God & Biblical Justice
Updated: Dec 18, 2019
A Final Research Paper: Written for PH510 Christian Apologetics
Fuller Theological Seminary
“How, in a relatively short period of time, did we go from a world where belief in God was the default assumption to our secular age in which belief in God seems, to many, unbelievable,” accuses James K.A. Smith. Taking an account of global religious preference on one’s own might prove this claim. However, according to the PEW Research Center, Christians make up 31.2% of the global population of the religiously affiliated, making Muslims 24.1%, Hindus 15.1%, 13.7% of various faith, while a mere 16% claim to be unaffiliated. Albeit, these numbers do not take into account those that are not practicing or have fallen away from the truest forms of their faith yet still claim it on paper. One of the primary reasons for pulling back from religion in general, as Smith concludes, is the contradiction between the world’s atrocities and seeming lack of justice seen in our new post-modern era, in which humanity is able to readily view mass genocide, tragedy, slavery and suffering the moment they unlock their smart device. The media has become radical in their desire to shock and over sensitize the public to violence. In fact,
The constant stream of news on social media can also be traumatic. A team of researchers at the University of Bradford in England told a British psychology conference last year that exposure to violent imagery … can cause symptoms that are similar to post-traumatic stress disorder, defined as a persistent emotional reaction to a traumatic event that severely impairs one’s life (and causes desensitization).
It is not due in small part to this that there seems to be a contempt with Christianity and a Christian God that would allow such injustice. In an effort to rectify this thought process, one first needs to understand the scope of the problem and historical context, then turn to scriptural truths about God’s heart for the oppressed and justice on their behalf, and finally take into account God’s design for the eradication of injustice and call to those made in God’s image.
Scope of the Problem and Historical Context
At the outset, one might ask, “Why would a God of justice allow suffering yet call for justice in His word?” This is a valid question and one that deserves a thoughtful and truthful response. However, one must first understand the scope of global suffering and develop the ability to view it in historical context and in conjunction with the persistent decline of those involved in its eradication. The current postmodern era offers unique challenges for abolitionists, theologians, historians and the general public in the way that it lauds relativism and condemns rationalism, and harbors resentment for theological rationalism in particular. Christian apologist, John G. Stackhouse, says this about postmodernism, “(it is) the collective array of responses to postmodernity that accept its view of things and then attempt to construct a view of the world, and perhaps an entire way of life, on that basis.” This sentiment has proven itself true in the general relative culture being perpetuated amongst the developing world in 2018. Non-believers and believers alike are plagued by world injustices and the plight of the oppressed, all the while not being able to connect the dots between God’s promises and the violence they know to be true. Martin Luther’s 95 Theses, in which is calls for the rectification of corruption within the Catholic church, begins and ends with the idea of suffering either as a result of one’s religion, or one’s situation. Published over 500 years ago, the test of time has proven the desire for humanity’s need for a just God, a just faith and a just religion.
Still, today the world experiences no less violence than it has throughout the centuries. Whether the abuse of women in Greek mythology, a Roman construct demanding their subjects ascribe to Roman practices and rule through violence and death, massacres of thousands of innocent children as a result of Pharisee outrage or genocide, ancient times are uncontested in their attestation to suffering. Through the saving grace of Christ Jesus, humanity fell under the impression that many of their trials would cease. However, quite the opposite has become a reality. Postmodernists are faced with a very recent mass holocaust of Jews, a Rwandan genocide a mere 15 years past, continual mass destruction through natural disaster, and surprising multiple homicide in academic settings.
These realities lay outside facts surrounding global slavery. The global slavery index currently estimates a total of 40.3 million people held in slavery around the world. According to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, this is nearly 3.5 times the number of slaves sent to the new world between 1525 and 1866. One might understand the the number of slaves dropping after the famous English Parliamentarian William Wilberforce’s persistence to see an end to slavery in English territories. Wilberforce was well known for his proximity to God and his faith. He was even an early pupil of John Newton, writer of the hymn Amazing Grace. However, the certain rise of slavery in the years after its initial decline is cause for concern and valid grounds for one’s understanding of how God could first aid Wilberforce and his fellow abolitionists to end slavery only to see it revived in excess in the years following Wilberforce’s death.
