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Over and over I hear people pronouncing in one way or another that God is "not fair"*. Sometimes this is stated directly, other times indirectly as in "that doesn't seem fair, therefore God must not be that way."

My question is, are we humans in a position to judge whether God is fair or not? If so what standard do we use to define fair? How should Christians handle issues of "fairness" and how should we respond to these accusations against God?

* Often with the conclusion: therefore I will not believe in him.

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Great follow up question: What's the difference between judging God and questioning God? –  Caleb Sep 6 '11 at 13:48
    
    
The problem is that this is a double standard. Saying how wonderfully moral God is is perfectly fine, but as soon as someone points out that the God of the Bible sometimes displays the morals and manners of a spoiled child, suddenly we're in no position to judge. –  TRiG Sep 14 '11 at 0:47
    
@TRiG The statement "God is fair" is not a conclusion we can arrive it, but a fundamental truth we should accept. In mathematical terms, it's a postulate not a theorem. It is no more appropriate for me to conclude that God is fair when He does something I like than it is for me to conclude that God is not fair when He does something I don't like. My judgement is not meaningful in either case because God is Right and Just regardless of whether or not I like what He does. –  jimreed Sep 15 '11 at 12:03
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@TRiG According to Wikipedia that's basically the approach of Luther and Calvin. (Middle of the paragraph under the heading "The second horn".) Should I be posting this as another answer? –  jimreed Sep 15 '11 at 14:39
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9 Answers

up vote 14 down vote accepted

In addition to the Isaiah reference listed by Dancek, the end of Job asks powerful questions of a mortal who dared to question God's motives:

Job 38 1-3 (NIV)
1 Then the LORD spoke to Job out of the storm. He said: 2 “Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge?

So no, humans cannot judge whether God is fair from our vantage (up close).

As for how to respond to issues of fairness? Trust in God's plan

Psalm 20:7 (NIV)
7 Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
   but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.

But sometimes, with some people, it's probably best to ignore them. They are not seeking truth, but just to mock you and try to make you look foolish.

Proverbs offers some insight on this:

Proverbs 9:7 (NIV)
7 Whoever corrects a mocker invites insults; whoever rebukes the wicked incurs abuse.

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Did I just hear "Don't feed trolls" in answer to a theological question? +1! –  Caleb Sep 6 '11 at 12:18
    
"I read the book of Job last night — I don't think God comes well out of it." Viginia Woolf –  TRiG Sep 15 '11 at 13:52
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No. God's ways and thoughts are so much above ours it's difficult to understand.

Isaiah 55:8-9 (NLT)
 8 “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord.
      “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.
 9 For just as the heavens are higher than the earth,
      so my ways are higher than your ways
      and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.

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Furthermore, our conception of fairness and justice comes from God, i.e., our sense of justice is an imperfect and flawed copy of God's. We don't have to WORRY about God being unfair. –  Chris B. Behrens Sep 6 '11 at 15:23
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One concrete example from the Bible of a prophet judging God is from the book of Habakkuk. The book begins with the prophet Habakkuk judging God for His inaction:

Habakkuk 1:2-4 2 How long, O LORD, will I call for help, And You will not hear? I cry out to You, “Violence!” Yet You do not save. 3 Why do You make me see iniquity, And cause me to look on wickedness? Yes, destruction and violence are before me; Strife exists and contention arises. 4 Therefore the law is ignored And justice is never upheld. For the wicked surround the righteous; Therefore justice comes out perverted.

Very quickly God responds that Habakkuk doesn't have a clue what God is up to and what God is about to do.

Habakkuk 1:5 5 “Look among the nations! Observe! Be astonished! Wonder! Because I am doing something in your days— You would not believe if you were told.

The bulk of the book is a dialog between Habakkuk and God over whether or not God really knows what He is doing. The conculsion is that God knows a whole lot more about what's going on that Habakkuk realizes and that renders Habakkuk's attempts at judging God meaningless. In the end, Habakkuk realizes that his only proper response is to rejoice in God regardless of the circumstances.

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I have never read a line that claimed God or life in general was "fair". Fairness seems to be a concept that we have developed to evaluate our interactions with each other. In addition fairness is largely subjective and relative.

Is there a need for fairness in our dealings with God? I suspect that if you consider what God offers for devotion and following His directions for living our mortal lives, we are getting the better end of the deal. So I would say no, God is not fair. In fact He is quite generous from our mortal standpoint in that we make a few sacrifices and choose to live a live by the laws set out by God for a limited time and then we are rewarded for eternity.

So can we make that judgement about the fairness of God? Certainly, He has granted us free will and the ability to ask questions and discover their answers. He has also allowed for us to choose to deviate from the path He has set for us. But we must remember that God has never made a claim to be fair from our mortal standpoint. So when we deviate we risk the judgement of God. But Jesus Christ has also offered forgiveness when we realize our sins and return to the path.

