Sunday, 21 March 2010

God the Judge?

I was recently on the CSE (Creation Science Evangelism) website and took the “Are You a Good Person” test (perhaps I am a masochist). One thing in particular stuck in my head. They emphasised God as being a judge and then pointed out that any judge that let criminals off the hook would be deemed corrupt; corruption is not a character trait of a just God. This got me wondering whether or not we are stretching analogies too far when applying the human occupation of a Judge to God, and whether being a judge takes on different meaning when eternity is at stake.

In the human penal system there appears to be a potential threefold gain from imprisoning offenders (capital punishment shall be ignored for the time being). Incarceration acts as a punishment and deterrent; it can potentially rehabilitate prisoners; and it can increase the safety of citizens by putting bars between them and the offenders.

The concept of Hell gained easy support in past civilisations as most of us desire oppressors to be punished. A just God having the last word can be comforting in times of woe. The same can be true of prison; a murderer getting their comeuppance is the way we think the world should be (though no murderers at all would naturally be preferred). The difference between the two is that prison is finite and except for those who die in prison it is temporary; Hell on the other hand is eternal. Is any crime really worth eternal damnation?

Eternal damnation for any crime can naturally be seen as unjust, but it gets worse when we look at which sins are punished. Unbelief, particularly to conservative Christians (such as CSE), is seen as a sin. As all sins are equal in the eyes of God then eternal punishment awaits those who simply have not experienced or seen reason to believe in God (or even those who have misconceptions about Him). The only way to make this repugnant act seem just is to accept the creationist paradigm in which God is readily observed in nature, for everything was made in 6 days 6,000 years ago. Such an ostentatious mode of creation is seen as obvious in nature so that those that deny Him are without excuse. When unbelief is synonymous with denial God is excused of tyranny for an atheist is an active sinner, not an oblivious, passive sinner; yet another issue with the creationist world-view.

If the punishment aspect is not in line with the human role of judge, is rehabilitation? A temporary punishment would undoubtedly be more loving than eternal torment and this view is not absent from Christianity. It is not a popular view among conservatives and so it seems to them that God’s role as judge lies only in being labelled “just” whilst Hell remains eternal.

The alternative option for rehabilitation is considered even less Biblical by conservatives. Purgatory is an afterlife possibility (or at least a state of purgation) which removes sin from those being purged and enables them to experience eternal bliss. This is a very close analogy to rehabilitation which is well within the powers of non-corrupt human judges. Alas, many conservatives seem to think it is a view perpetuated by Satan.

Here on Earth the prison bars keep those nasty criminals away from the rest of us, protecting us from their harmful ways. I see no way in which this could be analogous to the actions of God. Does Hell protect us here on Earth? Does Hell protect those in Heaven? As far as I can see eternal punishment has no protective value.

The conclusion I derive from thinking about this is that we are taking too much of an anthropomorphic view of God’s role of judge. It cannot be deemed as analogous to the human construction of a just judge when eternity is brought into the picture. Our understanding of God’s judgement must therefore be wrong, coming from our limited human minds. Surely the occurrence of judgement is an intensely spiritual event, being fully in the presence of God, which would be experienced differently by us all depending on the state of our ‘souls’. I offer no final picture here, only a step towards a potential increase in accuracy.

One last point before I finish. I refrained from discussing capital punishment as it is debateable as to whether or not it is just in itself. If we suppose that it is, for argument’s sake, then it goes to follow that God as a judge would be just in simply giving atheists that which they expect to come after life – nothing but the grave, mere non-existence. Unsurprisingly this is also rejected by the CSE bunch.I was recently on the CSE (Creation Science Evangelism) website and took the “Are You a Good Person” test (perhaps I am a masochist). One thing in particular stuck in my head. They emphasised God as being a judge and then pointed out that any judge that let criminals off the hook would be deemed corrupt; corruption is not a character trait of a just God. This got me wondering whether or not we are stretching analogies too far when applying the human occupation of a Judge to God, and whether being a judge takes on different meaning when eternity is at stake.

In the human penal system there appears to be a potential threefold gain from imprisoning offenders (capital punishment shall be ignored for the time being). Incarceration acts as a punishment and deterrent; it can potentially rehabilitate prisoners; and it can increase the safety of citizens by putting bars between them and the offenders.

The concept of Hell gained easy support in past civilisations as most of us desire oppressors to be punished. A just God having the last word can be comforting in times of woe. The same can be true of prison; a murderer getting their comeuppance is the way we think the world should be (though no murderers at all would naturally be preferred). The difference between the two is that prison is finite and except for those who die in prison it is temporary; Hell on the other hand is eternal. Is any crime really worth eternal damnation?

Eternal damnation for any crime can naturally be seen as unjust, but it gets worse when we look at which sins are punished. Unbelief, particularly to conservative Christians (such as CSE), is seen as a sin. As all sins are equal in the eyes of God then eternal punishment awaits those who simply have not experienced or seen reason to believe in God (or even those who have misconceptions about Him). The only way to make this repugnant act seem just is to accept the creationist paradigm in which God is readily observed in nature, for everything was made in 6 days 6,000 years ago. Such an ostentatious mode of creation is seen as obvious in nature so that those that deny Him are without excuse. When unbelief is synonymous with denial God is excused of tyranny for an atheist is an active sinner, not an oblivious, passive sinner; yet another issue with the creationist world-view.

If the punishment aspect is not in line with the human role of judge, is rehabilitation? A temporary punishment would undoubtedly be more loving than eternal torment and this view is not absent from Christianity. It is not a popular view among conservatives and so it seems to them that God’s role as judge lies only in being labelled “just” whilst Hell remains eternal.

The alternative option for rehabilitation is considered even less Biblical by conservatives. Purgatory is an afterlife possibility (or at least a state of purgation) which removes sin from those being purged and enables them to experience eternal bliss. This is a very close analogy to rehabilitation which is well within the powers of non-corrupt human judges. Alas, many conservatives seem to think it is a view perpetuated by Satan.

Here on Earth the prison bars keep those nasty criminals away from the rest of us, protecting us from their harmful ways. I see no way in which this could be analogous to the actions of God. Does Hell protect us here on Earth? Does Hell protect those in Heaven? As far as I can see eternal punishment has no protective value.

The conclusion I derive from thinking about this is that we are taking too much of an anthropomorphic view of God’s role of judge. It cannot be deemed as analogous to the human construction of a just judge when eternity is brought into the picture. Our understanding of God’s judgement must therefore be wrong, coming from our limited human minds. Surely the occurrence of judgement is an intensely spiritual event, being fully in the presence of God, which would be experienced differently by us all depending on the state of our ‘souls’. I offer no final picture here, only a step towards a potential increase in accuracy.

One last point before I finish. I refrained from discussing capital punishment as it is debateable as to whether or not it is just in itself. If we suppose that it is, for argument’s sake, then it goes to follow that God as a judge would be just in simply giving atheists that which they expect to come after life – nothing but the grave, mere non-existence. Unsurprisingly this is also rejected by the CSE bunch.

No comments: