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Tuesday, November 22, 2016

God Owes Me

It is not very often that I actually hear anyone, especially a Christian, voice the idea that "God owes me" something. It is, conversely, very rare that I find anyone who doesn't believe it's true. They believe that God owes them something or other even if they would never say it.

A non-Christian friend asked me the other day about a "theological dilemma" that was nagging at him. "Isn't it true," he asked me, "that the Bible has lots of places where God destroyed lots of people? You know, like Noah's Flood or Sodom and Gomorrah or the killing of the Amalekites. If it is true that we aren't supposed to kill and God does it, doesn't that make Him evil?" The root of this question is "God owes me." In this case, "God owes me life." The objection is similar when people complain about the concept of Hell -- eternal torment. "God owes me mercy at least." When someone loses a loved one it is "God owed me that loved one." When they get cancer or something dreadful, "God owes me good health." No, no one ever voices that. No one says it out loud. Almost no one. But it's there ... always there.

We tend to get things turned around in our thinking. We think that God owes us ... well ... a lot. Because we're just that valuable, just that important. After all, aren't we made in God's image?

What we fail to grasp is that we are His creation, not His masters. He owes nothing to the things He makes. Just in principle. But we've managed to make it worse. We have all sinned and transgressed the glory of God (Rom 3:23). We are not innocent bystanders. When Paul said we "fall short of the glory of God", he is saying we reflect poorly on our Maker. We diminish His glory.

It is assumed by so very many that Christ died to save us because He ought to have done it. We wrestle, in fact, with the notion that not all are saved. Paul wrestled with the opposite question. Not, "Why doesn't God save more if not everyone?" like so many of us, but "Why does God save one?" Paul understood us to be "vessels of wrath prepared for destruction" and God rightly intending to show His power and wrath on us (Rom 9:22). That is what God owes us. The amazing thing is not that more are not saved, but that any are saved. Because God owes us nothing.

If we grasp this, then suddenly anything God gives is a gift, a glorious act of grace, a radical kindness. If we lose our sense of entitlement, we gain a vast sense of gratitude. But our sense of entitlement is the basic problem -- worshiping the creature rather than the Creator (Rom 1:25). That is what is at stake here. Should we cling tightly to our falsely perceived "rights" -- our confidence that "God owes me" -- or should we admit our guilt and our fallenness and our inflated sense of importance and our idolatry and throw ourselves on His mercy, on His Providence? One comes to damnation, the other to extreme gratitude. You make the call.


Dan Trabue said...

You're back to the same old problem of you using words in non-standard English ways. A God of perfect Love and Justice would NOT do the condemnation and punishment in the manner you suggest, not as we understand those words in English. What you have to do to get there is say, "Yes, God is perfectly just... a God of perfect Justice... but NOT as we understand the word. In the English understanding of the word, God is a monstrously unjust and capricious god. So, don't let my use of the word 'justice' confuse you. I'm not speaking of it as we understand it. I'm defining it to mean 'monstrous' and 'horrible.'..."

Thus, it is better understood to say that Stan does not think God is perfectly just, but that his god is horribly monstrous.

Fair enough?


Stan said...

Fair enough, Dan. The God of the Bible is, in your view, monstrously unjust and capricious. I understand.

Craig said...

Because Dan's understanding of the English meaning of a word is the standard by which we determine truth.

Stan said...

Well, I'm a little unclear about Dan's comment since I don't think I used the word "justice" in the post and used explicit biblical texts for it all, so I'm not sure to what he is objecting. Me or Scripture?

Craig said...

Good point. I don't see a problem with a God who does things or functions on levels that don't make sense to us. Paul clearly makes this point.

I think the obvious problems are that God judges our actions not only by the action, but also by the motives behind the actions. Given our inability to accurately determine motive, our ability to judge as God judges is impaired. To think otherwise is deluded.

The second problem is that while we are told what God's standard is, we really can't comprehend exactly what it means to be perfectly holy. Therefore we give ourselves the benefit of the doubt and presume in our favor.

It seems completely reasonable to believe that a sovereign God who created everything is not bound by human definitions, yet too many seek to limit God according to Merriam Webster.

David said...

I'm still trying to practice identifying types of logical fallacies. Would Dan's be a straw man? You're wrong because you redefined a word that you didn't even use, but implied, but only because we actually understood what you meant by that mercy part but reject it. Or is that some other, like a red herring? Fallacies are so hard for me to identify, but at least recognize.

