Monday, January 21, 2013

Is God Just?

The church I preach at from time to time has a series of "Bad News and Good News" on the back of its bulletin. The bad news is that we are sinners. The worse news is that God is just and therefore must punish us. The good news is that Jesus takes on our punishment and we are saved through grace. (It's actually a bit longer than that.) I was musing on it on Sunday. Right away, I recognized substitutionary atonement. Which always, always bothers me.

I'm in the midst of reading Jared Diamond's new book, "The World before Yesterday". I'm at the part now where he talks about dispute resolution in small societies. One primary purpose is to resolve the dispute so that the relationships between the parties or between their groups is preserved. Less focus is put on assessing blame, more on restoration of the relationship.

In our society, justice is seen primarily as meting out punishment for wrongdoers. There are other theories of justice: restorative justice, trying to put the injured party in a position as close to before the injury as possible and rehabilitation for the wrongdoer. But it is mostly about punishment.

But what of God? What sort of justice does God mete out?

For Luke, I would argue, God doesn't seem at all concerned with justice. Luke has Jesus tell the story of the Prodigal Son. The older brother longs for justice, but the father gives mercy, forgiveness. In the parable of the workers who are hired at different, the workers who were hired at six in the morning  complain that they worked so much longer than the ones hired at three in the afternoon and yet they both get the same amount of pay. The owner of the field says, I paid you the wage you agreed to; get over it. At least in Luke's Gospel, God is not a God who demands punishment as justice.

And so, why is it that we seem so intent on justice, on fairness? How have we missed this basic theme of the Gospel? This approach to justice puts us at odds with each other. It assumes a zero sum game; winners and losers; the good and the bad.

The kingdom, I believe, assumes abundance, more than enough. It assumes sharing. It assumes that my welfare includes your welfare, too. It assumes grace. It assumes God isn't the older brother in the parable of the prodigal son, but the father who loves, forgives, accepts and best yet, throws a party.

1 comment:

Robin said...

Yes, and yes, and yes.