Further, the issue of victims of war, refugees and displaced persons causes much grievance amongst those who might challenge the Christian faith. Since the beginning of the Iraqi war in 2003, nearly 1,244,315 lives have been taken as a part of either civil or terrorist conflict in the Middle East. Together, these conflicts have destroyed the living environments of millions and have created over 65 million refugees or asylum-seekers worldwide. As one seeks to rationalize these facts and come to an understanding of God’s hand in the devastation, suffering and oppression of so many over time, it is not difficult to appreciate the conflict that may arise in one’s mind. In his text, founder of the International Justice Mission (the largest anti-trafficking organization in the world) attributes the world’s 40.3 million slaves to human greed, corruption and violence. The aforementioned attributes being fruits of evil not of the risen savior Jesus Christ. Understanding God’s scriptural promises and plan for addressing the sins of global perpetrators will provide clarity and hope.
Scriptural Truths about God’s Heart for Justice
Of course, the leap from devastation to an attitude of optimism is going to take a bit of illumination. Moreover, as Penner suggests, the leap from rationalized apologetics to relative apologetic tactics of post modernity may cause further delay of proof. That said, scripture is clear as to why human (both believers and non-believers alike) experience suffering and includes several examples for the benefit of current generations and those to come. In his text on suffering and God, Cahn alludes to the fact that believers’ must possess a satisfactory answer to this sort of evil or forfeit their faith. Further, Cahn offers this, “The free-will defense claims that it is a great good that humans have certain sort of free will which I shall call free and responsible choice, but that, if they do, then necessarily there will be the natural possibility of moral evil.” In saying this, the author wishes to convey the idea that God made humans with a free-will. When choices are made against the moral commands of God, humans then must suffer the consequences of their actions. This defense answers many of life’s troubles but does not address natural disaster, the violence imposed on innocent families caught in war and young girls who are forced to commit sex acts to support their families. For these answers, one must turn back to scripture.
As the Old Testament is cracked open, one will find natural disasters and moral suffering plentiful. God’s reasoning can be seen through multiple lenses as one turns to the life of Moses in Exodus. God states his promises for the enslaved Israelites in Genesis 15:14, “But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions.” The Lord proves his goodness to them in their release a shocking 430 years after being thrown into captivity. Pharaoh, still exercising his free-will, chose to act in self-service and abide the commands of evil. As his army approached the Israelites at the Red Sea, God says this to his people through Moses, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again.” (Exodus 14:13) As God proceeded to send his guiding pillar of cloud and condemning pillar of fire, the Israelites passed safely across the sea while Pharaoh’s army became swallowed up in the disaster. (Exodus 14:21-24) In this case, God uses suffering to prove his goodness and promise. While Pharaoh maintained free-will and chose to harm others, Moses chose righteousness and God saw his people through to the promised land. It seems beyond scope to presume whether or not God allows evil or merely reacts to those tactics of evil. However, in all cases God does have a purpose. Refugees of war are currently experiencing devastation and loss of their home land as did the Israelites in Exodus. Still, God has a purpose for each of their lives and their suffering. The Lord has proven that he will keep his promises should they chose to follow his guidance.
