Tuesday, February 8, 2011

God's Justice and Ours

This week we followed up on a remark I had made recently in a homily regarding the justice of God. When we were considering God’s call for us to be imitators of his forgiveness of us I mentioned that one of the things that gets in our way of being able to forgive more like God forgives is that we often imagine that we are called to not only imitate God’s forgiveness but also his justice.... this is what I said about that in the recap of two weeks ago: “Here is the problem though - there is no way that we can imitate God’s feelings of justice towards people and this is why. God cannot think of justice without thinking of love and the cross of Christ, whereas our thoughts about justice are too often bound together with thoughts of retribution and personal offence.” This Sunday I wanted to expand a bit on the theolog of God’s justice by trying to hone in on what motivates God to seek justice. In this context Iurged us to think about God’s justice as defined by his love. Now this is no new topic at Grace and we have cited a great quote by Miroslav Volf several times in the past where he makes just that point. Here it is again:
"Justice demands nothing less than the undoing of the world, past and present, and the creation of a new world.... A world of perfect justice is a world of love. It is a world with no rules in which everyone does what he or she pleases and all are pleased by what everyone else does; a world of no rights because there are no wrongs from which to be protected; a world of no legitimate entitlements because everything is given and nothing withheld... a world with no equality because all differences are loved in their own appropriate way; a world in which desert plays no role because all actions stem from superabundant grace. In short, a world of perfect justice would be a world of transcended justice because it would be a world of perfect freedom and love. The blindfold would be taken from the eyes of Lady Justice and she would delight in whatever she saw; she would lay aside the scales because she would not need to weigh or compare anything; she would drop her sword because there would be nothing to police.... If we see human beings as children of the one God, created by God to belong all together as a community of love, then there will be good reasons to let embrace - love - define what justice is."
As I said, we have cited this great quote before at Grace - so nothing new there; however, what may be new for some of us is to think about the implications of this as we consider what actually motivates God to be just. I suggested that God’s motivation in judgment and in his promising to bring justice to bear on this world comes from a loving desire to see things put right - a desire for shalom. His motivation in all of this is not to satisfy his anger and does not come from a desire to even a score. Retribution is not the motivator with God’s judgment. Here again, Volf is helpful:
“How is God’s love related to God’s judgment? God’s love has different effects on people depending on the basic orientation of their being and the moral character of their deeds. When we do what is right (basically, when we love) we experience God’s love as delight and approval, as God’s face shining on us. When we do what is evil (basically, when we are indifferent or harm others) we experience God’s love as wrath and condemnation - not because God does not love us but so that the loving God can return us to the good from which we have fallen. Whether God’s love is angry with us or delights in us..... God loves us with the same unchanging divine love rooted in, and indeed identical with, the very being of God. That is why those who remain in love, and thereby remain in God, have confidence in the day of judgment and need not fear.”

Finally, I encouraged us to think about how this knowledge of God’s judgment being rooted in his love might enable us to think differently about our desires for others. I suggested that sometimes we have dark fantasies of a God who will satisfy his anger by wiping out his enemies; not surprisingly the enemies are usually our enemies or people we just fear. I suggested that we should pray that God shape the desires of our heart according to his desire to put all things right through a judgment rooted in the love of all peoples.

Questions for discussion:

1. Are you more likely to see God as one who desires to get even to protect his honor or as one who, because of his love, will not allow evil to prevail?

2. If someone were to ask you whether you thought God delights in sending people to hell what would you say?

3. Can you think of a relationship in your life that has been negatively impacted because you imagine that God despises them? This can either be someone you know very well or someone you know hardly at all.

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