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The following is one of the central questions concerning moral values in Christianity.

I am referring to an answer Caleb gave earlier on here. There he says, and I believe this is the standard stance Christianity holds:

God is good, 100% pure good. He is, in fact, the only standard of what good is; we measure whether something is good or not by comparing it to the character and decrees of God.

In the comments he writes (bold style added by me):

because he IS the standard (rather than being measured against it) there are certain things that are good for God but sin for men.

My question is: How can this be the case?

Even if God sees the big picture and has knowledge of all the ramifications of all potential actions the point where you can call something good ends when real suffering by sentient human beings over extended periods of time is involved.

Just as one example see the following citation about things to come when Jesus will return to us from Revelation 9:1-5:

Revelation 9:5 (NIV) They were not allowed to kill them but only to torture them for five months. And the agony they suffered was like that of the sting of a scorpion when it strikes.

By all moral standards I have ever heard of this deed alone (extensive torturing of people) would be considered an outrageous atrocity, so the direct opposite of good. How can something like this be considered good when done by God?

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Please try to find a better example. That would really benefit the question. The example quotation is misleading -- in your original wording seems it has something to do with Jesus, but actually the passage is talking about locusts. –  dancek Sep 7 '11 at 12:19
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@dancek: Actually most interpretations have those locusts being the various afflictions that we are experiencing now, so that's fine by me. The OP kind of removed the context when he quoted me because I gave him a link for what "certain thing" I was referring to and it's not at all what he just outlined, but I'll deal with that in an answer here. (and vonjd no I didn't downvote). –  Caleb Sep 7 '11 at 12:26
    
@Caleb: This is correct, thank you for that. It goes so far that e.g. in Germany aggressive hedge-funds are being called locusts. –  vonjd Sep 7 '11 at 12:32
    
@Caleb: I didn't want to misquote you and I'm looking forward to your answer. –  vonjd Sep 7 '11 at 12:36
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The ultimate example of this problem: What is the verdict on an unjust judge? –  Caleb Sep 7 '11 at 15:12

4 Answers 4

up vote 16 down vote accepted

First of all, my original comment about some things being sin for men that are good for God was specifically linked to this answer in which I outline how I think men are required to worship God and it would be sinful for them to worship themselves, but God demands that all things be focused on himself. I did not at all mean to imply that God is somehow allowed to do things which are inherently evil (or unjust).

So how DOES one reconcile the apparent cruel state of men on earth now with a good God? Forgive me the liberty of taking a clip out of context from your question:

the point where you can call something good ends when real suffering by sentient human beings over extended periods of time is involved

The problem I see is that you are approaching this from the assumption that sentient human beings are inherently good and have a right to a comfortable existence.

Christianity asserts the opposite, that we are inherently bad and have no right to anything less than eternal damnation, destruction, torture, you name it. We as humans by nature fall under the wrath of God, not the love of God, because we have chosen to hate God.

Romans 3:9b-12 (ESV)
For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, 10 as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”

Since God is good and hates evil, and evil hates good and men hate God, God hates men. They are therefore objects of his wrath. The systematic punishment of evil is GOOD.

Romans 2:8 (ESV)
but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.

If what humans (all of them) deserve is an outpouring of wrath (hell), then the troubled existence with mixed good and bad we experience here on earth is really an undeserved grace that overflows from an abundantly good God, not the result of divine injustice.

Matthew 5:45b (ESV)
For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

The real problem with God being unjust is this: that with all men being evil ANY of them should be justified. That God would take beings who hated good and choose to love them rather than hate them is an unfathomable injustice. Rather than complaining about the troubles of this world we should be marveling at how a righteous and just God could POSSIBLY justify the unrighteous.*

Romans 3:26 (ESV)
It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

* This would make a good next question.

