Salvation and Justice

If you talk about religion with anyone, you are likely to run into the question of salvation. Who will be saved?

Another question follows quickly behind it.  Why will some be saved while others are not?

The path this conversation takes is reliable.  Someone will raise the question of the native of some exotic locale, let us call it Kowabungia, where the gospel has never been preached.  How can we say that such a person will not reach heaven, but will instead be condemned?

There are a couple of familiar answers.  One way to go is to point to Romans 1:18, which declares that the creation bears witness to God’s qualities and divine nature and that is revelation enough.  Another argument notes that all have sinned and are justly condemned, so why protest if God chooses to graciously save some (or even a few)? Would it be better if he saved none in the interest of fairness?

When we ask these questions about whom it is that God will or will not save from perdition, we are thinking about justice.  Indeed, we are judging God’s potential methods of separating eternal destinies by asking whether they are just.  We instinctively think that it is not fair that God would not save a person who has never heard the gospel.  Others think it is wrong that a person who seems to live a very good life, but is not a Christian, would not reach heaven.

I would like to suggest that we are not thinking about the problem correctly.  By our method, we propose to judge God by the standards of justice.  But here is the question:  Where does justice come from?  If justice exists, then it has its source in God.  How would you judge the maker of justice by the standards of the thing he made?  It is an impossible exercise, which is what Job learned when he was granted his audience with God.  You cannot get outside of God in order to judge him.  You lack a foundation external to God from which to judge him.  Why are you so sure justice exists at all unless it was made by him?  You can’t observe it in nature.  He made the yardstick you would propose to use.

So, let me suggest a different idea.  Rather than judging what we take to be God’s method of giving or withholding salvation, I would propose that we should have confidence in God as the source of justice.  What I mean by that is that we need not have anxiety about the justice of God, if justice is what we are really are worried about.  I think it is safe to say that God will be just.  When we know more fully what we now know only in part, we will be satisfied with what God has done.  Whether or not you can come up with acceptable formulation, he will.  And we will all realize it when the time comes.  God is just.

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5 thoughts on “Salvation and Justice

  1. May I quote an old family member? Genesis 18:25: “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?”

    God Himself gave us the impulse to seek justice. I think He wants us to evaluate everything we see, Him included. Notice that He doesn’t tell Abraham to shut up, but agrees that under the conditions Abraham sees Sodom’s destruction as wrong God Himself sees that and won’t do it. We aren’t up to Abraham’s level, of course – but we can’t just excuse ourselves with “God is just, it all works out” IMAO.

  2. I disagree that God wants us to judge him. There is a lot of folly going down that road. It would be like my kids judging me with regard to things they truly do not understand. Why am I such an idiot about making them eat vegetables, for instance? I appear arbitrary, but am not in reality.

    I don’t think God is swayed by our arguments. I would suggest something else is going on than God being swayed.

    • Of course God isn’t being swayed by Abraham. However, Abraham learns from this discussion that his intuitions about justice are correct in this instance, and learns it at a much deeper level than if God had simply told him: “I didn’t find even ten righteous men in Sodom, so now I’ll destroy the city”.

      The answer is at verses 17-19: “And the Lord said, Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do … For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment; …”

      This isn’t Abraham swaying God, but God teaching Abraham a lesson about justice. Sometimes the best way to teach something is to let the student discover it, or come up with rationales for it.

    • Kind of. It means that we can trust God, but that we need to think as if we didn’t otherwise we won’t learn as much. A debate is much more educational than saying: “you’re God, of course you’re right”, even if the end result is the same.

      Then again, as a Jew I don’t think much about the final judgement. God didn’t provide us with much information, so it isn’t something we should worry about. He provided us with a lot of information about what to do here and now, so that is our job.

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