God Is Not Just

Definitions of “just” and why God is not that:

1.) merely: and nothing more; “I was merely asking”; “it is simply a matter of time”; “just a scratch”; “he was only a child”; “hopes that last but a moment”

God is not merely anything. God is always the unexpected more.

2.) precisely: indicating exactness or preciseness; “he was doing precisely (or exactly) what she had told him to do”; “it was just as he said–the jewel was gone”; “it has just enough salt”

“Precise” implies the ability of something to be pinned down, scrutinized, and measured, which God most assuredly is not.

3.) only a moment ago; “he has just arrived”; “the sun just now came out”

If God is a moment ago, God is also the next moment; God is both the distant past and the eternal future.

4.) absolutely; “I just can’t take it anymore”; “he was just grand as Romeo”

God’s absoluteness demolishes all absolutes, including God’s own absoluteness.

5.) equitable: fair to all parties as dictated by reason and conscience; “equitable treatment of all citizens”; “an equitable distribution of gifts among the children”

Although we wish God to be, God is not equitable.  The rain does, indeed, fall on the just and the unjust alike, but God’s creation is rife with creatures who are preternaturally endowed with more resources than other creatures.  Humankind’s history is a string of stories about the struggle for limited resources, not to share them equitably, but to hoard them and lord them over others.  And, like it or not, God allows this pattern to continue unabated.  Even the biblical narrative is one of unmerited favor upon some and destruction of others.

6.) barely: only a very short time before; “they could barely hear the speaker”; “just missed being hit”

God may be barely God, but God is also exceedingly God.

7.) fair: free from favoritism or self-interest or bias or deception; conforming with established standards or rules; “a fair referee”; “fair deal”; “on a fair footing”; “a fair fight”; “by fair means or foul”

One word: Israel.

8.) exactly at this moment or the moment described; “we’ve just finished painting the walls, so don’t touch them”

God may be temporal, but God is not able to be pinned down to a moment.

9.) good: of moral excellence; “a genuinely good person”; “a just cause”; “an upright and respectable man”

Here, of course, is the real rub, for this is what Christians most often mean when we say, “God is just.”  But good is by definition a relative descriptor, in the mix of “good, better, best.”  One man’s good is another man’s “not-good-enough.”  You give me a working definition of “good” (or, for that matter, “equitable”), and I’ll give you a half-dozen biblical examples of why God is not good, by your definition.

N.B., This post is part of a series exploring apophatic statements about God.

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  • http://www.divinesatisfaction.com Daniel

    Due to my belief that God revealed things about himself that we can truly/actually know for certain in Scripture and even nature (Romans 1:16ff) I’m not a huge fan of the apophatic genre concerning God, but at times it can be helpful exercise when properly balanced with Scripture. I think your journey here with “just” is one such case.

    Re: #9

    I think if we allow God to define justice we will find that he is not only just, but the justifier (apparently a new word for spell check) of all those who believe in Christ.

    Our problem with the word just is that we so often limit it to either a) temporal terms without a view of the eternal and/or to our own faulty definition of “just” which usually is boiled down to what we think is “fair.” (See #7)

    Or in short: We don’t set the standard of true justice – God does/is…which may be what you were communicating in your answer to #9.

    • http://tonyj.net tony

      Or how about this:

      God Is Not Just.

      God Is Justice.

  • http://jesuswasaheretictoo.blogspot.com Crystal

    Thought provoking. Thank you for this.

  • http://www.divinesatisfaction.com Daniel

    Or…to play on numbers 1 and 2
    God is not just Just…
    God is Justice. :-)

  • http://theologyjunkie.blogspot.com/ ryan cavanaugh

    It matters not what you think the word “Just” means Tony, or what I think it means either, but what does God mean by saying he is Just. Romans 3:26 says that he is Just! He proved that he was just by the slaying of his own son on the cross for our sins! Words are not playthings. They are not toys. The writer has a meaning when he uses specific words and you have meanings when you write spacific words. To not engage a word on the writers terms is rude. Not to engage the bible on Gods words is Blasphemous!
    Now you are right in this respect if this is what you mean…God is not “just just,” God being just is just one of his many self reveled attributes. God is Just (Rom 3:26), God is Love (1 John 4:7), god is Holy (Is 6:3) God is righteous (ps 50:6) god is merciful (ex 34:6), god is wrathful (Rev 19:15) God is truth (John 14:6) God is Patient and Kind (Rom 2:4), and i could keep going for days!!!
    Just because you cannot comprehend all that God is does not mean you cannot comprehend what God has revealed to us THAT HE IS! Please worship all of his attributes and ascribe to him the Glory that he deserves!

  • Jo Jo

    Tony,

    I don’t see the point to what you are trying to accomplish. Deconstructing to what end?

    Anyway, St. Paul said, “God is just (δίκαιος) and the justifier of the ungodly”. St. John said the same, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just (δίκαιος) to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness”.

    So John and Paul tell us God is just. But you say God is not just.

  • Dan Hauge

    It seems to me that saying “God is Justice” encounters all of the same difficulties of saying “God is Just” (well, at least for definitions 5, 7, and 9–the substantive ones)–using an abstract noun instead of an adjective does not change . . . anything, as far as I can see.

    There seems to be an underlying argument that because we can not pin down or specify exactly how God is x, then therefore we cannot talk about God being x at all. So I’m wondering if, since we could look at examples in Scripture or instances in our own lives where it does not seem that God is very loving, we will soon see the post “God is not Love”? Only to be refuted by a few short verbatim citations of 1 John 4:8, to be counter-refuted by assertions that pulling Scriptures out of their contexts to make a point is not a proper reading of Scripture, etc. etc.

    I’m aware that I’m not being particularly constructive in my comment here, but I’m still suspicious that this project may be an argument of semantics, or at least an argument about how we use language structures to describe things. I mean, by the definitions operating here, wouldn’t we also have to speak of ourselves apophatically? Couldn’t we take any particular characteristics about ourselves (Dan is nice, Dan is sarcastic, Dan is light-skinned) and describe how each of those categories are not completely fixed, and are just linguistic and social constructs, and therefore we cannot simply affirm any description of myself in any category?

    I do get the point that God is beyond all of our finite, human linguistic attempts to define God, categorize God, or make images of God that serve our own interests. I do. I’m just not convinced that makes God entirely “unknowable”. Certainly not completely knowable, but just because you cannot know something or someone completely does not mean that you cannot know anything about it at all. OK, here’s a constructive question: how does a robustly apophatic approach square with the idea of revelation–of God desiring to make God-self known to us? Because that notion seems to be at the core of any affirmation of Scripture or the incarnation.

  • http://www.divinesatisfaction.com Daniel

    Dan – There’s the old phrase that I learned either in college or when prepping for ordination: “Just because we cannot know God fully does not mean we cannot know God truly”.

    One’s view of Scripture is also important – if Scripture is simply man’s best attempt to define an infinite God with finite language, then it would be impossible to know God fully or truly for we would be left to guessing.

    However, if Scripture is the infinite God using a finite language to reveal things we can truly know about him, then we can truly know that which God desires us to know…assuming of course that we allow God to define himself (and words he uses to describe himself) and not popular culture or post-modern social constructs.

    So, when we read that God is just we have to allow God to define the terms via Scripture – A point that I think Tony illustrated well whether intended or not.

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