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Brian (8)

How does God's justice look after two discussions? 5 February 2015

We have had two fruitful sessions on the question of God’s justice. With hindsight I think we have been trying to answer the following question:
“Is there any way to make sense of the claim that God is perfectly just - when we look at the gross injustices we see happening every day in his creation?"
To clarify my thoughts I will try to summarise the progress I think we have made in answering it.

As always we have started with the following assumptions in order to keep things manageable:
1. We have assumed God (the personal creator-god of theism) exists.
2. We have then assumed (because God is personal and actively interested in us humans) that our general ideas of what is just (and what is not) are roughly the same as God’s. It is important to state this assumption. It is possible, for example, for a different (sadistic/evil) god to have created this world where he ensures that our sense of right and wrong is entirely different to his - for his entertainment??
3. We have assumed that our ‘perceptions’ of the goings-on in this world are accurate. So when we hear of some evil nasty person living a long and happy life by destroying the lives of others - this is in fact true. We are seeing all the facts. We are not being deluded.

I think we (well me at least) have made progress on three fronts.

Firstly we have ALL agreed that this world as we see it is nowhere close to being a place where God is ensuring that all people are treated justly. I won’t bother giving any of the examples discussed - there are so many. Hitler featured extensively. So it seems that (given our assumptions) there must be existence beyond this world (an afterlife of some type) where God is able to effect full justice for all people. This is not a particularly contentious conclusion given the universal theistic view that there is an eternal afterlife - at least for some!!

Secondly Brent has given us a very interesting insight into what, exactly, God's justice must look like. He used a great analogy from 19th century writings by George Macdonald (thanks Brent - Macdonald’s “Unspoken Sermons” has been added to my pile of as-yet unread tomes). This is worth trying to describe for those who did not attend the discussion. I will try using a hypothetical dialogue to do this. This (embellished) dialogue is between the victim (V) and his friend (F):
V. I feel angry and depressed about my $500 watch being stolen by that #%&6n idiot last month. He went through my locker at soccer training and nicked it.
F. But I thought they caught the bastard and nailed him? I believe he was an old school acquaintance of yours.
V. Well he was charged and found guilty - and fined $5000, including $1000 in damages to be paid to me for my loss. It’s true that we have mutual friends from school days - but he was a prick even then.
F. So justice has been done then - why are you not satisfied?
V. Well he refused to pay the fine - so has been sent to jail for 3 months.
F Wonderful! Imagine how badly he’ll suffer in that jail. Serve him right. His suffering there will be much harsher than your loss. I love the justice system when it works.
V. Justice!! What about my loss of a watch? I need to find another $500 to replace it.
F. Well I just won lotto so here’s $500 as a gift. Buy a new watch with it.
V. Thanks Mate!!!!!!
One month later the conversation continues:
F. How are you liking the new watch?
V. It’s great I suppose.
F. Why are you so grumpy about it? You have the watch and that #%&6n idiot is suffering in jail as we speak.
V. Well apparently the  #%&6n idiot has got onto Facebook and been saying that I deserved to lose the watch and that he hopes worse will happen to me.
F. Ah well a couple more months in jail should change his mind! He’ll eventually see the error of his ways and may even apologise to you - HaHa.
V. Hmmmm.
Analogies can be timeless! I’m sure Macdonald did not contemplate Facebook in 19th century Scotland!
It would seem that justice can never be effected on a perpetrator by retribution alone - no matter how extreme. Surely it is more about restoration. Restoration is about giving the perpetrator the opportunity to compensate the victim for both his physical losses as well as his feelings of being abused or invaded. But surely it is also about finding ways of changing the fundamental attitude of the perpetrator towards his actions and the hurt he has caused the victim. Surely FULL justice is only achieved when the perpetrator reaches a point where he feels genuine remorse for his behaviour  - to the point where he wishes to compensate the victim without the need for judicial orders. His moral compass must be repaired.

Thirdly - accepting this view of justice then leads to a conclusion about the mooted afterlife which flies in the face of traditional church doctrine. If God is to effect FULL justice then this must include restoration for the victims and, more controversially, restoration of the perpetrator’s moral compass. How does God achieve this by damning sinners (unrestored/unforgiven perpetrators) to an eternity in some sort of suffering-place called hell? If you accept our initial assumptions (and Macdonald/Leggett's definition of justice) then the idea that God assigns any people to an eternal hell doesn’t make sense as an act of perfect justice.

Conclusion. If a perfectly just (and all-powerful) God exists he must ultimately find a way to restore every person - even the likes of Hitler.

By the way this is known in theology as a "Universalist” view of God’s salvation.

Those of you believe that logical thinking is a valid pathway to truth (and have the time) please try to find shortcomings in my reasoning and give me your feedback.