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I think you hit the nail on its head: I have never seen the message of Christianity so well, concisely and consistently put. Thank you and +1. So are writing: "The problem I see is that you are approaching this from the assumption that sentient human beings are inherently good and have a right to a comfortable existence. Christianity asserts the opposite, that we are inherently bad and have no right to anything less than eternal damnation, destruction, torture, you name it. We as humans by nature fall under the wrath of God, not the love of God, because we have chosen to hate God." –  vonjd Sep 7 '11 at 13:01
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@vonjd: Aaa but human rights is another issue! That is another example of something that is not wrong for God but very much wrong for humans. I do believe in human rights (by virtue of being created in God's image AND being his property that man should not dare to trespass and abuse) but that might be the topic for another question in itself. And I do wish more people saw clearly these fundamental aspects of Christianity. I would rather people had something clear to disagree with than ignorantly follow something they do not understand. –  Caleb Sep 7 '11 at 13:21
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I think the main difference between Christianity and me is that I indeed think that human beings have absolutely undeniable human rights - and Christianity denies that. Christianity says that it all boils down to God being good and just and everything follows from there. For me sentient human beings are in the center of everything - this is why I prefer to call myself a humanist - for Christianity a good and just God stands in the center of everything. So at the end its about different axiomatic systems I guess... –  vonjd Sep 7 '11 at 13:25
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@Caleb. The message that humans deserve damnation is not taught by all branches of Christianity. This is the Calvinist deity. I like to think that if I believed in God of Calvin, I would have the courage and moral fortitude to spit in his face. Among the most moral statements in literature is Huck Finn's "Alright then, I'll go to Hell". –  TRiG Sep 26 '11 at 11:48
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@TRiG: Thankfully Calvinism is hardly the only branch of Christianity that teaches that humans deserve damnation! Without a proper understanding that there is a problem, the solution to the problem called salvation becomes absolutely meaningless -- reducing your Christianity to a floppy and incongruous collection of pointless traditions. If you knew of the deity as understood by Calvinists (and many other branches of Christianity) you would fall on you face and worship him. –  Caleb Sep 26 '11 at 11:56

Requoting your example and adding emphasis and the previous verse:

4 They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any plant or tree, but only those people who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads. 5 They were not allowed to kill them but only to torture them for five months. And the agony they suffered was like that of the sting of a scorpion when it strikes. 6 During those days people will seek death but will not find it; they will long to die, but death will elude them.

Paul speaks to this in Romans 3:5 (NIV)

5 But if our unrighteousness brings out God’s righteousness more clearly, what shall we say? That God is unjust in bringing his wrath on us? (I am using a human argument.)

The old testament is full of God's wrath against 'sentient human beings' who disobeyed and turned away from his law. How can we expect it to be lesser after he sent is own son to suffer so that we may be with him once more, and we still reject him?

Is justice immoral?

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I am sorry I have to downvote this since it doesn't answer the question. The question was how can something that is considered bad (=done by human beings) be good when done by a God. It was explicitly referring to "real suffering by sentient human beings over extended periods of time" and you will agree that torturing people cannot be considered good - and I would argue not even just. –  vonjd Sep 7 '11 at 12:45
    
I agree that the old testament is full of God's wrath against 'sentient human beings', this was only one example out of many. –  vonjd Sep 7 '11 at 12:48
    
@vonjd: See my answer for an argument of why "torturing people" can be considered good and just and that injustice would be the opposite. –  Caleb Sep 7 '11 at 12:54
    
@vonjd oops, deleted comment. From the standpoint that God is just, and (in human terms) justice is good, that might answer the question. It might be a separate question altogether about the severity of God's justice –  DTest Sep 7 '11 at 13:12

I will answer this in the context of the scripture reference you provided.

Revelation 9:4-5 And it was commanded them that they should not hurt the grass of the earth, neither any green thing, neither any tree; but only those men which have not the seal of God in their foreheads. And to them it was given that they should not kill them, but that they should be tormented five months: and their torment was as the torment of a scorpion, when he striketh a man.

Because God is just.

The sin in the garden required a blood sacrifice. Either we had to die, or someone would have to die in our place.

EZEKIEL 18:4 Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die.

