Thursday, March 23, 2006

Meaningful Justice

Giving us something other than autobiographical atheism and bed-time stories of deconversion folk-tales for perhaps the first time in a while, the Self-Debunkers take a shot at arguing against the defined justice of the Christian God. And what a mess! In response to DagoodS’ post “Mercy vs. Justice“, JustinOther states:

What a well thought out piece. I have to admit, my head is spinning, but that happens every time I look at the bible. There are so many inconsistencies.

Well, after reading this, I do have to admit, my head is spinning, but that happens every time I read the duhbunkers. There are so many inconsistencies. Let’s take a look:

We often see, in claims about the Christian God that He is “Just” as if this word imparts some significance in the particular action being discussed and that God is bound (whether He likes it or not) to the action. Or that He is “Merciful” as if that term has a deep meaning, in which we should be especially appreciative as to His action, or non-action, in this regard.

When a Christian states that God’s goodness is based in his nature, so that God himself is the objective basis for goodness, the atheist will often then ask us what’s the big deal. What is so meaningful about saying that God is “good” if, in essence, we are merely describing his “Godness”? You’ll often notice in these atheists’ statements how they in essence bring God down to the level of a created being (we’ll see DagoodS compare God to a toadstool later). My name is Evan May. Should others praise me for my “Evan May-ness” simply because “Evan May-ness” is based in Evan May? No, if “Evan May-ness” is going to be at all meaningful, it isn’t going to be based in Evan May alone, but in something external to Evan May which Evan May possesses, so that Evan’s “Evan May-ness” is a meaningful attribute.

Such is certainly the case for the created being. But should we think the same way when it comes to God? Are we to ask “what’s the big deal” that God has “Godness”? Of course not. Why the difference? Well, because this isn’t Evan May’s universe, which Evan May sovereignly controls. This isn’t the world for which Evan May has made Evan May the standard (you’re sick of my name now, aren’t you?). No, this is God’s universe, which he has made, with laws which he has imposed upon it, with creatures that have been created to love him for who he is. When we put things in God’s perspective, it does not become so ridiculous to praise God for his “Godness.”

And what is his “Godness”? It’s his attributes, all qualities which he possesses intrinsically and eternally in infinite measure. God possesses the attribute of justice intrinsically. He didn’t derive it from somewhere else like we have. And he possesses it eternally and in infinite measure. Also, we shouldn’t forget that man has been made in God’s image. So what is goodness to us (though we can often be tainted by sin) is goodness to God. What is justice to God is justice to us.

But without any ability to confirm whether God is acting inside the parameter of a law, or outside a parameter, these two terms eventually lose real sustenance when applied to God. Why is it influential, or even credible, to assign these terms, when further reflection reveals the person making the claim has no ability to substantiate it?

God is not bound by a law that is external to him, yet he is not a lawless God. He will act in conformity to his nature, and his nature is unchanging. One wonders why it takes any more substantiation to know that God is just apart from the substantiation that proves God’s existence. DagoodS’ statements assume the existence of God. They should, then, assume that God is a just God. Why? The contrary is impossible. If God exists, then he is just. God is a self-sufficient God. If he were not self-sufficient, he would not be God for his existence apart from creation would have been impossible, and thus he would be absent when he would be otherwise present to create. If God is not self-sufficient, then he is not eternal. If he is not eternal, then he is not God. And if God is not just, then he is not self-sufficient, for God’s self-sufficiency demands that he possess all qualities intrinsically and eternally in infinite measure. If God does not possess justice infinitely, then God is not God. But we have assumed God’s existence, and have therefore assumed his justice. Assuming God exists, the fact that we are discussing a concept called “justice” tells us that God is a just God, for we possess derivatively what God possesses intrinsically.

We should first define our terms, so as to consider what is being said. “Justice” is not that complicated of a word. It means conforming to or consonant with what is legal or lawful; legally right; lawful. It is equally easy to apply—read the law, review the situation, and determine a yes/no answer—does it conform to the law?

