In this post, I will defend two unconventional contentions:
1. That Justice is good if defined as giving someone what they have earned. This means, if a person does something right or wrong, they should be given what they have earned. Be it wages, reward or punishment.
2. That failing to give someone something that they earned is injustice and wrong. This means that if someone isn’t given their due reward, wage or punishment, that is wrong.
3. That giving someone something they have not earned (whether it is a gift or a punishment) is not innately wrong.
Now, hold your horses. Don’t stop here and start posting angry comments.
Jeroboam (1 Kings 14) and Baasha (1 Kings 16) were two kings of Israel who were so bad that God punished them severely. His punishment was the same for both of them. He would kill every descendant:
“‘I am going to bring disaster on the house of Jeroboam. I will cut off from Jeroboam every last male in Israel—slave or free. I will burn up the house of Jeroboam as one burns dung, until it is all gone. Dogs will eat those belonging to Jeroboam who die in the city, and the birds will feed on those who die in the country.'” – 1 Kings 14: 10, 11
This is nothing new. God made his position clear when he made his contract with Israel:
“You shall have no other gods before me. “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God,punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.” -Exodus 20: 3 – 6
I understand hurt, anger and justice. I can imagine the kind of rage that would consume someone if he gave everything for a group of people and they spit in his face; if he had to beg for something he deserved and they insulted him anyway. But destroying an entire group of people for what one person did is wrong, isn’t it?
The Sun Shines on the Just and Unjust
We get a lot of things we don’t deserve. We didn’t work for the sunlight or air but we get them anyway. When you give someone something good that they have not worked for – deserved – it is called a gift. Some people might be pleasing to God. Some might be rebellious. But his sun shines on all of them just the same. We also don’t get things we do deserve. Some people might vote for good economic policies and some might be fiscally irresponsible, but if the economy is good, it affects them all. It does not discriminate between the fiscally responsible and irresponsible. In the same way, when Elijah said there would be no rain in Israel because of the sins committed, there was no rain for saint and sinner alike. Thinking about this, I’ve come to classify issues of justice into several categories. I’ll only look at some of them.
1. Giving something good to only those who worked for it.
This is called justice. Some might not like it, but it cannot be reproached.
2. Giving something to both those who worked for it and those who didn’t
This happens in the parable of the landowner. It is not just in the sense that it gives people something they do not deserve. But, as Jesus said, you can give what belongs to you in any way you choose. For those who earned it, it is deserved. For those who didn’t earn it, it is a gift. To begrudge them that gift is jealousy. A person who gives a gift has done nothing wrong
Things change drastically when the item being given is bad
1. Giving something bad to only those who earned it.
This is called justice. Some might not like it, but it is not wrong.
2. Giving something bad to those who earned it and those who didn’t
This is regarded as unjust, but its wrongness stems from the fact that it is unkind. If it were a good thing being given, it would still be unjust, but it would not be wrong. There is a patter there. Giving someone something good is fine whether they deserved it or not. Giving someone something bad is wrong if they did not deserve it. Not giving someone something good is wrong if they deserved it. Not giving someone something bad they deserved is called mercy. And mercy is right or wrong depending on the situation.
|Good||Right||Not wrong (Kindness/gift)|
If there seems to be something wrong with the above table, it’s because there is. It’s not symmetric. If giving someone something they do not deserve is wrong, giving gifts would be wrong. Since giving gifts isn’t wrong, giving someone something they do not deserve isn’t necessarily wrong. For that reason, we cannot say that when God cursed Jeroboam’s entire family because of Jeroboam’s sins, he was wrong because it was unjust (i.e. he gave them something they did not deserve). If it was wrong, it was wrong for some other reason.
One could argue that giving someone something bad is wrong if they do not deserve it, but they would need to support that. We can’t draw arbitrary lines in that sand if we are to avoid special pleading.
Why would God’s actions be wrong?
Since ‘the children didn’t deserve it’ doesn’t count, we need some other reason. (And ‘but it feels wrong’ doesn’t count). One option is that it was unkind and God should be kind.This brings us back to the whole issue of God’s rights.
1. God can kill whoever he wants at any time in the same way he can take away the sun he gave us. Our lives belong to him.
2. Kindness isn’t good in and of itself either. Pardoning a murder would be kind to him, but not to everyone else and certainly not to the victims. Bombing the farmlands of a country isn’t kind, but if that country is on a mission to destroy yours, kindness won’t help. Kindness needs to be weighed against its repercussions.
3. Given (2), God’s actions achieved more than destruction. It was a warning for everyone who valued their lives. Was that justification enough? Maybe. Maybe not. But like I already said, God doesn’t need justification to kill someone and the mere fact that his action was unkind means nothing in this case .
The Soul That Sins Will Die
A second option is that God’s policy is not to punish the innocent for the guilty. So, breaking his own word makes him a liar. This would be a powerful objection if you can show that God has actually broken his word. Comprehension is paramount. When God says the the soul that sins is the one who will die, he does it in a specific context. Here is the passage from Ezekiel 18: 5 – 18.
The Righteous man will live
“If a man is righteous and does what is just and right— 6 if he does not eat upon the mountains or lift up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, does not defile his neighbor’s wife or approach ca woman in her time of menstrual impurity, 7 does not oppress anyone, but restores to the debtor his pledge, commits no robbery, gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with a garment, 8 does not lend at interest or take any profit, withholds his hand from injustice, executes true justice between man and man, 9 walks in my statutes, and keeps my rules by acting faithfully—he is righteous; he shall surely live, declares the Lord God.
The Sinner will die
10 “If he fathers a son who is violent, a shedder of blood, who does any of these things 11 (though he himself did none of these things), who even eats upon the mountains, defiles his neighbor’s wife, 12 oppresses the poor and needy, commits robbery, does not restore the pledge, lifts up his eyes to the idols, commits abomination, 13 lends at interest, and takes profit; shall he then live? He shall not live. He has done all these abominations; he shall surely die; his blood shall be upon himself.
14 “Now suppose this man fathers a son who sees all the sins that his father has done; he sees, and does not do likewise: 15 he does not eat upon the mountains or lift up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, does not defile his neighbor’s wife, 16 does not oppress anyone, exacts no pledge, commits no robbery, but gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with a garment, 17 withholds his hand from iniquity, takes no interest or profit, obeys my rules, and walks in my statutes; he shall not die for his father’s iniquity; he shall surely live. 18 As for his father, because he practiced extortion, robbed his brother, and did what is not good among his people, behold, he shall die for his iniquity.
The righteous man, as you can see, keeps God’s laws. I don’t know that any of Jeroboam’s sons were better than their father so I can’t say that they were the righteous man portrayed here. But I can say this: God did not say he will not punish the children for their parents. He said he would not punish a righteous person for an evil one. Jeroboam’s sons were probably innocent of their father’s actions. But that does not make them righteous.