nothing more than the appropriate consequences for human choices."

While I would make much more detailed comment on other points in the essay, this point in particular is a negation of biblical justice. God's love overwhelms human sin such that, by way of the Cross, we do not receive our due. OT justice (mishpat) is far more than what we might think of as "comeuppance." NT justice is a working out of sacrificial, reconciliatory love (forgiveness and restoration) that is a perfect picture of righteousness, the fulfillment of divine justice.

Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more. God's redemptive posture, will, and action is infinitely greater than the collective sin of all humankind.

Ken Schenck said...

If you are saying that this statement is not giving the definition of justice in the Prophets, I completely agree. I am giving a philosophical/theological definition here.