In Justice from a Human Perspective, I explored the phenomenon that the vast majority of people have an inner sense of justice that is pricked every time they experience injustice themselves or by people they know and love. The very protest, “That’s not fair!” implies that the protester believes others should recognize it.
We have an innate sense of justice, and we innately feel that others should recognize the justice or injustice we see and feel. We do have have much general agreement, but the disagreements are many at the same time. Those disagreements might be attributable to our perspectives, which are limited and, therefore, subjective.
Thus, we can’t anchor an objective standard of justice in people. It must be anchored in something more immutable, like God (see Justice from God’s Perspective), but how do we know justice from God’s perspective?
I submit that we don’t… we can’t, unless He reveals it to us.
In the Bible we what purports to be a record of God’s communication and involvement in the history of men. While, I admit that we can learn something about justice in other religious books and literature, for many reasons I think the fullest and most accurate record of God’s revelation, generally, and of justice, specifically, is found in Scripture.
You might disagree with me, but stick with me as I consider the following story about Jesus that provides us some perspective on the issue.
Jesus, of who the claim is made that he was God who came to us in human form[i], shared a parable that illustrates how justice from God’s perspective is different than justice from our perspective: the parable of the laborers in the vineyard.[ii]
Jesus said the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of property who went looking for laborers to work in the vineyard. As the parable goes, the owner of the property found workers early in the morning willing to work the day for a denarius (a day’s wage). Later in the morning, the owner found more workers and agreed to pay them the same amount to work to the end of the day. The owner found more workers in the early afternoon, and still more workers late in the day, and he paid them all a day’s wage.
At the end of the day, when the owner of the property was paying out the wages, the workers who started at the beginning of the day complained, “It’s not fair! We worked all day, but you are paying people who only worked an hour or two the same as you are paying us!”
The property owner reminded them that they agreed to the wages, and they were getting what they agreed upon; and then he asked a rhetorical question: “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?” (Matt. 20:14-15) (adding that it shouldn’t matter to the early workers that he chose to be generous to the later workers.)
It does matter to us, of course, from our perspective. We don’t like it when someone gets more then we, especially if we “earned it”, and they didn’t. We also view the owner of the property as one of us – a person of our perspective. But what if the owner of the property was God who made us?
Our sense of justice is temporal. It operates in the context and out of our personal perspective which is limited to what we know and experience, including the ever present fact that life is tenuous. It can end abruptly at any time, and it will end after only 70, 80 or maybe even 100 years – if we are lucky.
God’s sense of justice, likewise, flows out of His perspective, which is much different than ours because He is infinite, and He made us. God stands outside of time and space, able to survey the beginning of the universe to the present and into what we call the future. It’s all “visible” to Him at once.
The parable, of course, is meant to suggest that the owner of the property is like God, and we are like the workers, but the conclusion sits oddly with us when we only view it from our perspective. At the same time, it invites us to consider God’s perspective and to look for clues of God’s perspective.
A couple of clues come to mind. The Bible is full of statements setting a standard for paying people what they have earned, and this seems to be a deviation from those standards of fairness (see 55 Bible Verses about Working For Fair Pay), but Jesus prefaced the parable by saying, “This is what the kingdom of God is like.” Thus, the first clue is that we need to shift our perspective from the temporal to the eternal.
Many people might feel it was unfair of Jesus to offer the thief on the cross eternal life. (Luke 23:39-43) He was a criminal, but Jesus offered him eternal life in heaven. He didn’t earn it. Even as he was being punished for his crime, Jesus offered him heaven, just like a person who was good their entire lives. How is that fair?!
Elsewhere, we read that God seeks something greater from us than He would from workers who are due what they have earned. God desires to treat us like His children to whom He can be generous, not like workers in the field who demand what they have earned. In fact, if we are going to get what we have earned, we aren’t going to like it. The wages of sin is death, but God desires to give us the gift of eternal life! (Rom. 6:23)
God desires to offer us eternal life…. Let that sink in.
The length of a person’s life is maybe 70, 80 or 100 years if he is lucky. Think about that in comparison to the 4.5 billion years planet Earth has existed or the 14 billion years the universe has existed. Now consider, what is the measure of billions of years compared to eternity?
t’s hard for us even to grasp it, but this is key. James says our lives are like a vapor that appears, and then vanishes. (James 4:14) The Psalmist says our lives are like an empty breath or a fading shadow. (Psalm 144:4). How can we compare our lives to eternity?
God’s perspective is informed by eternity and His expressed desire for us to become children in relation to Him (and not merely workers who earn a wage). Justice must be viewed in the context of eternity, rather than the vapor of time in which humans live in these bodies of flesh. Justice must be viewed in light of God’s revealed purpose – that we would be welcomed into eternal relationship with Him.
Perspective makes all the difference. God’s perspective is hard to grasp because of our finite limitations, but His perspective (as the creator of us and the universe) is the one that counts!
To begin to see justice from God’s perspective, we need to consider the differences between God and us. Even if we are made in God’s image (so that we have the ability to understand something about God), we need to stretch our imaginations to begin to see things from His overarching perspective.
Postscript: We don’t need parables or Scripture to paint this picture (though it helps). The Kalam Cosmological Argument points to the necessity of a creative cause for the universe (space/time and matter). Further the cause of the universe must be something other than space/time and matter (because things can’t cause themselves), thus the cause must be outside of space/time and matter: it must spaceless, timeless and immaterial. Dr. William Lane Craig explains why a spaceless, timeless and immaterial cause of the universe must be personal.
[i] See John 1:1-3, 14, 18:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being…. 14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us… 18 No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.”