What God’s Omniscience Says About His Justice

As I read from the George MacDonald article Justice, I was struck by two things: a misunderstanding of who is offended by sin and a misunderstanding of the point of punishment.

First, MacDonald gives a word picture to make a case that punishment does not satisfy the offended and is therefore not actually just. His illustration involves the theft of a watch. The sinner is the thief, and the offended is the one who owned the watch.

In reality, though, sin’s offense is not first and foremost against another person but against God. David understood this, and in his Psalm of repentance after committing adultery and murder, he acknowledged this.

Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
and justified when you judge.
– Psalm 51:4

Consequently, justice is not about repayment, because our sin takes nothing from God. He doesn’t lose anything He needs nor is His character altered, His person diminished, His being belittled. When we sin, God doesn’t lose. We do. We, the perpetrators.

Which brings up the next point. Punishment here on earth serves two purposes. First, it is a means to bring people to God.

For some, the purpose was to bring that person or nation under punishment, back to God. Think of Miriam when she wanted to usurp Moses’s authority. God punished her by giving her leprosy. Further, from time to time God allowed another nation to have military success against Judah that they would learn to trust Him instead of the false gods of the nations around them.

In addition, God punishes as a warning to others. The man who cursed the name of God, for example, was stoned. Aaron’s two sons, Nadab and Abihu, were killed because they didn’t obey God in the performance of their priestly duties.

Again, David understood this. Here’s what he said to Goliath:

“This day the LORD will deliver you up into my hands, and I will strike you down and remove your head from you. And I will give the dead bodies of the army of the Philistines this day to the birds of the sky and the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel …”

Verses like this are troublesome to anyone divorced from an understanding of God’s omniscience. From the outside, this bloody action seems anti-God—opposed to His love and mercy—rather than the means by which all the earth will come to know Him.

Yet consider God’s omniscience, and the account takes on a different dimension. First, God knew the heart of Goliath and every other Philistine standing against Israel that day. He knew what they thought of Him and what they planned to do to His people.

In addition, God knew how a military victory would be perceived by the people in the surrounding nations, and by those of us centuries later who read about how He acted on behalf of His people. Here’s the rest of David’s speech to Goliath:

“… and that all this assembly may know that the LORD does not deliver by sword or by spear; for the battle is the LORD’S and He will give you into our hands.”

God knew what message the people needed at that moment, and He knew what it would take to deliver that message.

That He is omniscient means He didn’t make a mistake—in His assessment about the people who died that day on the battlefield, or about the accomplishment of His purpose through His action on behalf of Israel.

He also knew—though Scripture doesn’t spell it out for us so that we are left to guess—what would have happened to His people if Goliath and the Philistines had gone unchecked.

To summarize, God’s omniscience informs His justice. Consequently, if I trust God to be God, I don’t have to second guess His acts of justice. I know they come from perfect and complete knowledge and understanding.

Published in: on December 31, 2010 at 6:18 pm  Comments (5)  
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5 Comments

  1. Good post. I shared it on facebook.

    On a lesser level we can look at our own punishment of our children. I never spanked my son because I liked to hurt him. I didn’t gain back the thing he broke or the hours he stole by disobedience when I spanked him. It wasn’t about my venting my rage because I was offended.

    I spanked him because I loved him and wanted him to be a better a person.

    We have lost this today. And as parents discipline less, we see generations growing up with less and less self-control. So we are given over to increasing violence and sexual perversion. Many growing up today have never been taught, by the sting of a swat on a bare butt or even by a time-out, that they need to control their impulses if they want to live in society.

    This breaks down because I didn’t create my children and I’m not omniscient. Nor am I omnipotent and able to make people obey if I want. But the idea that we should accuse God of evil, is beyond me. Can we not look at this world and know he is good and long-suffering, and can we not look at our own evil hearts and allow that he knows more than we do and he loves better than we do? We can trust him when he says he’s good and in him is no darkness. It’s evil in us that says the God of the Old Testament is not a good and loving God. What kind of loving father would not go to war for his oppressed children? What kind of loving father would refuse to discipline his children when they were evil?

  2. Perhaps those who hear the term “discipline” truly do think automatically of the wrong and even abusive punishments of their childhoods. But unfortunately they may get lost in the shuffle of all the wanna-be victims who merely think they had abusive backgrounds, with the wrong kind of discipline (in their minds: any kind of discipline) because being a Victim is very cool. Actual abuse does exist. But if everyone is a “victim,” no one is.

    Understanding how God disciplines His children like a loving parent has strong Biblical backup:

    Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

    “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
    nor be weary when reproved by him.
    For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
    and chastises every son whom he receives.”

    It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

    Hebrews 12: 3-11

    Reading and believing Hebrews would solve a lot of problems that result when people — including MacDonald, unfortunately! — try to Fix Problems as their basis (and likely overcorrect into even more problems) rather than Proclaim God’s Glories.

  3. “But the idea that we should accuse God of evil, is beyond me.” “It’s evil in us that says the God of the Old Testament is not a good and loving God.”

    I think that this attitude has, ironically enough, been brought about because of the rise of Christianity over the past 2,000 years. One of the main tenets of Judeo-Christian ethics is the respect for and sanctity of human life, that it is to be protected with all the power that the community can muster. This ethic has permeated western civilization and become the basis of many laws, common and national. As a result, there is a generally higher regard for life in the current world than arguably in past ages where wars were rampant, human life was cheap, and laws were unjust and brutal. If you look at our justice system, we have “innocent until proven guilty.” We believe that the risk of an innocent man being punished outweighs the risk of a guilty man being let off, so we put a higher burden on the state.

    Now, the scope of God’s judgments in the OT are far-reaching. He flooded the entire world except for Noah and his family. He destroyed the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. The ancient kingdom of Israel was brutally sacked by the Babylonians. From a modern standpoint, these people can’t conceive that so many people deserve this kind of fate, so they try to explain it away. But the truth is, these lands were filled with uniformly wicked people. God was willing to stay his hand on Sodom for the sake of ten people. Think about what kind of place Sodom was if God couldn’t find even ten people there! From a modern POV, we don’t see societies that are that depraved, so we can’t imagine how it could be true in the past. Hence we have these professing believers finding themselves in a quandary that is unnecessary.

  4. I believe God is there to punish me for my wrong doing.Itis the same with my late father who could beat me up for my wrong doing.At times my father could do it on me just for nothing so tokeep me tight.I fear God would do the same to me.

  5. Simon K, that may be what you believe about God, but what has God said about Himself in His Word? What does the Bible say about why and how He disciplines people? Is it just to keep them from doing wrong doing and to make people fear Him? Is He cruel? Or does He discipline those who are His children (for whom He Himself died to save) out of love?

    Check the passage from Hebrews I quoted in my above comment to find more. I’d love to hear your thoughts.


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