The Classic "God is Love, But God is Just" Argument


#1

I was thinking on the way in to work this AM about how absurd the “God id love, but also just” argument is. Now I’m aware that others have addressed this before, but one particular thing about the argument made an impression on me. If the redeemed individual who claims that they are “safe” from hell because God is merciful but the unredeemed individual is in serious trouble because of God’s justice, they are grossly misunderstanding the situation. A few thoughts come to mind here. If we strip away love/mercy and lean on God’s justice, we would be promoting a doctrine of universal damnation. It seems that most people anthropomorphize God and suggest that sure, He would like to just forgive all, but it would conflict with notions of justice, therefore He simply can’t just excuse sin in an effort to be “true to Himself”.

This whole line of reasoning is flawed as it presupposes that our “decision for Christ” has excused our sins. The reality is that we will not stand before God with a resume and attempt to gain entrance to the Holy City standing on our merit, but solely on the grace/mercy of the one who was rejected and punished in our stead. This moves the act of justification completely away from human agency and places it squarely on the One who died. Pure justice would still require penalty for the crimes committed (our sins). So it seems the individual who attributes the consignment of mankind to hell to God’s justice is overlooking their own sins, which if dealt with according to the law, would yield undesirable results. So in summary, I would propose references to God’s justice in dealing with the unredeemed would also apply to the redeemed. Repentance brings about reconciliaton, but doesn’t erase the infractions that we commit on a daily basis. There are no “buts” when comparing God’s love with His justice. There is no tension in the two.


The Justice Approach
#2

I think it depends on whether you think the bag of money you owe the creditor has been given directly to the creditor or left on your doorstep for you to have to deliberately pick up and take to the creditor.

The difficulty seems to revolve around what part freely accepting the gift plays. Does it get you really safe (as opposed to only potentially safe) or does it just get you some extra benefits (ruling in the Kingdom) that late acceptance doesn’t.

I think very many fine Christians still feel ‘what’s in it for me that makes my free acceptance of the gift (I was so clever working out that all this stuff is true :smiling_imp: ) worth more than the choices of those who keep rejecting it?’. If the promised quality of life and promise of a path towards Godliness isn’t enough then… what can you say?


#3

Yep (and yep to everything else you wrote, too, I think.) Just as St. Paul himself writes, rather colorfully, at the transition into chp 2 of Romans: "Therefore, you are without excuse, every man of you who passes judgment!–for in that you judge another [like those pagan homosexuals with which Paul introduced this topic], you condemn yourself; for you who judge are practicing the same things.

"And we know that the judgment of God is, according to truth, against those who practice such things. *

"Yet do you suppose this, O man, who is passing judgment upon those who practice such things yet do the same, that you will escape the judgment of God?

"Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?

“But in accordance with your own stubborness and unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God; Who [as the Psalm says] ‘will render to every man in accord with his deeds’.”*


#4

Jason-

Thanks for that response. Unlike some of your other posts that are ultra sophisticated, this one I understand :smiley:

As I have contemplated universalism (wait, we agreed we wouldn’t use that term) :wink: for several years now, I’ve come to the conclusion that the various “tenses” of salvation are:

  1. Objective - what Christ accomplished/won at the cross which had nothing to do with any human decision
  2. Subjective - working out our salvation; understanding our freedom from sin/bondage and reckoning this to be true; practivally living it out in our daily lives without sin characterizing our lives
  3. Final - Christ declaring at the judgment that we are forgiven and delivered from the penalty of our sins

Most Christians I presume conflate 1) and 2) and make 1) contingent on 2). This is more and more illogical to me. Who of us that are blind and helpless can “choose” our way out of that condition without being “saved”? I like how Tom Talbott states it (and I’m paraphrasing): “These things are gifts from God, the product of his providential control of our lives, not a cognitive state that we somehow manufacture”. Love it!! The great heresy of the modern church is the pelagianism we are caught in now, thinking our completely free actions somehow obligate God to recognize our wisdom in discovering Him, when the only reason we have is because the blinders have been lifted!


#5

I’ll play Devils advocate here. The reason why people read Rom 2 and hold that God’s justice does indeed send people to hell is because ONLY those who seek to live by the law will be justified by the law.

Thus.

Those who seek to live by grace will be justified by grace which is not them.

Aug


#6

Hi F&B

Wow are you right on with this one; very frustrating when people place God in tension with Himself like this. As if a battle rages within God as He tries to balance mercy and justice. This delves deeply into Atonement theory – which I realize is not the main thrust of this website.

