Thoughts on an all-just, all-merciful Christian god

I am considering the claim that god is both all-merciful and just.  I have many times heard it argued that god is all-merciful to forgive transgressions of his law, but that he is also just and thus must punish unbelievers in hell.  I propose that these two designations for god are contradictory and this view of god is untenable.  I am using the definitions that justice is bringing the correct and deserved consequences for actions (both good and evil) and mercy is offering respite or forgiveness from the negative consequences of a transgression.

Now consider the modern Christian theology of hell as a punishment for sins and Jesus as a sacrifice to forgive them.  In this tradition, god is willing to forgive people and spare them from the supposedly deserved punishment of eternal torment, but people can refuse this forgiveness and be condemned.  Thus, some people will be forgiven and some will not.

On its face, I could argue that this seems to contradict both the assertion that god is all-just AND that god is all-merciful, since only some people are served justice and only some are served mercy.  But a Christian theologian might argue that god has offered mercy to all people and thus the fact that some do not receive it is a flaw of humanity and does not reflect on god or the nature of his mercy.  So what do I make of this?

What god has offered us, the supposed guilty party, is a plea deal.  If we accept the conditions of this plea deal (accepting god as our savior) then we will be forgiven.  If we refuse these conditions, then our trial and conviction are carried out.

But there are some problems with this.  A criminal has a right to refuse the plea deal and people have a right to refuse salvation.  For this reason, a plea deal is, by definition, not mercy; it’s an alternative form of justice.  If a criminal refuses a plea deal, it is generally not because they want a greater punishment for their crime.  It is because they feel the terms of the plea deal are unreasonable or unacceptable.  Offering someone an unacceptable plea deal is not merciful.   Mercy would be forgiving a person without pursuing punishment or negotiation.  An unacceptable plea deal to gain forgiveness is not merciful.

Furthermore, plea deals are generally negotiated by weighing the offered consequences of the deal against the possibility of attaining an acquittal in court.  In this situation, the accused is allowed to choose if he/she should risk making their case to a jury or taking a lighter punishment in order to avoid the possibility of a worse one.  But, in god’s case, the conviction has already been made.  There is no option of pleading not-guilty and there is no one to advocate on our behalf should we wish to.  We are given the choice of only two things: accept the deal, or suffer eternal punishment with no recourse.  We don’t even have the option to contest the severity of the punishment (which I claim is clearly horrific and unjust, but that will have to wait for another post to discuss in detail).  A decision made under these circumstances cannot possibly be considered voluntary and, as such, cannot be considered merciful or just.

Finally, we must consider the situation of a believer who has chosen to accept the terms of salvation.  Although they supposedly chose to follow god’s salvation out of free will, the threat of eternal punishment renders such an agreement legally unenforceable.  Because consent was given only under threat of torture, consent was not actually given.  Thus, justice was not served as the believer did not suffer the consequences of their own actions, but mercy was also not granted as the believer merely accepted a plea deal under threat of torture.

This is just one of many reasons I reject the proposition that a god as described by the Christian tradition of hell and substitutionary atonement could be considered either just or merciful.  As described, he is neither.

9 responses

  1. This is wonderful! A plea deal negotiated with a gun to the head is not justice, nor is it merciful. And, wouldn’t a god who is all-knowing be able to tell if the acceptance of the plea deal was authentic or not? A person cannot fake belief to such a god. The whole notion of such a god who does not merely forgive, is horrible. And, as you say, the punishment is way out of proportion to the “crime”. A life is a very tiny speck of time when compared to eternity. Yet, an eternity of conscious torment for teeny tiny infractions, is what the Christian tradition puts forth. I am so glad that I left Christianity. It’s nice to have a blog post by you again, by the way. Your posts are always rich in content.

    1. Thank you! And yes, I’ve been pretty slack about updating the blog. I’ve had a hard time putting words on paper lately. You ever get that way?

      I agree, the idea of eternal punishment for finite sins makes no sense. Besides which, the idea that god would only let us make the choice between heaven or hell during our mortal lives when it’s impossible to fully know or understand the choice is repugnant. It’s like someone demanding that we sign a contract, saying “it’s a really great deal! You’ll get all this amazing stuff and if you don’t sign it something terrible will happen to you!” But you’re not allowed to meet the person who is offering you the deal in person, you’re not allowed to actually see the full contract, you’re not allowed to know the method by which you will be paid your portion or the method by which you will be punished if you don’t sign, and half of the offer is given in another language that you don’t understand. Why should anyone trust this deal or consider it fair or reasonable? If god really wants me to use my free will to make a choice, he would allow me to do so after I’ve been fully informed and am able to see and know all of the details involved for myself.

      In other words, it seems the Christian god has something majorly against informed consent. And that alone proves him unworthy of respect.

  2. Reblogged this on …..temporary…. and commented:
    This is a wonderful presentation of justice v. mercy by Galactic Explorer.

  3. Hello Anna.

    I believe our CREATOR wants us to use our brains to “THINK” and not merely react as zombies by accepting as fact all we are told.
    Church authority tells us not to “question God”…but the Scripture say HE tells us to “come let us reason together”.

    And in doing so it has allowed me to think out side …way out at times. I postulate “what-if’s”.
    One of my WIF’s deals very closely with the subject of your post here. The all JUST and MERCIFUL GOD;

    The story has it that HE made the first human and placed them in a garden …naked and stupid. We are told it was for their protection…hmmm. Whatever.. Sounds to me like cheap ignorant field hands. Laborers.
    We are told HE is “ALL KNOWING” and that HIS creation was PERFECT. Yet somehow HE didn’t foresee Adam and Eve sin..even though HE set them up for it, Much like so many FBI stings looking for supposed terrorists. ENTRAPMENT.
    Then due to their ignorance in accepting the “shinning ones” offer of enlightenment they had become suddenly grotesque sinful corrupt creatures worthy of everlasting torture from the very hand of the LOVING and MERCIFUL Entity that formed them. Yet the passages plainly show us HE was to blame here. Talk about a convoluted and twisted story.