Those who have experienced sexual violence, exploitation, sexual slavery or forced intimacy might too find it difficult to believe that a good God could allow such horrendous acts. In most cases, the fault lies squarely with the perpetrators of such horrendous acts, rather than placing any wrongdoing or blame on the victims. Here, one might again lean on the free-will defense to explain how such atrocities could take place. Swinburne suggest, “if humans have libertarian free will then the unprevented possibility of human wrong choices makes possible the great good of human free choice between right and wrong.” Unfortunately, in the case of the perpetrator, they seem to have chosen for themselves acts of great evil instead of great good as Swinburne states. Presuming these evil doers of postmodernity had been exposed to the gospel, one might conclude, as Penner does, that they might be products of apologetic amnesia. In other words, Christian apologists of today might not be reaching these due to their outdated gospel presentation. “It is common for them to employ the arguments and strategies of pre-modern apologists as if no physiological or social context that supervenes on either their concept or arguments or those of their forbearers.” Albeit, these individuals might be well aware of the positive arguments for the gospel yet make the conscious decision to please the flesh instead. This seems to be both the beauty and demise of the human mind as God created it. Still, what is to be done or said about the victims of this selfishness? The gospel of John sheds light on such a situation in chapter 4. As Jesus passed through Samaria, he counter-culturally sat by a woman at the well and shared water with her. (John 4:1-29) During this time Christ also revealed he was aware of her cultural shame in “having five husbands.” More than likely the woman was a prostitute either for her own well being or by force. Due to the culture at the time condemning the woman as the guilty party even in cases of forced sexuality, it is perceived that the woman at the well was a victim of sexual exploitation, hence cast out by her village. This placed her uncommonly alone at the well in the middle of the day. While all others frowned upon her reputation, the Lord had another purpose. Scripture says, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:20) Reading further in John’s gospel, reveals the Lord’s reasoning. While evil intended to bring shame on the Samarian woman, God intended to make her into one of the greatest missionaries of her time. She was able to share of the humility, and honor Christ displayed as he sat and shared water with her. In addition, she experienced his divinity when he shared knowledge of her past and present blemishes. (John 4:28-30) In this case, God turned scars and shame into vehicles for message of grace, hope and love.
Finally, Job stands as a pillar amongst those who have and are currently experiencing physical illness. God, so proud of Job’s faithfulness, allows him to be tested by Satan. “All right, the Lord said to Satan. “everything he has is in your power...” (Job 1:12) A testament to faithfulness, Job was tested through multiple wounds, inflictions and trials. He lost his friends and family in the process and was left with his faith. Yet, the Lord maintained a purpose through Job’s trial. This servant of God eventually saw himself as a God, one who could, in his own power, right the wrongs of disease and relationship. However, he was reminded that he owes his righteousness and all good things to the Lord. (Job 41) As Job humbled himself to God and placed due power in the Lord’s hands, his trials began to cease. Following his repentance, God rebukes the friends of Job who had also doubted the Lord. Critically, as Job essentially brought his friends back to Christ, God restored his fortunes. “And the Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning.” (Job 42:12) It was essential for Job to humble himself to the Lord’s power during his trials as well as to be bold about sharing his faith in God. Following his obedience, God revealed his purpose. Understandably, this example does not attest to those illnesses and trials that remained unresolved in our lifetime. These are the types of earthy issues that plague the minds of believers and non-believers alike. However, turning again to God’s word can provide some guidance. Time, in a sense, for God, is relative. While we see a beginning and ending to our earthly lives, God is able to view an entire snapshot of the world as he created it. It is for this reason that God sent his son Jesus Christ to earth to experience our trials and supernaturally attest for our sins. Due to his sacrifice, we are able to enter into the holy gates of heaven whether or not our earthly trials come to a resolution, so long as we put our hope and faith in the Lord.
God’s Actions Globally and Call to His People
To that end, one might wonder if God is present today and what specifically we are called to as a means of response to his great gift of salvation. God is at work for the oppressed and is working all together for our good even though we may not realize or express it in our lifetimes. Through Christian organizations like the International Justice Mission, 40,000 people have been rescued and protected from slavery and violence during IJM’s mere 15 years of service. The Lord is at work for those crippled by disease through organizations like the Christian Medical and Dental Association, which send multiple teams annually and offer free medical care and prescription drugs to those in underdeveloped and impoverished nations. CMDA hosts 90 mission trips annually serving thousands on each visit, during the likes of which tangible impacts and healing are nearly un-recordable. Further, mission groups like For the Nations seek to resettle refugees and share the hope of Christ through citizenship and language classes.
God’s design for the purpose of suffering and salvation of his people lies amidst the biblical justice so present in scripture. While theologians must remain mindful of amending this message cross culturally, as Van Den Toren, suggests, the mission remains the same. God calls upon his people to get active in his work of global justice. “Give justice to the weak and the fatherless, maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” (Psalm 82:3-4) His people are the answer to the world’s current suffering and trials. We are to take an active stance in aiding the poor and oppressed while being mindful to share his word. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come up on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
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