How often have parents witnessed that charge hurled from the lips of the very youngest of children? It seems to be built into the basic programming of every human mind. As we get older, and perceive the unfairness that characterizes much of life, the charge shifts away from parents and others “in charge” and eventually is lodged against the absolute authority – God. Every Christian case-maker has heard something like this: “I won't believe in a God who would let such and such occur, or who doesn’t have either the love or the power to make the world a better place.”
A skeptic friend put it this way:
“I know many really good people who don’t feel there is enough reason to believe in God. How is it fair that they have just “one shot” at salvation in this life? Why don’t we get an infinite number of chances for salvation, say for instance through repeated reincarnation until a person finally ‘gets it?’ In other words, how can a loving God give only one chance when there are so many reasons why a person might resist what they are hearing?”
Christians maintain that God is "fair." Embodying all attributes to perfection, he is, indeed, perfectly fair. But what is meant by overused terms such as "fair?" We all recognize “unfairness” when we experience it, but what is it that we are saying when we say something isn’t fair? At a basic level, to say that a thing is "unfair" is to say that the demands of justice have not been met. And justice roughly means attaching a right consequence to something. It means that our rights are being respected and that duties owed us are being fulfilled. When these things don’t happen, justice requires that some consequence attach, either to punish the transgressor or to restore the victim, or both. By contrast, a situation or act is “unfair” when something owed has not been given, or when something that was entitled to protection has been violated. There are countless variations on this theme, but at its core, fairness and justice are concerned with encouraging, and enforcing, right relationship between people. After all, we don’t seek “justice” from the dog that bites us; that is what dogs do. But the owner who neglects to properly chain his dog can be held accountable for the harm he has caused.
As applied to the issue of salvation, accusing God of “unfairness” would mean, therefore, that he has failed to give us what we deserve or that he has violated some right that we have. At the outset, this is a very odd claim to make. Two possibilities exist for how we, as human beings, came to be here and be concerned about the question of salvation: either there is no God, in which case random, purposeless mutation explains how we evolved, or there is a God who created us, in which case we were made for a purpose. If the former is true, then survival of the fittest is the rule. The animal kingdom operates on this basis, and there would be no reason for us to object that everything ends when we die. There would be, in short, no standard of right against which to measure conduct; might would make right and in the end there would be nothing. “Fairness” loses all meaning in this alternative.
Assuming there is a God, it seems self-evident that He has created us and endowed us with consciousness. Having created us, does it not follow that he possesses the power, and the authority, to define what rights he wants to give us, and what claims we can make upon him? By way of analogy, imagine a human inventor who creates a series of robots and endows them with artificial intelligence. Would it make sense for the robot assigned to the task of cleaning to object that this assignment is not fair because another robot has been assigned the task of cooking? The very challenge of “unfairness” would require that we first define what we are and from what our rights are derived. Since the robot’s existence derives entirely from his creator’s choice, absent some other source of rights, the robot would have none. When’s the last time your car demanded a night off?
As created beings, then, we cannot argue that God owes us anything that he does not first choose to give us. If he does not wish to allow us to spend eternity with him - except on his terms, however stringent they may appear to be - there is no further claim upon him that we can make. But why then has God also endowed us with a sense of reason and of right and wrong? In the view of many people, giving everyone multiple chances for salvation, or perhaps simply granting every “good” person salvation, seems more reasonable than the Christian view of salvation.
This challenge, however, suffers from the same type of weakness. Assuming there is a creator, then the sense of reason that we make use of is valid only to the extent that it conforms to his. Using the robot analogy, the argument by the cleaning robot that it makes more sense for every robot to do every job, or that he should have every other day off, will be valid only if the inventor views this to be the case. So, if there is a God, the claim that the Christian salvation doctrine is unreasonable is valid only to the extent that this view is God’s view as to who should spend eternity with him.
Of course, we remain free to reject this supernatural information as false, but the underlying point remains: without some information from a transcendent source, reason has nothing to operate upon, and no way to get us to a correct answer about transcendent matters.
In my next post, I’ll explore this question of ultimate fairness a bit further.