Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?

July 15, 2007 at 1:12 pm 2 comments

Over at Bitter Sweet Life, Ariel has been discussing the implications of the biblical picture of God’s sovereignty. This sticky question has come up:

Supposing God is omnipotent, what should we do when confronted with the fact that God appears to be the underlying cause of both good and evil in the world? If we suspect he has been using us cruelly for divine amusement, are we simply to cope with that fact–grinning, bearing it, and praising God’s sovereign “goodness” all the while through our clenched teeth?

Ariel’s suggestion is that we are not in a good position to argue with God’s policies. Best simply to affirm God’s sovereignty and his goodness and cope:

After all, if God is knocking us around like pills in a pinball machine, we had better adjust and make the most of reality. Right?

Questioning God

Well, no.

I read Genesis 18 this week, and the story there nicely applies to this question. The setting of the chapter in question is that God has just informed his friend Abraham about the imminent destruction of the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham’s reaction is to think that the punishment is unjust: After all, there are righteous people in those cities also!

So gutsy Abraham replies to God with the following bold words:

Far be it from You to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous and the wicked are treated alike. Far be it from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly? (18:25)

The guy has grit! But God apparently doesn’t mind. Abraham seems nervous about the exchange, but God patiently fields Abraham’s successive requests that the cities not be destroyed if there are fifty righteous, then 45, then 40, 30, 20. At the last, God agrees to spare the cities if there are only ten righteous, and Abraham is satisfied.

God: Playing by the rules

The noteworthy point of this story is that Abraham has a certain standard of justice in mind against which he measures God: “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do justly?”

Justice, in Abraham’s mind, cannot include punishing the innocent for the sins of the guilty, nor can it include treating the righteous and the wicked alike, as if there were no difference between them.

Nor does Abraham think that because God is the actor, he is free to make up the rules as He goes. God’s thoughts might be higher than our thoughts, but even Abraham recognizes that God’s justice can’t somehow be contradictory to the principles of justice by which he expects us to abide.

So, baffling as it may be, Abraham, mere dust and ashes, is holding God accountable.

(All of this is an important objection to the argument that God is licensed and just to act as He wishes simply by virtue of being our omnipotent Creator. Abraham obviously didn’t think that way.)

So then. If we suspect that God is “toying” with us like a cat toys with a mouse before finally destroying it, should we simply cope and make the most of it?

Well, that’s not what Abraham did.

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Stephen  |  July 17, 2007 at 2:38 pm

    One of Brueggemann’s observations (you’ll be hearing a lot about Brueggemann from me for the next while!) is that Israel often argued with God. He’s thinking of the wisdom literature in particular: certain Psalms and the book of Job. And then there’s this text you mention from Genesis.

    It’s a little like that scene in the Monty Python movie:

    GOD: “Arthur! Arthur, King of the Britons!”
    [Arthur grovels]
    “Oh, don’t grovel! One thing I can’t stand, it’s people groveling.”

    ARTHUR: “Sorry.”

    GOD: “And don’t apologize. Every time I try to talk to someone it’s ‘sorry this’ and ‘forgive me that’ and ‘I’m not worthy’.”
    — What are you doing now?!

    ARTHUR: “I’m averting my eyes, O Lord.”

    GOD: “Well, don’t. It’s like those miserable Psalms– they’re so depressing. Now, knock it off!”

    Next you’ll be telling me that you don’t like Brueggemann, and you don’t like Monty Python either. Honestly, I don’t know where you kids today get your theological insights from.

    Reply
  • 2. Jamie  |  July 21, 2007 at 9:12 am

    Stephen: LOL. I’ve only seen a few Monty Python snippets, but that wasn’t one of them. Obviously reverence is important, but there’s probably a good point in that scene. Maybe I should watch more Monty Python…

    Reply

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profile.jpgI am working on my M.A. in Religion at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan. Besides having a big interest in theology, history, ethics, and the deep stuff of life, I am also very fond of Mediterranean food, snow, and the color red.

Email me: jamie.kiley@gmail.com

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