Stan said...

Craig, first, I can't find the use of the term "justice" anywhere in the post, so I don't know what "non-standard" definition he's pointing out.

Second, I think it is abundantly clear in Scripture that 1} God is just and 2) justice demands punishment for sin. If that is classified as "non-standard" use of the term, he'll have to take it up with the translators.

Third, the text indicates that God's will is to demonstrate His wrath and power on vessels of wrath prepared for destruction. Not my interpretation -- the text. If that is "non-standard" justice and makes God "monstrously unjust and capricious god", then the dispute isn't with me; it's with God and His Word.

Finally, as you indicate, God's ways are not our ways. And, yet, we seem to think that we have the right to judge God on His ways. What arrogance! I can't afford that kind of arrogance. Others can.

Stan said...


I'm not sure what kind of fallacy that would be either. There is the ordinary "you're misrepresenting what was said" kind of fallacy that doesn't show up in "logical fallacy" lists. I think, though, that it could be the strawman -- as it applies to me an argument I never made -- or a rabbit trail -- as it goes off the course of the post -- or even the ad hominem (although that one is least likely) -- "you're stupid so we won't listen to what you say." Not entirely sure myself.

Anonymous said...

Fair enough, Dan. The God of the Bible is, in your view, monstrously unjust and capricious. I understand.

Stan, seriously, stop it. I disagree with YOUR VIEWS of God, not "the God of the Bible." YOU VIEW God as a monstrously unjust God, a hateful, capricious, uncaring God. That is NOT the God of the Bible.

See the difference? So, when I say I disagree with your hunches and portrayals of god, I'm not disagreeing with the Bible. I'm disagreeing with you. Please do not portray these ideas in false ways. Fair enough?

As to the Justice thing, we've had this discussion before in a variety of ways. Here is where it appears in this post of yours. You said...

We tend to get things turned around in our thinking. We think that God owes us ... well ... a lot. Because we're just that valuable,

We are not saying "God owes us." We are saying that God, as we understand God, is a completely and perfectly just and loving God. IF God is just, then God won't act in an unjust manner.

With me so far?

IF one says, "God will punish someone with an eternity of horrifying torment for 100 sins, for even one sin! and God would be acting in justice to do so..." that person is not describing justice as we understand it. Indeed, he is describing INjustice. Monstrous injustice. In a similar vein, monstrous injustice is not consistent with love, as we understand it. Thus, to get the monster-god you describe (YOU, not "the Bible") you have to set aside the notion of a perfectly Just and Loving God, as described in the Bible.

And you have to describe "justice" as something entirely opposite of Justice, as English speakers understand it.

Do you understand your dilemma now? So, when you say...

I think it is abundantly clear in Scripture that 1} God is just and 2) justice demands punishment for sin. are not using the standard understanding of Justice. In the English concept of Justice, it would include the notion of proportionately appropriate response to "sin," or wrongs. An eternity of torture for even one sin is not proportionately appropriate. It becomes INjustice, not justice.

There is your problem. Hope that helps.


Stan said...

Dan, I thought others might benefit from seeing your perspective here, so I've let you do this. You see, I have not presented "my views". I've quoted Scripture. I have not offered "my opinion". I've offered the testimony of God's Word with the agreement of all of Church history. I've given nothing more. I didn't make up the statement, "The wages of sin is death." I didn't devise some clever notion that God is willing to demonstrate His wrath and power on vessels of wrath prepared for destruction.

So, on one hand, you've decided to insult me wholly by arguing that I knowingly hold a view of a monstrously unjust, hateful, capricious, uncaring God. On the other hand, you've offered not one reason that you're right from Scripture.

So, if it is unjust (by your definition) for the wages of sin to be just, then it is your definition of God that He is unjust. If your definition of justice requires that God is unjust if He demonstrates His wrath and power on vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, then it is your definition that makes Him so. My definition -- "the quality of being just; righteousness, equitableness, or moral rightness" -- would say that God would be perfectly just, righteous, equitable, and morally right to do so. Claiming "Ain't necessarily so" doesn't answer the Scriptures or the question at hand. You have not addressed a single point, and merely claiming "You're just giving your view" without offering a stitch of biblical or historical reasons to agree is simply ... your view.