To explain the atonement, imagine that your good friend was guilty of a crime, and you were the judge. You might think it would be just to simply rip up the charges and tell your friend to go home, but in God's economy that doesn't work.

What crime did we commit against God? We were born wrong (through unbelief of God's Word), as a result of Adam and Eve's fall in the garden. Everyone on earth is guilty, even if you have lived a life as pure and clean as a Pharisee.

PSALM 51:5 Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.

God can't simply rip up the charges and let you go free, because that would not be just. The sin debt must be paid. So He came Himself and paid it by giving His own life.

Now to your question...

What if you turn down such marvelous grace? In the context of the scripture provided, the men with the seal of God had accepted the grace of God, and been sealed away (they were *just*ified). What would be the just thing to do with a sinner who rejects the grace of God?

I must dissent from the proposition that God is full of both love and hate. God is so full of love, that He came and died to redeem us back to Him. But God is also just, so righteous that rejecting His love and grace seals you away from Him.

Is Revelation 9:5 unjust? How about this question: Is it just for a righteous God to send a sinner who has knowingly turned down His grace to hell? From what I understand, hell makes all other torture and torments seem like a toothache.

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Some might accuse God of being hypocritical or tyrannical when he applies a certain moral law on man that He, Himself, is not obliged to keep, but, I think we all know that to not necessarily be the case when we consider certain human examples.

As with all metaphors, this one's not perfect, and there will be ways to pick it apart, but hopefully the message will get through. The place I see this most clearly demonstrated is in how I relate to my children. There are certain things that they are most definitely not allowed to do (like mess with the lawnmower...or fire up the grill), and as an authoritative head over them, I am not only in a position to break those laws (the very ones I demand of them!) without necessarily being immoral, but in some cases, where I'm actually remiss in my duties if I don't do those things from time to time (like messing with the lawnmower and firing up the grill :) ). I think we all agree that, even limited to the human scope, there is a certain hierarchy in which certain authorities supersede laws imposed on...for a lack of a better term...underlings. Sure, this premise can, and often is, abused, but the abuse of it does not necessarily negate its validity.

According to the Bible, God is supreme authority, and Creator of all things. He gets to set the rules of the game,as it were, so as Caleb suggested, He, is, by definition, the moral standard. We can argue that that's not fair, and that things are stacked in His favor because of this, but our pleadings and desires don't change the nature of this scheme. That's to say, even if God were cruel or capricious, it's His right to be so. Fortunately, the Word He gives us assures us He's not, and He demonstrates His love for His creation through profound displays.

A couple of things that have helped me come to grips with this are presented as illustrations in scripture.

Several places God is referred to as an author of creation and of our life stories. If we consider the role of an author w/r/t his narrative--his created universe--then I think most people will agree that the morality of the author is transcendent (as it were) over the morality of the universe within the pages of his story...by that, I mean, that a certain morality exists within the story, but the author is not bound to that same morality...especially as it impacts the characters he created. He owns his characters and supplies their very existence, so if he kills off characters (even the likable ones) in horrific and seemingly unfair ways, his readers and fans might get upset, but there's no real moral injustice being committed...From that perspective, he's simply woven a tale that some deem unfortunate or unpleasant.

In another place God is referred to as the potter, and us his wares. Once more, this illustration reminds us that God's supreme eminence over his creation means there is no moral culpability to his creatures. If a potter wishes to make a fine vase designed for the very purpose of being elevated and pampered, and then the next day make an ash tray, designed for the very purpose of catching and containing burning refuse throughout its "life," then that's the potter's prerogative, and no one can really fault him for that inequitable design.

Things get a bit tricky -- as they should (lest we become cold sociopaths) -- when these "pots", and "characters" are our fellow man. We should be troubled when we see injustice, and we should weep with out friends and neighbors when tragedy strikes...and we should seek answers from the Great Author to see what it is we're to learn from these harsh events. But we should also understand that these things are His prerogative, and He's not immoral when these things -- even of they are the results of men behaving badly -- happen on His watch (as it were).

This is a somewhat difficult philosophical paradigm, but it's a fundamental one to the Christian.

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