Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Fair Enough?

Ernie pointed out that I have not offered a definition of justice. He correctly inverted a statement I made about injustice ("justice only holds people accountable for what they could have reasonably known"), though I would hesitate to call that a definition of justice, but rather a description of it. Merriam-Webster defines "just" as "acting or being in conformity with what is morally upright or good", "being what is merited" and "legally correct", among others. "Fair", on the other hand, is "marked by impartiality and honesty; free from self-interest, prejudice or favoritism", "conforming with the established rules", "consonant with merit or importance" (again, among others).

Ernie did not come right out and say whether he believes God is just, only that God is not fair. I suspect that his operant definition of "fair" is closest to the first one above, the one related to impartiality, which I infer from his quoting "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy." But to say that God can be just without being fair seems to me a bit like making a distinction with no difference. Fairness and justice are not so easily separated. Take, for instance, these few verses:

Leviticus 19:15

You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor nor defer to the great, but you are to judge your neighbor fairly.

Colossians 4:1

Masters, grant to your slaves justice and fairness, knowing that you too have a Master in heaven.

We can see that justice and fairness go hand-in-hand. We can also see God (supposedly) setting a standard for us to follow that includes fairness. Is this a case of "Do as I say, not as I do"? I am afraid I will not accept a simple assertion that God can be just without also being fair; I need some justification for that.

(Ernie said "... this highlights the crucial distinction between 'justice' and 'fairness' ..." but I fail to understand exactly what it was that highlighted the distinction and what the distinction Ernie sees.)

With regard to choice, I agree that if there is no choice, there can be no justice. I do wonder sometimes if we truly do have choice or a will, or if we just act like we do. I strongly suspect that we do not have complete freedom of choice, and that would seem to place limits on justice. But Ernie's alignment with C.S. Lewis on the issue of hell would seem to indicate that hell is not a just punishment imposed by God, but rather a mere consequence of our choices.

It has been a long time since I read The Great Divorce or anything else that addresses this concept of hell in any detail. (I did finish reading The Chronicles of Narnia to the kids in the past year, and there are hints of this same idea at the end of The Last Battle, both with regard to the dwarfs as well as the Calormene soldier.) While it has some attractive features, it seems a bit of an ad hoc answer. Is there biblical support for this view? What property of reality enforces these consequences, if not God? How does an atoning sacrifice save people from this fate? On what basis should we even believe that there is any kind of an afterlife anyway? (Sorry, there goes the epistemological question again.)

Maybe there is some kind of afterlife. Maybe there are eternal consequences to our actions. Maybe neither life nor God is fair. Maybe God is evil, maybe he is not. There are so many possibilities, and I fail to see how anyone can guarantee the choices they make will have the consequences they want (assuming of course that choices and wants are even real). I can only do what seems best to me. That brings us back to epistemology and Ernie's statement that "character, not facts, drive belief". But that will have to wait until next time, which will likely be early next week since I will be gone for the weekend.

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