Wednesday, February 16

Is God Ever UNfair?

Now when day came, there was no little disturbance among the soldiers over what had become of Peter. And after Herod searched for him and did not find him, he examined the sentries and ordered that they should be put to death. Then he went down from Judea to Caesarea and spent time there. (Acts 12:18–19)
This story, so familiar to many Christians tells of Peter's miraculous deliverance from prison by an angel of the Lord. He is brought out of his cell without disturbing anything or anyone, doors or guards! He can't even believe it. Only after exiting the city via huge gates that opened of their own accord does he "come to himself." He then goes to John Mark's house where they won't let him in figuring the servant girl, Rhoda was merely seeing things. It's all stuff that makes Hollywood stories seem simplistic! Still, the above two verses are what is of interest here. Immediately following Peter's great escape, we read these seemingly forgettable details.

The Obvious & Not So Obvious
It's understandable that the guards would be beside themselves, they knew the rule--if someone escapes on your guard, you die. Period! Herod then meets their expectations. He checks it out, sees what to all appearances seems to have been an escape, and then promptly has the guards executed. As terrible a thing as it is given the fact that they did nothing wrong, we still are taken a bit aback by the contrasts of this incident. God has done a marvelous work in bringing Peter out of prison in order to preach again. The executed guards are collateral damage. But it seems so unnecessary, right? Still, the gospel moves onward, while some die (even James in verse one).

Herod would go down to Caesarea and "spend some time there," and eventually gives a speech that puffs him up and God takes him down. Now, Herod is dead along with the "innocent" guards! The close of the story is a typical Lukan transition, "But the Word of God increased and multiplied" (v. 24). No attempt is made here to justify the useless killing of the guards. But we do read why God took Herod. His pervasive hubris. Pride. Much in the Bible is not explained. What does that make us think of God? Shall we ever brashly blame HIM? Shall we call HIM into question? More importantly, CAN God ever do anything amiss, or, shall we just say it, "evil?" Of course, the answer is No, He cannot. 
God Is In Control
Mankind better get this right. Another king hundreds of years before this did get it right (after he was humbled for a season). “At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?” ” (Daniel 4:34–35).

Not only is God NOT unfair, no one has the right to ask him, "What have you done?" The Word of God WILL makes progress with or without us. Where will we find ourselves?


will_try said...

Do you think it important to distinguish between "unfair" and "unjust"?

I would take the plunge of saying God may be unfair; not every person gets equal treatment, neither in blessings nor in consequences, and fairness is about the equivocal treatment of persons. He is however, just. Justice is not comparing persons to persons, but comparing person to The Right. From this perspective, we have little room to question God's 'inaction' on the behalf of the prison guards. The justice of God we find in the Scriptures says _all_ have fallen short of sufficient merit, and all deserve death. How should we expect an exception in this case? God even placed Peter among them, and there seems no evidence they sought out any truth or even explanation from him. I might venture the story would end differently if they had.

David R. Nelson said...

Will, thank you for your (always) thoughtful comments. I've been out of town & busy and have not had a chance to respond to your thoughts.

I use "unfair" as a (may I put it this way) colloquial adumbration. (Linguist Will, you may have a better term!) Fair is a term used popularly to describe how the viewer perceives things ought to be. But, as we know from Scripture, man's ability to see the larger picture is immensely hampered by the Fall. So, his perception of what constitutes right and wrong must of necessity be determined by his lower and depraved concept of what is fair or just. I maintain that God cannot rightly be said to be unfair OR unjust. His justice would demand the destruction of all of unredeemed mankind. But His mercy & grace have paved the way to redeem those who otherwise should have been cast from His presence forever.

It is true that God does not treat all men the same. But I do not agree that this is to be attributed to an unfairness in Him, but to a supreme wisdom which so orders all things that they work together for good to the redeemed and the heavier judgment on the lost (if they do not turn).

Curiously, your division of unjust from unfair seems to come out in the case of Chorazin & Bethsaida. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.” (Matthew 11:21, ESV) I have thought, well, if that is so, why didn't God perform mighty acts in Tyre & Sidon and thus win them to faith (Jesus' advent notwithstanding). Of course, that is not dealt with in Scripture. And the point was to rebuke Bethsaida and Chorazin.

Just more thoughts on your thoughts, Will. Thanks again.

will_try said...

I believe, behind all precept and definition, we are agreed. I will hold to my distinction, as in my view it is accurate, and, (b) it wonderfully captures a distinction between Godly righteousness and human reletivism. Not unlike the distinction between a 'Republic' and a 'Democracy', but that is another discussion entirely...