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Welcome to Christianity.SE Chad! This is a great answer and quite a few people in chat discussed how they would vote it up, but the regulars (myself included) are having problems staying under the vote quotas. Don't we don't appreciate your contribution just because votes come in late :) –  Caleb Sep 6 '11 at 20:33
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Judging God to be fair is akin to judging God to be good. Fairness is one of the key attributes of goodness.

If you believe God is good, it can only be because you have judged him so. Compare these two positions:

"Joe is good, but I cannot judge him to be good."

"Joe is evil, but I cannot judge him to be evil."

Are they really even different? They both contain a claim but they are then followed by disclaiming any means to establish the validity of that claim.

If we are not in a position to judge something, then how can we reach the conclusion that it is good? It is simply incoherent to concurrently maintain that you believe God is good but that you also cannot judge God.

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Could you cite a reference that "fairness is a key attribute of goodness?" is this your opinion or is asserted by someone else? –  wax eagle Sep 6 '11 at 18:12
    
I'm not sure I understand the question. Are you asking me to refute the claim that it's possible for God to be omnibenevolent and yet also be unfair (in a sense other than perhaps being more good than justified)? That seems too incoherent to refute. –  David Schwartz Sep 6 '11 at 18:21
    
I'm just trying to figure out how good=fair –  wax eagle Sep 6 '11 at 18:23
    
I'm not saying that good and fair are synonyms. I'm making the weaker point that perfectly good requires no unfairness that disadvantages someone. I could permit mercy that's arguably unfair, but it can't, for example, permit unfair punishment. –  David Schwartz Sep 6 '11 at 20:56
    
I think I see where you're coming from. –  wax eagle Sep 6 '11 at 20:56
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Sure: a man "has the capability judge" God in the sense that he has the free will to regard himself so highly as to pass judgement on God. Obviously that doesn't mean such a man as the moral right or ability to do so. It seems to me that anyone who openly questions why God allows such-and-such an evil (be it starving children in Africa, being evicted from their house, getting in a car accident one day after their medical and car insurance expires) is demonstrating a free-will capability to judge God.

(I didn't address "fair" in my answer, but on what other issue would there be to "judge" God?)

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Not sure many people would consider getting evicted, or into an accident, "evil". Unfortunate, sure, but "evil" usually refers more to intent. –  Marc Gravell Feb 3 '12 at 20:11
    
Might not have been the best example. Then again, the one who judges God is, by definition, doing something irrational. –  Audio Sancto Feb 3 '12 at 21:07
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I would like to add to the answers so far.

In my experience, it seems like "fairness" or "unfairness" of God is a concept that is a major preoccupation of the contemporary Western liberal mindset. It may not have occupied the concerns of people who lived up to the Enlightenment. It certainly does not occupy the minds of the religious Indian, for example. However, show me an Indian with the secular, liberal Western mindset (they exist in urban India), and I'll show you someone who will put God to the "fairness" test. So it is clear to me that this disposition is a result of certain cultural baggage, which includes a loss of reverence for God.

So it is best to say to the person raising the unfairness objection: We are in no position to judge God, and we certainly don't relate to Him right without a certain amount of reverence.

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IS GOD FAIR? I hguess sometimes it feels like we are asking the wrong questions.Jesus' parables as well as many old testament books prove God to be the foundation of everything. So as someone in a previous comment put it... our thoughts as well as everything else about us, come FROM GOD. This just like in any postulate, or theory, we must predicate our assumptions on one immovable fact. Proven, beyond question. The only thing that fits that requirement is that GOD is GOD and as he says three times both in the old testament and the new " I will have mercy on whom i will have mercy..." I'm not advocating, mindless following or that we check our brain at the door of Christianity. but just like DeCartes reasoned so many years ago "Je pense jusqua je suis" (I think therefore I am") We must come to at least one immovable conclusion and with this conclusion in mind we can allow our thoughts to ponder and question but in the end if we truly believe in our immovable conclusion (God as creator of all), there is no choice but to subjegate our thoughts of fairness to HIS. just like in Habbakuk God answers this question in Job "Brace yourself like a man. I will question you and you shall asnwer me" Then he goes on to answer Job's question

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Cogito Ergo Sum is what I usually hear for Descartes. Why Habakuk for the Job reference? –  Affable Geek Feb 12 at 15:49
    
Welcome to the site. However, it seems you've mistaken the purpose of this site. I hope you choose to participate further, but before you do, you should read How we are different than other sites? and then the help page and What makes a good supported answer? –  David Stratton Feb 13 at 14:13
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I have to object to David Schwartz's answer above.

You have to consider one thing, and that is: the person trying to put God to the fairness test is usually outside the faith, while the person proclaiming God to be good is usually a believer. In one sense, as a believer I don't much care is God is not fair, because He is good to me.

In short, the believer views God as sovereign, while what the unbeliever sees is a potential candidate for president (an illustration that comes from Tim Keller). This latter view is the baggage of one's culture.

As for how to handle the question of fairness, I would look into this thing called Presuppositional Apologetics. The basic idea is that the natural man is at odds with God, and cannot understand God's truth merely through his own efforts. You may have to bring this up at some point in the conversation as it is biblical.

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