Once I read all the OT references to “justice” to see what was really going on. I found that for the most part, biblical depiction’s of justice revolve around restoration to dignity; relief from oppression by restrictive social structures; recovery of a lost sense of place and belonging. When justice occurs, wrongs are righted; healing occurs; righteousness has been witnessed; the weak and vulnerable have been protected. Justice relieves afflictions; is equated with righteousness; is contrasted with wickedness; is the birthright of God’s people. Justice redeems. Justice is not done to people, justice is done for them. (and yes, there are a few references to a justice which involves getting whacked for our indiscretions. But the majority showed justice as a positive and restorative thing.)

Now that I’ve embraced the ethos of this site (Universal Restoration) it seems that all those aspects of biblical justice could also be said to be ---- Universal Restoration. When I was trying to grasp all this Universalism ideology, I knew I could take Talbott, and later GM seriously because they did not back away one bit from the topic of biblical judgement and justice. As they have said, God doing justice IS God doing the right thing.

TotalVictory


#7

Well, that and Rom 2 still does say (though not exactly in such terms) that God’s justice does indeed send people to hell. :wink: The only way his remonstrance to his readers works, is if they and those nasty pagans over there are all in trouble if they insist on holding onto their sins. (Though St. Paul also has some subtly but deeply positive things to say about those heathens earlier in chp 1, where he acknowledges a great debt to them that he is eager to repay. He has to mean the debt is of some legitimately Godly kind, in light of some real cooperation with the Spirit on their part, per his emphasis in chp 8 if I recall correctly. There’s a famous portion of chp 2 right after the part I quoted that gells with this pretty well, too.)

There is a great line from Chesterton, praising his friend (and non-Christian philosophical sparring partner) George Bernard Shaw–one of many fine compliments Chesterton gave him–where he says that Shaw has angered all the anti-feminists by suggesting that women are the equal of men, and has also angered all the feminists by suggesting that men are the equal of women. The dialectic of the latter part of Rom 1 and the first part of Rom 2 revolves on a similar notion, that yes those people over there are culpable for what they are doing, and are storing up wrath for themselves for their sins–but they are also loved by God, just like us (meaning his Christian audience), and their case is no more hopeless than ours. Whereas, on the other hand, yes we (his Christian audience) are obviously loved by God–but we are also just as culpable for the wrongs that we insist on doing, whether the sins look large or small to us, and when we refuse to set those sins aside then we are also just as surely taking lightly the kindness and patience of God, storing up wrath for ourselves in the process.

The problem of non-universalists isn’t that Rom 2 doesn’t say God’s justice doesn’t send people to hell. There’s a real threat there that Paul expects his readers to take seriously. The problem of non-universalists is that they haven’t yet understood that Paul’s strongest warning to us in Rom 2 is against us expecting God to show less mercy to those non-Christian people over there than He does to us (especially when we ourselves continue to sin, as though our own sins great or small are of no consequence.)

Several excellent points in your latest comment, TV, btw. :slight_smile:


#8

That’s my point of the non-U position exactly. They do see it that way, but they qualify it on the grounds that under grace there is no judgement (for those in Christ Jesus). They approach God under grace and the non-believer approaches under law. Therefore those who live by the law are judged according to the standards of the law which means they will fail to pass the test and thus are damned. Believers will be judged by grace and thus they receive mercy since they are covered by the blood of the lamb.

Only if one seeks to be justified by works (under the law).

At least thats what I learned all my life as a non-U.

Aug


#9

Which of course St. Paul also says, so it isn’t as though non-kaths are pulling that from nowhere.

The non-universalist problem isn’t that they’re qualifying Rom 2 with further statements in Romans. The problem is that they aren’t qualifying those further statements with things like the first part of Rom 2, which (when put together with some other things in Romans regarding those stumbling non-Christians over there, Jews or Gentiles either one) makes for a rather more complex picture. Non-kaths, by definition, have no hope for those stumbling non-Christians over there; and Paul is calling them out for their hypocrisy in having no hope for those continuing sinners while continuing to hold and fondle their own sins (as large or as small as those might appear to be). That’s an abuse of the grace of God (as any sin is, of course), leading to wrath against the Christians, which they’re going to be unpleasantly surprised about if they (the hypocritical Christians) keep to their current course.

So there are different ways of treating the kindness and patience and forebearance of God lightly. One is to just keep sinning along as though God’s grace means He will simply pretend we are righteous without us really repenting and (in cooperation with God) putting away our own sins. Another is to think that God has less grace in any way for those other sinners over there while expecting God to have more grace for us. Each of those involves a schism between grace and justice, as though the mercy of God is only concerned with grace and the judgment of God is only concerned with justice.

(I thought I should tie back in with the thread’s topic more explicitly. :mrgreen: )


#10

(EDIT - THANK TO JP)
And yet another way is to say that Christ’s righteousness is impuned to the believer via faith. That is while you will sin the blood of the lamb washes away the stain. And the believer can repent but that does not equate to perfect obedience. It seems if a Universalist believes in hell then even he has to come up with how a believer avoids hell.