What a terrible definition of justice. Yes, justice has relation to the written law, but the written law follows justice, not the other way around. Justice is not “what the law states” (unless DagoodS is talking about some universal, objective law of morality, which is impossible in the atheistic worldview). If the written law states that it is just to take another life at whim, does it then become just? Rather, justice has been traditionally defined, “Giving every man his due.” But how do we know what man is due? In the atheistic worldview, we’ve now gone back to the subjective written law: man is due what the written law tells him he is due. So if women are “due” to be put to death at whim, it is just to do so. Any definition of justice that DagoodS gives us which is constructed within the walls of his worldview will be subjective. DagoodS cannot appeal to something external to the written law, for such an appeal presupposes God’s existence. So DagoodS’ is left with a subjective law based upon subjective justice which is based upon a subjective law which is based upon subjective justice, ad infinitum.

Or, we have the Christian worldview, where God defines clearly what man is due. God’s declaration of such truth is not subjective, for 1) it is God’s right to determine what man is due, for man’s life is in God’s hands, and 2) God applies this law universally. Apart from the Christian God’s declaration that murder fails to give man what he is due, we have a made-up, arbitrary, viciously subjective written law that borrows from God’s statements but cannot account them.

A city may enact an ordinance that states all business signs must be 1.5 meters by 1 meter or smaller, and any person that sets up a sign larger than that is guilty of a misdemeanor. In this simple example, justice is easy to determine. The owner that erects a 1.5 x 1 Meter sign is not guilty. The owner that erects a 1.51 x 1 Meter sign is. Even if it is only 1 millimeter more, the sign is no longer in conformance with the law, the owner has violated the ordinance.

A city may enact an ordinance that states that all business signs must be paid for by the lives of three native children, and any person that sets up a sign lacking this payment is guilty of a felony. In this simple example, justice is easy to determine. The owner that erects a sign bought with the lives of three children is not guilty. The owner that erects a sign bought with the lives of two children is. Even if it is only the life of the grandmother, the sign is no longer in conformance with the law; the owner has violated the ordinance.

You see, in DagoodS’ system of justice, it is simply the written law that determines right and wrong.

If there is no law, there is no need to discuss justice.

But what law are you talking about here? Yes, you are right that justice presupposes a standard of justice, which is a law. But where does this law come from in your worldview? I can simply turn these statements back on you. The Christian worldview submits to God’s universal law. What law does your worldview submit to? The written law? Consensus? Abritrary subjectivity? Individualistic preference?

To call God “just” in our vernacular means that He is in conformance with a law. One could certainly argue about what that “law” is, and whether this is a hyper-technical modern application of the Bible, and whether its definition is the intention of the authors of the Bible. But to even give the word value, it must mean God is in conformance with something.

In the Christian worldview, the whole universe is working under one law, one standard for justice: the nature of God. God’s nature has been revealed in the law which he has imposed upon his creatures, and it has been revealed in his interaction with his creatures. We have already discovered that God is just by definition, and that this is meaningful to us as human beings because we live in God’s world and act according to his law. God’s justice is meaningful to his creatures because he has created his creatures to understand his justice. And I don’t think anyone is arguing that God’s justice is not meaningful to God! So to whom is it not meaningful? To God? No. To his creatures? No. Who’s left?

How, then, does the word lack “value”? Does not justice concern the perspective of the interpreter? God is just to me because he meets the standard of justice by which I naturally determine justice, but I have received this standard from God and use it by nature because of the way that God has created me (this, we should note, is not individualistic subjectivism, for the standard I have received is a universal standard). So not only do I have an objective basis to determine what is just and unjust (it is objective because this is God’s universe, and because God has universally applied his laws), but I also have undeniable knowledge that God is just because the very way I determine justice has been imparted to me by God. I possess derivatively what God possesses intrinsically.

I have seen arguments that God is not in conformance with a “law” but rather with His “covenant.” That is perfectly fine, we can review the covenant provided, and confirm whether he conforms with it or not. He does, it is “just,” He does not, he is not. Or one could argue that God is in conformance with his Nature. Again, a simple application of the principle. Determine what His “nature” requires, and determine whether he is conformance with it.

