“It is, because I Am.”
a response written by David Anderson
I’ve been mulling over the blog about the question you’d ask Dr. MacArthur. I am in agreement that it is dangerously insensitive to speak dogmatically about the eternal fate of groups of people. I’ve really enjoyed reading it through thoroughly, but I need some clarification. Specifically regarding your illustration of an alternate life and circumstances.
I can see that the story of a genuine man who honestly pursues his faith — even if it is the “wrong” faith — is an obvious candidate for equal treatment. But, from my view of it, the reason I think it’s fair for that man to find mercy is the same reason that makes me think even the vilest person should receive it as well.
Whether the basis for something being classified as fair comes from a consensus of mankind’s conscience or from each respective individual, I don’t think fairness can be contained.
If we were given the chance to see into all the inner workings of why a person conducted their life the way they did, I think the human consensus would always be to excuse that person’s denial of Christ.
Because, physically speaking, EVERY person is a product of their surroundings, mental capacity, hormonal imbalance, handicaps, psychological instability, etc.
Those are all things that are beyond our full control, and those are all things that one could easily argue we are victims of. We tend to agree that people are responsible for their own actions in a societal sense (i.e. the punishment fits the crime), but the landscape of the conversation is entirely different if we introduce a Puppet Master. When thinking through the idea of a Creator who set it all in motion or “allowed” the odds to be stacked against us, we naturally place the responsibility on Him.
It can be said that mercy should apply as much to the person who, with the best of intentions, happened to choose the wrong religion as it would to the person who, with the worst of intentions, happened to choose a self-serving, faithless life.
To use “good” intentions as a benchmark for equal treatment starts to lean toward reasoning that seems frail to me.
I can’t separate them. To use “good” intentions as a benchmark for equal treatment starts to lean toward reasoning that seems frail to me. Both individuals should be equally considered products of influences outside of their control.
As I see it, if our earthly understanding of fairness is a measure of our chances for admittance into heaven, then everyone should inherit the Kingdom of God. I can’t think of a single case when any man or woman would not have a very logical defense for why they never found the God of the Bible. Their paramount defense being “You didn’t make yourself known to me”.
That is where my application of fairness takes me. That is why I have an issue with being influenced by it when contemplating judgement.
That being said, I don’t think that fairness is some kind of manmade illusion. Fairness matters. It is absolutely important. God is just. Jesus teaches fairness. But, the only practical application I have for it today is how it relates to this world and the people in it.
Once I apply fairness to how God relates to us… it’s beyond my understanding. I don’t think that God being fair with man looks the same as man being fair with man.
I’ll try to clarify…
The Golden Rule in the Bible, and similar principles of fairness throughout scripture, seem to be referring very specifically to how it applies to our relationship one to another. While I believe it is true that our sense of fairness flows from who God is, I think it is a bit of a leap to say we are an accurate model of how God displays it toward man. Mankind’s characteristics of love, mercy, grace and order are all flawed. Therefore, the earthly manifestation of those characteristics couldn’t be used, with any precision, to examine the intricate mechanisms of God’s characteristics. They could only serve as a very general blueprint. We couldn’t possibly know the extent of how much more complex they are in perfect form.
That distinction between God and man is important to my understanding, and I think the Bible alludes to such a difference.
I see scripture presenting a very perplexing concept of fairness in regards to how God displays it, such as the way God speaks of Sodom and Gomorrah, how He responds to Job, the parable of the workers in the vineyard or even Jesus crying out “Why have you forsaken me?” The scriptural response to mankind’s desire to grasp certain aspects of God or His actions tends to infer a harsh line of “It is, because I am”.
Or, in other words, “You can’t fully comprehend the entirety of it”.
So then I ask, how can one consider something is unfair without fully comprehending it?
It can simply mean that if we do not fully grasp the entirety of what salvation is or how it works (which we don’t), we couldn’t possibly determine, by our terms, whether it’s fair or not.
To claim, as I do, that man’s perspective of fairness can be a risky lens to evaluate salvation through does not have to mean that salvation must be, as a result, unfair, nor does it have to mean that fairness is inapplicable to man. It can simply mean that if we do not fully grasp the entirety of what salvation is or how it works (which we don’t), we couldn’t possibly determine, by our terms, whether it’s fair or not.
We can only “know” that is fair, with certainty, through faith.
For many years I have felt that it is “unfair” that I have been given this wonderful life, this family, this health, this marriage, this faith, etc. while others have none of it.
It’s “unfair” that my relationship with God consists predominately of me thanking Him and praising Him while others beg Him to make things better and things only gets worse. It’s “unfair” that my heart embraces the concept of God and Jesus’ redemptive sacrifice and resurrection, but other people can’t shake complete and utter disbelief. It’s “unfair” that my inevitable misconceptions about God and His Word are “close enough” to the truth to qualify me for salvation, but others are somehow too wrong.
I can’t think of any form of earthly illustration that makes that seem fair. All I know is that God is ultimately fair and just. He is sovereign over all the circumstances and conditions that look rather arbitrary to me.
I realize conclusions like, “only God can know”, have a negative connotation to them — for good reason. Many times the very sound of such an absolute statement from pretentious people who couldn’t possibly have enough knowledge to make such a claim can be like nails on a chalkboard. They are often spoken out of arrogance or out of a disdain for intellectual pursuits or to dismiss the topic all together. But, that is not my intention here. I think the truth of God’s sovereignty provides the framework in which explorative thought can take place. It’s somewhere in the knowable unknown where God is love yet He hates sin. Where He is merciful yet punishes the wicked. Where He has predestined and elected us yet is not willing that any should perish and desires for all men to repent and come to a knowledge of the truth.
This is become an easier pill for me to swallow because of the idea that the God that supplies salvation is the same God that created the quarks inside an atom and the trillions of stars inside a galaxy. He is the God that created the human brain, which some have grandly claimed is an organ we will never truly understand. He is also the God that governs the dark energy and dark matter that are both detectable and serve an apparent purpose in our universe yet are considered complete mysteries beyond that.
Along those lines I ask myself the rhetorical question, “If the physical world is this overwhelmingly complex while it can be seen, touched and quantified, then how could the spiritual world possibly be any less?”
I know certain things should be conceptually understood, but I’m not sure what constitutes a working concept. I don’t know how far down the line of comprehension an idea has to go before it is considered “conceptually understandable”. I view the idea of the Creator of all things having superior functionality and perspective over His creation as a workable concept. If that isn’t satisfactory to such a discussion then I don’t yet see where one could find a sufficient point for a spiritual mystery to be understandable enough that it doesn’t require an uncomfortable amount of faith.
After all, if I set out to logically think through the idea of a Creator and how He relates to His creation, I would need to start at the foundational question, “Why did He do it in the first place?”
Anyone would be hard pressed to give a satisfying, systematic formula to how that could possibly make any sense. Without a heavily faith-based trust in God and His goodness, every explanation sounds very circular and unfairly self-serving.
If one believes in the God of the Bible, then fundamentally, faith is the only option for fully accepting and embracing it as truth.
Now, as much as it sounds like I’m just opposing your logical views, I’m really attempting to participate in advancing the dialogue. Intellectually, it’s not easy figuring out the difference between relying on faith and choosing voluntary ignorance. It’s a tight rope, and these things need to be talked about.