    We read the OT and we see GOD portrayed first as loving and tells MOSES to instruct the people …don’t kill…treat strangers kindly….do good to others. Then sometimes we read in the very same chapters of the same book where HE tells them to kill slaughter and bring to ruin their enemy…or even just people that are living on land that HE wants them to have. Split personality? Or something else.

    My What if, has me thinking the scripture is telling us of two entities….on one hand we have our loving CREATOR..loving, kind, merciful and just.
    On the other we have this supposed deity that is jealous, petty,…bad memory (think Tower of Babel…and the Rainbow so he would remember not to flood the world again) known to go off in fits of anger and rage…a deity who is prone to changing his mind and goes as far as inflicting pain and trouble even on those who love and serve him..just to test their faith..(Abraham comes to mind here) Shouldn’t he already know?

    What if the story line has been changed..What if the Main Characters have had their roles swapped? What if this angry jealous god with fits of rage and a bad memory isn’t GOD at all but in reality is the dimiurge or the evil one. What if the scribes have altered the story to get us to worship the wrong one?

    If that is the would go along way in rectifying why JESUS came preaching against the Pharisees and “their” laws…for HE certainly taught and described GOD the FATHER much more differently than what the majority of the OT tells us.

    It’s just one of those thinks that make me wonder. and I am not questioning GOD, but the writers and “manipulators” of the scrolls.

    1. Hi! Haha, well you certainly wouldn’t be the first person to consider this. There were sects of early Christians that believed these alternative theories. Look up the Marcionites for starters if you haven’t before. Marcion believed that the “Old Testament God” was an evil deity, while the god described by Paul and embodied in Jesus was actually the good and just god. And I believe it was the Manichaeans (probably among others) who believed that there was a god of good and a god of evil, and the evil one was the one who trapped human souls in prisons of flesh on earth. According to some of the ancient texts I’ve read from gnostic sects, the “serpent” that deceived Eve was actually a spirit which brought understanding of their imprisonment to them. Now, all of these things have their own contradictions and peculiarities as well even before they were stomped out as heresies. But they are interesting to read about and note that Christian/semi-Christian belief was by no means unified. I don’t believe any of it, but it’s fun to read about!

      BTW, I go by Evan now. I should probably fix that on my page. 🙂

  4. Then Pleased to meet you Evan.

    Yes I had discovered some of those Gnostic theories while searching out the “Whole Story”. That could have been the basis for Z. Stitchin’s theory on the “Annunaki”. Seems it would also lend credibility to the ancient tales of Greek and Roman gods and probably more so to the Egyptian stories.
    Of interest to me was in the story of Daniel where the Arch Angel said to Daniel that he had been withstood by the _______ of Persia for nearly a month. Very much similar to a scene from clash of the Titans. Not the movie of course but the ancient folklore tales.

    Not sure I buy into the whole premise . But,…if any of it based in truth…we may all be in chains. Did not Christ say He came to set the captives free? And if the answer to that means sin is our captive, then maybe this demiurge is the personification of the sin. An evil entity that masquerades as an pretends to be THE CREATOR requiring man’s worship. Such an entity would be petty and jealous and display many of the traits that are recorded in the OT. A cosmic Hijacker, an Adversary and a corrupter …a “shatan”.

    I just don’t see the TRUE CREATOR requiring and demanding us little “worms” to grovel and worship at HIS feet . This ultimate Being wouldn’t be such as Narcissist.

    Ah well……an idle mind can be a bit dangerous…:)

    1. I agree, an “ultimate” being who requires worship from their creation is not very ultimate after all. I mean, if we take the common Christian or Muslim view of “ultimate” to mean “all-sufficient and unable to be added to” then the idea that such a being could be jealous seems, frankly, absurd to me. If he has no need for anything and nothing could possibly add to him, then why would it matter so much to him whether us lesser beings gave him praise or not? It’s a purely philosophical question, but an interesting one and I think it shouldn’t be brushed aside so easily as most Christians do (myself included when I was one) with “who can know the mind of god?”

      Personally, until such a time comes as I see compelling evidence that any of this is true, I will proceed under the assumption that gods don’t exist. If we are in chains of sin, then the best thing I can do is what I’m doing already: attempting to be a good person and lending a helping hand to others. If it turns out that there was some such petty god out there that demands worship or he will torture me forever… well, I wouldn’t worship such a narcissistic monster anyway.

      1. Another point.The Almighty Creator would not want to destroy HIS handiwork would HE? Everlasting punishment and torture in Hell-Fire?
        As a parent and Grand Parent, I wouldn’t want to beat the sh*t out of my kids for not being as good as I am……NO..I would teach them…instruct them and most of all Visit and Speak to them. If I wanted my creation to interact with me…and know me….why would I remain silent and hide my face away from them? Sorta defeats the intent, does it not? How can you develop a relationship with someone you can’t see..won’t come to visit you..won’t speak directly to you…nor interact directly with you? I do not see that as possible,and then to take and put that blame on a human …
        I do believe that there is an origin….an ORIGINATOR. GOD if you will. Science calls is the BB..religions certainly call it god.
        I came from a Fundamentalist background to where I am at today over 50 years of learning and attempting to “Know”. These days the only thing I know, is that I don’t know anything

      2. Knowing what we don’t know is 90% of the battle to finding truth.

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