The problem starts to appear. How do we confirm what God’s covenant is? Or His nature? Or His law? The only way provided is that God is telling us what it is. But what if His covenant allows lying? Or His nature? And what is so “just” about conforming to one’s Nature? Even toadstools and turtles do that! Do we call them “just”? Not hardly

1. DagoodS assumes the Christian worldview but then denies it at the same time. The Christian worldview is a revealed worldview. Christians believe in Scriptural truth. If Scripture says God is a certain way, then we believe he is a certain way. How do we know that God is not lying when he says he does not lie? Because Scripture has told us that God does not lie, and if Scripture is true, then the proposition is true.

2. Likewise, Scripture tells us that God acts according to his nature. It is a bit ridiculous to attempt an internal critique of a particular worldview but then speculate the statements of the worldview. Does one really need to know every action God has ever done in order to know that he acts according to his nature?

3. Last I heard, the toadstool was not a self-sufficient being that possesses all qualities intrinsically and eternally in infinite measure which created the universe ex nihilo and made creatures designed after his image on which he has imposed his universal laws.

…“Just” means that God is conforming to a rule, a law, a covenant, something by which we can say, “This action is in conformance, and that action is not.” It necessarily implies that God could do something different that would be unjust.

“Mercy” is the opposite of Justice. It is the reviewing the action, and deliberately not applying the law. Deliberately not being just. Deliberately not conforming to the requirements of the law. The judge understands the law, understands the consequences, and even recognizes the appropriate remedy the law required. The judge, by conscious will, refuses to abide by the law, and disregards it. The person accused also recognizes the necessary consequences, and, hoping the judge will not impose the remedy, “throws themselves on the mercy of the court.”

It should be noted that many laws provide exceptions. For example, a governor, with the legal ability to pardon a crime, is not acting mercifully by pardoning a criminal. The law provides the governor with that legal right. The prisoner may feel that it was an act of mercy, and we may even view it as such, since the prisoner did not have the legal right to a pardon, but the act on the part of the governor was still within the confines of the law. It was “just.”

For God to act mercifully would mean He is aware of the law. He must recognize a certain action (or non-action) is in accordance with that law, and make the conscience effort to not do so. If God is always in accordance with the law, or is always “just,” then he would never violate the requirements of that law, and would never perform a merciful act.

When people say, “God is always just” taken to the literal extreme, it would mean that God is never merciful. When stated that “God is always merciful” taken to the literal extreme, it would mean that God is never just. Clearly both positions are wrong. The Bible implies that there are occasions on which God is just and occasions in which God is not, by being merciful.

1. Mercy, in the normative sense of the word, is unjust. But God’s mercy is not unjust. Has DagoodS already forgotten the wisdom of the cross, reconciling justice and mercy, meeting the demands of the law but justifying sinners? All of God’s actions of mercy towards man are done through the cross. An internal critique which ignores half of the principles of the worldview is not an internal critique.

2. God is indeed always just. But the Bible does not teach us that God is always merciful. Now, he possesses both of these attributes infinitely, so God is indeed not only “all-just” but “all-merciful”. But does “all-merciful” mean that you can only act mercifully? That isn’t what the Bible means by stating that God’s possession of the attribute is infinite. God’s justice, or his righteousness (”justice” and “righteousness” are the same words in both Hebrew and Greek) is a unique attribute of his. The Bible tells us of God, “all his works are right and his ways are just” (Daniel 4:37). But it never describes his attribute of mercy in this manner. In fact, the very reason the cross was a necessity is that God cannot act in any way that denies his justice. Therefore, justification by the imputation of the righteousness of Christ through the cross was the solution.

But to those who do not believe and are condemned in hell, God does not act mercifully. But he does act justly. God acts justly to both the elect and the non-elect. But he acts mercifully to only the elect.

3. The Bible does tell us that there are occasions when God is merciful (through the work of the cross, we must remember), but the Bible never tells us that there are occasions when God is not just. Rather, it expressly states otherwise.

Evan May.

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