Already I don’t think the OP has really handled the issue well. But I’m a real slow learner and so perhaps I’m missing the point.

Aug


#11

I’m not sure if I understand those sentences. But seeing as how most of what is said about the wrath of God and punishment in the NT is aimed at lazy and/or uncharitable servants of God, including people who profess to be serving Christ and acknowledging Him as Lord, then I’m inclined to believe that the “believer avoids heaven” by being lazy and/or uncharitable. :wink:

The imputation of the righteousness of Christ, which St. Paul talks about (including later in Romans), is certainly very important; but the action of imputation becomes experienced as punishment (while remaining the righteousness of Christ) insofar as the sinner, by proportion, actively refuses to set aside his sinning. Which is true of everyone, Christian or non-Christian. By refusing to cooperate with the imputation of righteousness–which is what is happening insofar as any of us, Christian or non-Christian, insist upon our sinning–we to that degree are rejecting the imputation of the righteousness of God. (Put a little more obviously: when we sin we are acting, on our part, against fair-togetherness with God. God does not stop acting toward fulfilling fair-togetherness with us, but because we are acting against that communion we experience the action of God as punishment.)

What makes things more confusing, is that although the principle of “imputation” per se is certainly present in the theology of Jesus and the NT authors, including St. Paul, the actual word which is typically translated “imputation” in English has nothing to do with imputation per se. It only means acknowledgment of that which is righteousness. When Abraham acts in faith, he is already, to that degree, acting in righteousness (literally “fair-togetherness”) with God. God consequently judges that faith to be what it is, and reckons or accounts it as such: righteousness! This is a case where translators, a little over-eager to avoid any implication of salvation-by-works, have picked up a concept and wrongly imputed it (insert irony here as appropriate :wink: ) somewhere else.


#12

Jason,
Thanks for the INCOHERENT post. My apologies for being so confusing.

I think I’m having a hard time with this:

I’m understanding this to say God does not act PURELY just. Perhaps I misunderstand the statement?

Again, the non-U would simply argue that they don’t have to be perfect because it’s by grace and not by law that they are saved.

Perhaps I’m not understanding the OP. I’ll re-read.
Aug


#13

Well, F&B wrote that, so I’ll let him defend it. :mrgreen:

It’s possible he was writing from the perspective of some non-univs: i.e., even if X is insisted on by certain non-universalistic soteriologies, X doesn’t get fulfilled under their own terms but something else instead, so…

(I know it’s pretty common to run into non-universalists who explain hopeless condemnation on the grounds of God being “purely just”, or words to that effect, with a tacit implication that God isn’t being “just” to save us from our sins. I’ve even seen them make that explicit, and then agree when challenged on it that God is being “unjust” when saving us. I can’t and don’t agree with that; but I honestly can’t tell for sure whether F&B was agreeing with them, or whether he was pointing out that their position results in justice not being done even in the death of Christ.)


#14

I guess the problem that I’m seeing with the OP is that in the mind of the non universalist, they tend to hold that the redeemed are disciplined because they do sin (God love those he disciplines) BUT in a twinkling of an eye we will all be changed.

Thus they would argue that the reason why the redeemed do not get into heaven on their own merit is because at some point in time God raptures the redeemed and they are changed in an instant rather than a slow process. The result is they are now fit for the kingdom of God and the law has no bind on them since they are fully changed from spotted to spotless.

The unredeeed have no such promise to be raptured up and transformed and therfore their spots are still there. In revelation we see that those who wear the white robes have no spots.

So their claim is that God removes their sin and sin nature but the redeemed still have sin and therfore do not inherit the kindgom of God. Thus because they live by the law, they will be judged by the law and the law requires perfection. Thus they are damned.

What is it about the OP that the non-U would find problematic?


#15

That may have been F&B’s point: the only portion they (or a particular kind of non-U anyway) would find problematic, is the universalism. :slight_smile:


#16

Precisely. In looking back at my original post, I see now how it could be very confusing. My overarching point is similar to the tax collector in Luke 18. Jesus singled him out for his humble attitude and recognition of his sinfulness and how the Pharisee was full of self righteousness. The parallel is that those who are Christians often claim that somehow true justice implies punishing “outstanding” sin where since they have settled things w/ God, they are exempt. So if you look at someone’s heart and actions over the course of a lifetime, there is no claim on the Christian’s part that s/he, if judged according to the law, would have any standing before God. But since I struggle with the notion that justification is something that we trigger by our human action (it’s a work of God) I naturally am unable to stand how a Christian can use the “justice” argument to any avail since they are wholly dependent on God’s mercy, just like someone who has not repented.