Topic: Unfair Justice
I write this article as a response to the following question posed to me; why are there places God kills instantly and others where He shows mercy? The questioner is evidently troubled by a number of instances in the Scripture that seem to depict God as an unfair judge. For example, Nadab and Abihu are instantly killed ‘simply’ because of offering unauthorized fire before the LORD while God delayed the destruction of sons of Eli despite the Scripture describing their sins as ‘very great in the eyes of the LORD’. There is also a time that a ground suddenly opened up and swallowed a whole clan for practicing idolatry but there are also cases where God has postponed the punishment of sin to the third and fourth generation of the offender. I believe that if you are a faithful reader of the Bible, you can easily locate the stated incidences. My comments here are primarily directed to those believers who are troubled by the perceived unfair justice in the Bible. After all, the question came from a believing questioner. If you are unbeliever or are almost becoming an atheist on the account of such the perceived unfair justice, consider reading my comments as footnotes! They may be of good assistance.
Challenging the unfair administration of justice
Now, let restate the question differently for more clarity; is their unfair administration of justice on the side of God? And if there are such issues as unfair application of justice; doesn’t that invalidate the argument that God is just?
Whereas I appreciate that the questioner is a firm believer of a God who is a just judge, I am aware that the idea of the perceived unfair justice on the side of God has led other to throw away the baby with the dirty water. This is to say that there are those who, having interacted with the instances of supposed unfair injustices of God, have concluded that God has never been just being at all. The point here is that any justice administered unjustly is injustice thus the administrator of the said justice is equally unjust! If not, why would a person who sin be instantly killed and the other who equally sin spared for sometimes? Isn’t all sin the same?
I sense you are asking yourself a question which I am also asking myself right now; ‘what exactly is the issue here? Why make a mountain out of a small hill! I think that there two underlying assumptions of the above question by the questioner.
The first assumption is all sins are the same and should receive equal attention and intensity of God’s wrath. To this assumption I response with a resounding NO! Not all sins are the same. In fact, the Scripture says that there a sin not leading to death (1 John 5:16–17). This seems to suggest that there are sins that lead to death and perhaps sins that lead to instant death! Kindly note that John does not clarify which sin exactly leads to death and vice versa. But there is a sense in which this text alludes to what Jesus called unpardonable sin as seen in Mark 3:28–30. Therefore, if Jesus could isolate blasphemy of the Holy Spirit as sin that cannot be forgiven, then it is logical to conclude that all sins are not the same the urgency of addressing them may differ. For instance, when you read the story of Israel’s journey from Egypt, you will notice that their sins were instantly punished. Looking at the context and season of their deliverance, instant administration of justice in punishing sin was necessary. This is because Israel was a young nation then, entrusted with the responsibility of being light to the gentile through their character. Any misrepresentation of God’s character would jeopardize God’s agenda hence needed immediate address when they sin! No wonder Moses’s death judgment was immediately decided even though he only seemed to sin once! This is a story for another time. But suffice to say that there is actually sin that receive a greater intensity of God’s wrath than others. Nevertheless, I need to warn you here, ‘do not go around trying to categorize sin into those leading to death and others which do not or sin that brings instant death and others that attract slow-but-sure death!’ This is because the Scripture does not explicitly give us that direction.
The second assumption tends to suggest that the one who is instantly punished receive less mercy than the one whose punishment came later! Every man wants to live long, even if he or she is living in sin. Such desire for longevity of time causes us to get disturbed when we see a person suddenly punished with death for a ‘simple’ sin like that of Nadab and Abihu. When we see that we begin to compare sin and how God responded then come up a systematic theology of unfair justice! In our finite mind we imagine that a person spared for a while received more mercy and is given an opportunity to ‘enjoy’ the benefits of his sin. For instance, the sons of Eli continued enjoying the ‘fat of the sacrificed animal at the temple’. Not only that they kept sleeping with the women who served at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. On the other hand, Nadab and Abihu did not get an opportunity to at least repeat the offering of unholy fire and experience the thrill of sinning against God! If God was completely just He should have instantly terminated the offender in both cases or give them equal chance in terms of the duration before destroying them!
The last assumption seems to be premised on the thought that God is openly unjust. As seen, according to the questioner, the issue is not whether the offenders sinned or not. He or she agrees that in all cases they all sinned hence deserving God’s judgment. He also appreciates the timeless truth that ‘the wages of sin is death’. But he his or her problem is in the instant punishment vs. delayed punishment. God should either use one or the other and not both! If God is to punish, He should either do immediately one sinned or 3 years after the person sinned! The interesting thing is that such a person currently enjoys grace of God which ‘teaches us to say no to all ungodliness’. This does not mean the grace is a teacher that stops you from sinning but even after sinning the Spirit of God convicts you go back to the Cross before judgment come. If God was to instantly kill anyone found red handed in sin, then no one would be in this world. In a sense, God punishment is delayed hence giving one opportunity to repent or harden in sin. But whether instant or delayed, God’s justice is never unfairly administered.
Yes it is true that some people have received instant justice like Nadab and Abihu! Others like son of Eli took a little bit longer. But we need to know that God has no restriction of time as we are. He is outside of time but act in time. What we call instant may not necessarily instant to Him. It seems that the ‘instant’ interventions of God had to do more with the threat face by His salvivic agenda rather than unfair injustice. In our side, we may feel that some people did not receive fair justice and some even died natural death without being brought to justice. But because God is completely and infinitely just, He must deal with injustice. We know he is not dealing with all injustice in this mortal life, so can reasonably believe He will take care of injustice in the life to come. In His complete wisdom, He has allowed some people continue living even when they are defying Him. But has instantly terminated (as far as we know) some people having sinned once. I qualified the later point because we really never know the state of heart of those killed instantly and how much the opportunity the person may have given to repent. Remember that God sees not as man sees.
The testimony of the Scripture is clear that God is just. In fact, He is ‘justly holy’ and ‘holy just’. That is, his justice is administered in love, and his love is distributed justly. There is therefore no such as thing as unfair justice on God’s side. He is so just even to Satan who has continued to cause havoc among His creation. You see, if I were God, I would have eliminated Satan long time ago. But God has set a time for him and until that time come, Satan will still be around. In addressing the perceived unfair administration of justice, I submit that looking at a case by case would completely dismiss such conclusion. Actually, such conclusions usually come from biased and systematic interpretations of the incidents.