Since it is your definition of justice applied to the biblical accounts I've offered, I can only assume that your view of the biblical God is one who is monstrously unjust, hateful, capricious, and uncaring. There's your problem. Hope that helps.

Anonymous said...

Not everyone makes their points by citing scripture. I'm citing basic moral reasoning and basic English understandings of words, Stan. Are you suggesting you will only converse/debate with someone if they argue in the way you prefer? Why would you do that?

BUT, if you want Scripture (and here, I was also giving you the benefit of the doubt that it would be abundantly clear), of course, I can provide it.

The Bible says that God is Love. Period. That God is Just. Period. That God will not command us to do evil. That God does not want us to shed innocent blood. But you know all that, so why would I cite it? Nonetheless, to do it your way:

For I, the LORD, love justice. ~Isaiah 61

Therefore the LORD longs to be gracious to you, And therefore He waits on high to have compassion on you For the LORD is a God of justice; How blessed are all those who long for Him. ~Isaiah 30

Surely, God will not act wickedly, And the Almighty will not pervert justice. Job 34

But the LORD abides forever; He has established His throne for judgment, And He will judge the world in righteousness; He will execute judgment for the peoples with equity. ~Psalm 9

I could go on all day, but surely you will concede that the Bible teaches that God is a God of justice and perfect love, as well, right?

So, what you have done then (correct me if I'm wrong) is say that,

"Yes, God IS a God of justice AND IN MY OPINION, that means that God will punish those who don't jump through a certain correct number of hoops with eternal torture. Even if they have only committed one sin. Even if they have only committed 1,000 sins (and even if those sins are lies and jealousy and normal "small" sins, nothing as harmful as rape, or genocide or child abuse) the god as I understand god will sentence them to an eternity of torment. Now, this certainly is in violation of our understanding of Justice as we know it, because the sentence is disproportionate to the sin... so, my reasoning is that my-god has a different notion of justice than humans do. Indeed, that my-god's idea of Justice is a monstrous injustice, by our mere mortal standards..."

Am I correct?

And no, no, no. Again, No. My view of the Biblical God is that God is perfectly just and loving. It is the perverted view of some who say that their-god acts in monstrous ways that I object to. That I disagree with your collective human hunches about your-god is not to say that I disagree with the God of the Bible. You really need to stop conflating your interpretations with God's Word, Stan. Do you not see how that is inappropriate?


Stan said...

Dear readers, I would hope that I have adequately illustrated the depth of the problem.

First, the title is "God Owes Me" and suggests that we humans tend to believe that God owes us when He, in fact, does not. Dan here has argued that He must live up to Dan's expectations of "justice" without regard for what Scripture says God is like or what God will do.

Second, there is a SERIOUS problem in the Christian world. Many -- too many -- call themselves Christians without regard for God's Word. As in Dan's case, they don't make their points in opposition to the Scripture cited by citing Scripture. Instead, they run down rabbit trails and offer strawman arguments and assure me that my opinion is that "God will punish those who don't jump through a certain correct number of hoops with eternal torture." He even wants me to verify that. "Am I correct?"

No, Dan, you are not correct. It is not my opinion that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. It is not my opinion that the wages of sin is death. It is not my opinion that
"the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God" I didn't draw my own conclusion that "neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate , nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God." I HAVE NOT OFFERED MY OPINION. I have offered God's Word. And it is your view that God owes us at least 1000 sins, that He should turn aside from "small" sins, that eternal torment is only merited when YOU say it is.

And, no ... I do not expect that you will see how your view in direct contradiction to God's Word is inappropriate.

I think you've had your chance, Dan, to clearly express your view. I have not misrepresented your view in any way. And you've made it clear that you cannot have a friendly conversation. This kind of ad hominem is not such a conversation. So, again, farewell. I hope my readers can see the contrast between the standard "Dan" view and God's Word.

Stan said...

And in case I wasn't clear, the conversation is over and the Dan-ban is back. You've made your point. I've made mine. Nothing has changed.

Craig said...

The key quote from Dan is "as we understand it". The fact the he is placing his understanding of something as the final authority is exactly the point. It's interesting that he's not claiming his understanding is objectively correct, just that the scriptures go against his understanding and therefore is to be ignored. Really after that comment nothing else really matters.

David said...

