Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

"No Justice, No Faith"? The Danger of Misunderstanding God's Justice

Today I was at Orlando's most wonderful and magical attraction, the Orlando Temple. In many ways much better than that other Magic Kingdom place out here where the lines are just far too long. While at the Temple, I was contemplating the issue of justice as I considered the concerns of a very intelligent new former-Mormon friend that I met recently. He raised some fair points in describing the logical concerns he had developed about the existence of God and the man-made nature of religion and scripture. Among the many points he made in our conversation, he raised the issue that God is supposed to be just and "no respecter of persons," yet there is such an obvious lack of justice in the world and such disparity in how God appears to answer prayers, if at all. He cited the commonly raised objection about LDS testimonies thanking God for help in finding their car keys, an apparently trivial application of divine power, while good people suffer abuse and death at the hands of evildoers or suffer painful disease and trauma in spite of seemingly unanswered prayers they and others offer. It all seems so unfair and random. Yes, I have to agree: this mortal world is filled with injustice, unfairness, and randomness. But there is a God who not only exists but who loves us. However, nowhere is it written that we will find fairness and equality in this life.

The scriptures speak of God's justice in terms of how he judges us in the end. Romans 2 tells us He is "no respecter of persons" in how he judges us according to our works and brings His children back into His presence--that's the final act, not the current scene here in this world of death and sin where we are all going to suffer and die as part of His great plan. His fairness is manifest not in being born into equal circumstances here, but in how He, in the end, ensures that all who will hear the Gospel message will have that chance, regardless of when and where they were born in mortality. His goodness is not immediately evident when we suffer, but in His victory over death and pain, leading to that moment when Christ will wipe away all our tears.

Here in mortality, our immediate temporal concerns are HUGE. They are all we know. How can God accept our suffering and loss while still claiming to be just and to love us? Losing our sight, for example, is a traumatic personal loss that will limit us for the rest of our lives. How could God let this happen to us, or to an innocent young child born to prayerful parents pleading for the child's health? From our vantage point, it is so unkind. Is there a purpose in it? Sometimes, at least, yes.

As I pondered justice in the Orlando Temple this morning, I opened the Bible to John 9 and read of a beautiful case of injustice. Jesus and His disciples walked past a man who was born blind. His disciples, understanding that there was a premortal existence before this life, wondered if the man had sinned there and was thus born blind, or, instead, if his parents had sinned to deserve that impairment in their son. Neither guess was correct. Christ explained that the man was born blind that the works of God might be made manifest. Christ then made some mud and placed it on the mans' eyes and instructed him to go to a pool of water to wash it off, whereupon his eyes were healed. (People sometimes wonder why Christ used such a strange method to perform the miracle instead of simply causing the eyes to be instantly healed. I see the application and removal of mud as symbolic of how Christ wipes away the mortal mire that limits our vision.)

Consider the man's lot before Christ worked the miracle. After he was healed, we read in John 9:8: "The neighbours therefore, and they which before had seen him that he was blind, said, Is not this he that sat and begged?" The blindness that this man suffered, apparently as a direct result of God's will for him, reduced him to a life of poverty. He "sat and begged." Though he was apparently a good man raised in a family of believers, he suffered from an affliction since birth that reduced him to begging for a living, a state that persisted year after year. Others could see and earn money. He could not. Ir wasn't his fault, but there was nothing he could do about it. It seemed to be a senseless, unnecessary burden that destroyed his potential in mortality.

His difficult situation changed suddenly, and he quickly had a chance to show us what kind of man he was. This poor beggar turns out to have been a man of courage and integrity with a quick wit. I love his use of sarcasm when the bitter and powerful leaders of his religious community are repeatedly inquiring about their enemy, Jesus, who had performed this miracle. "He answered them, I have told you already, and ye did not hear: wherefore would ye hear it again? will ye also be his disciples?" He turns the knife. Hilarious. And he boldly stands before those bitter, nasty souls who soon cast him out from their community because he dares stand as a witness for Christ.

What characteristic tenderness Christ shows after the miracle as he comes to visit the man:
35 Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and when he had found him, he said unto him, Dost thou believe on the Son of God?

36 He answered and said, Who is he, Lord, that I might believe on him?

37 And Jesus said unto him, Thou hast both seen him, and it is he that talketh with thee.

38 And he said, Lord, I believe. And he worshipped him.
Since birth, that good man suffered from blindness--an unfair affliction. He had to beg for a living. Blindness and many other physical and mental afflictions burden millions of souls around the today. There may be many noble souls, perhaps far greater and closer to God than any of us, whose magnificent character is hidden by the guise of a beggar. In the beggar, the homeless person, the outcast, the prisoner, or the victim, can we see the son or daughter of God waiting for the touch of Christ's power to help reveal who they really are? The power that heals and reveals may not dramatically touch them in this life, but we are assured that Christ will wipe away all the tears of those who follow Him. Most wonderfully most expressive of God's true justice and fairness, He will wipe away all the tears even of those who never heard of Christ in this life but, when finally given the chance to hear the Gospel message it, accept it and Jesus as their Savior. God's justice comes in the end, when all will recognize that they have been treated and judged fairly, though out individual circumstances in mortality vary wildly. It's a rough world, sometimes savage and brutal due to the workings of human agency, Satan's assaults, the workings of chance, and the very nature of mortality where pain and death are essential parts of our journey. Not to mention the custom-engineered trials and afflictions that God may plan for us to achieve higher ends, eventually, as He did with the blind man in John 9.