I like the list of scriptures he presented. None of them backed his definition of justice. They simply said He is just, in a vacuum. Unfortunately, like most universalists, there is a failure not in the understanding of justice, but in the severity of sin. In their mind, we're not that bad, and sin isn't that important, so obviously, God should save those that meet some vague definition of a "small" sin. To them, the gap between God and Man is a step, not a universe. Put that up against Scripture that says that even our good works as sinners are as menstraul rags. See, we all agree that the punishment should fit the crime. It's not a failure of understanding justice, but the severity of sin. Even one sin is worthy of damnation because all sin, every one, no matter the severity compared to sinning against each other is to spit in the face of our Creator. Just as Scripture says, "If you break even the least of these (laws), it is the same as breaking them all." Scripture backs up the notion that sin, any sin, is worthy of death (ie damnation). To deny the severity of sin is to deny Scripture, and to deny Scripture is to not be one of God's children.

Craig said...

Of course we're back to trying to impose the English language definition and American concept of justice to the almighty, sovereign God while ignoring the "God's ways are not our ways".

I also must note that this s artificial dichotomy between love and justice is not demanded either by scripture or human Reasoning, it's just another way of making your point.

Stan said...

Yes, Craig, Dan has always argued that his reasoning is the valid authority over Scripture, so "as we understand it" would be consistent with his position.

David, your point would be valid if your simple use of Scripture was good enough to be considered truth ... you know, like I would.

Craig, the dichotomy between love and justice is a human construct -- you're right. The argument is you can't love and be just; you can't love a person and punish sin. The argument is false.

Craig said...

David, good point. This I find this "low" view of sin and "justice" interesting. If one minimizes sin to this extent, then one minimizes and trivializes salvation. This view starts when one takes the position that humans are born 100% pure and free from sin, and that there is a tipping point when there is an accumulation of "small" sins or one really "big" sin that puts you over the edge. This is clearly not a Christian view of sin. It's either a universalist take or it's closer to a Jewish/Muslim view. If you look at the comment there's also an element of "it's God's fault", which seems like a restatement of "God owes me...".

Stan said...

Logically salvation is minimized, yes. Further, justice is equally minimized. Sin ends up "no harm, no foul", so to speak, and God just let's everyone off ... even without good behavior.

Most disturbing to me is the self-professed Christian that demands that God conform to his or her personal version of what is right or wrong. "If God does that, He would be evil." It is a man-centered (anthropocentric) approach to God, VERY popular among sinful human beings.

Craig said...

I've spent a fair amount of time revisiting some Schaefer and Colson writing on worldview etc. and there is a clear line that leads exactly to this man centered "theology" that Schaefer especially does a goo job of laying out.

Josh said...

"If God does that, He would be evil"

Most people that I have seen use this line of reasoning, cite the Bible as the standard. They aren't just picking and choosing ideas. For example, "If God were to worship Baal, he would be evil (or at least sinning)."

Obviously you and Dan have some history, but his concern is an honest one asked by every believer at one point or another. What is loving and just about the eternal torture of billions and billions of people that God created to be just how they were, and who behaved exactly how He decided they would act? (Your out of context use of Romans 9:22)

When I imagine the God you describe, I imagine an angry old man with a itchy trigger finger, waiting to finally be able to decimate the world he has been putting up with for all this time.

When I imagine the God you describe, I think about an abusive father demanding his abused children to thank him for the one night a week he doesn't beat them.

What about our clearest image of God? Jesus. As the soldiers were committing the worst sin in human history, the execution of God, Jesus was praying for their forgiveness. God is not good in some arbitrary way, he is Good in a real understandable way. God does not owe us, but God has made a covenant with us through Abraham. He doesn't owe us, but he has promised us many things. He does not owe us, but he does love us.

Stan said...

See, Josh, you managed to disagree with me and ask without insult or disrespect. Well done. You didn't say, "You worship a monstrous god, right?" You said, "This is how it looks to me."

That having been said, I don't think I can respond adequately in a comment. I'll have to post something soon to address it.

David said...

Seems like you view sin as no big deal. We are not abused children trembling before an abusive father. We are rebellious creations defying our long-suffering creator. The relationship between the unsaved and God is not one of offspring, so all those promises you mentioned aren't directed at the typical person. They are promises only to His adopted children.

I look forward to Stan's fuller response in a later post.