Nobody could see any justice or fairness in the sorry lot of that blind man, but what a sacred purpose was behind it all. For all of us, if we will not abandon God, we will find that the new vision He gives us with one gentle touch after we have endured will wash away all doubt of His goodness and love for us and help us see and discover things we had never imagined, including new insights into who we actually are and who we can become. What greatness He revealed in the blind man's soul, and how kindly He lead that good man back to Him.

There may often be little or no justice here in mortality, but this does not weaken the need for faith. God is real and He does answer prayers. Not often the way we want it, but He does answer and still works miracles today as in days of old.

10 comments:

Obadiah said...

What an insightful post!

I have experienced same-gender attraction for as long as I can remember. I've begun to see lately how the Lord wants me to live my life in such a way to be a help to others BECAUSE OF (and not merely despite) my afflictions. I experience great struggles in my quest to find a spouse, etc. but those injustices in this life will be made up for and have a divine purpose.

My best,

Obadiah
http://gaymormoninsights.blogspot.com

Papa D said...

"There may often be little or no justice here in mortality, but this does not weaken the need for faith."

Indeed, this is one of the main reasons why faith is necessary - that we can't see and understand why things happen as they do.

I get the human need to understand - to figure out things - to claim knowledge. I don't dispute that it is a good pursuit, when coupled with faith and its openness to humility. However, I am moving toward the conclusion that there is a reason we have a story with an element called "The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil" and not just "The Tree of Knowledge".

I'm still working that out in my mind, so I won't go into further detail here, but it relates directly to this post.

Anonymous said...

Writes Jeff, This mortal world is filled with injustice, unfairness, and randomness. But there is a God who not only exists but who loves us. However, nowhere is it written that we will find fairness and equality in this life.

Well, the idea of earthly justice is written into the Bible, if only to be shot down.

Writes PapaD, I am moving toward the conclusion that there is a reason we have a story with an element called "The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil" and not just "The Tree of Knowledge."


I would humbly suggest that the go-to story here is that other Babylonian/Jewish literary masterpiece, the Book of Job. I would further suggest reading the Raymond Scheindlin version. Excellent translation, notes, and introduction.

I think any serious discussion of the question of divine justice can't just stick with the standard "pie in the sky when you die" argument, but also has to wrestle with the way that idea is complicated by the Book Job.

-- Eveningsun

Anna said...

Actually, life is fair. We all experience the trials that are necessary to become who a loving Heavenly Father wants us to be. We can either be thankful for those trials and turn our hearts to God, or be bitter and turn from Him. For some the trials are hardships, sickness, sorrow... for some ease and wealth, or perhaps both at different times. Regardless of your personal trial, it is how you handle it (way to go Obadiah) that matters.

Papa D said...

I agree, Eveningsun, that the story of Job is an important one relative to this post.

Anonymous said...

I would also suggest everyone with an interest in theodicy read Voltaire's Candide and Eleanor Porter's Pollyanna.

-- Eveningsun

Papa D said...

Excellent suggestions, Eveningsun. Very thought-provoking works.

Pops said...

I think we become obsessed with the concepts of justice and fairness in our circumstances in this life to the degree that we expect to receive our reward in this life. But this life isn't the reward!

To use an analogy, this life is more a football season, with practices and games, than it is a post-season awards banquet. Right now the focus is on getting into shape, sharpening our skills, running drills, building team chemistry, and becoming automatic in our responses to different game-time situations. Now is when go into games and find out where we need more work, sometimes winning and sometimes losing. If the coach makes me run wind sprints, it isn't because he's unfair -it's because I need it to become a successful player. The player who is obsessed with "fairness" in football practice is the one who doesn't get it and most likely won't develop his potential.

Cindy said...

God's justice comes in the end, when all will recognize that they have been treated and judged fairly, though out individual circumstances in mortality vary wildly.

I agree that we will all be judged in the end, but if the God's holy standard is perfection how can a focus "on getting in shape" help us...unless we are actually able to become perfect?

Pops said...

We can become perfect - with God's help. The Atonement of Jesus Christ can be accessed to erase past mistakes (justification), while the Gift of the Holy Ghost plays an essential role in changing our nature such that we stop making mistakes (sanctification).

It seems difficult to me personally, but that's because I struggle with giving up the things of this world, and also with trusting God more than my own reasoning. I believe there's a "tipping point" beyond which the process accelerates, which is when one receives the gift of charity, the pure love of Christ.