God's Justice
Monday of Pentecost 14
11 September 2017
"Life is so unfair," whine teenagers. We adults tut-tut them for their ignorance of the world and its apparently less than equitable moral outcomes. Yet, in our heart of hearts we also whine against what we can see as the moral imbalance of the universe. We, who consider ourselves good, are inevitably afflicted with trouble. Even the Psalmist sees his life to be full of troubles (Ps 88:3). People who have suffered hurricane damage from the recent storms easily feel this way. So our discernment is probably not incorrect. The world's goods are hardly equitably distributed, no matter how hard Marx and his brutal followers tried to redistribute them. Perhaps the teenager is correct. Life is not fair. Why should that sow's ear, Bill Gates, have all that money?
 
We moan at God when we hear of some ne'er do well winning the "Power Ball" Lottery jackpot of hundreds of millions of dollars. Why do such worthless people prosper? Of course, implicit in that question, is the accusation that God should have dropped such a great windfall on us. Lord, have mercy! Yet the shocking number of instant millionaires that over time become paupers again, cursing their day of supposed good fortune, confirms the trouble brought on by winning a lottery jackpot. Be careful what you pray for, you might get it.
 
The ambivalence of our judgments about the moral equity of the universe should drive us to confess God's ways are higher than our ways and His thoughts higher than our thoughts (Is 55:8-9). There is a moral inscrutability to the ways of God. Not that those hidden ways are immoral, for we have no right to judge. It is just beyond our ability to see how ultimate justice is being served by what appears to be the unfairness of the world. In this matter, we walk by faith, not by sight. The final judgment at which Christ will preside as the ultimate judge will make all clear. This we believe.
 
The greatest moral inscrutability is displayed at Calvary. The innocent for the wicked is betrayed into the hands of the wicked. Good is returned for evil. The all-powerful God displays weakness unto death. This good man is poor. Sorrow pursues Him whose perfect life leads us to suppose he should be happy, and we who ought to have happiness stripped from us are given the joy of which He was deprived. He is dismissed from the bar of His own court not only unavenged against His false accusers, but even condemned, wronged by the iniquity of the judge, and overwhelmed by false evidence. We, his guilty adversaries, on the other hand, are acquitted. He who is society's Lord is cut off by premature death, while we who ought never to have been so much as born have lives of unusual length. Why are we, who are full of crimes, crowned with glory and honor, while the blameless man is buried in the darkness of neglect, and counted among the transgressors? This is the mystery of God's justice. Believe it. You'll understand it later.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

Augustine of Hippo

"In this present time we learn to bear with equanimity the ills to which even good men are subject, and to hold cheap the blessings which even the wicked enjoy. Consequently, even in those conditions of life in which the justice of God is not apparent, His teaching is salutary. For we do not know by what judgment of God this good man is poor and that bad man rich; why he who, in our opinion, ought to suffer acutely for his abandoned life enjoys himself, while sorrow pursues him whose praiseworthy life leads us to suppose he should be happy. Why the innocent man is dismissed from the bar not only unavenged, but even condemned, being either wronged by the iniquity of the judge, or overwhelmed by false evidence, while his guilty adversary, on the other hand, is not only acquitted, but even has his claims admitted. Why the ungodly enjoys good health, while the godly pines in sickness. Why ruffians are of the soundest constitution, while they who could not hurt any one even with a word are from infancy afflicted with complicated disorders. Why he who is useful to society is cut off by premature death, while those who, as it might seem, ought never to have been so much as born have lives of unusual length. Why he who is full of crimes is crowned with honors, while the blameless man is buried in the darkness of neglect. But who can collect or enumerate all the contrasts of this kind? But if this anomalous state of things were uniform in this life, in which, as the sacred Psalmist says, 'Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow,' (Ps 144:4)--so uniform that none but wicked men won the transitory prosperity of earth, while only the good suffered its ills--this could be referred to the just and even benign judgment of God. We might suppose that they who were not destined to obtain those everlasting benefits which constitute human blessedness were either deluded by transitory blessings as the just reward of their wickedness, or were, in God's mercy, consoled them, and that they who were not destined to suffer eternal torments were afflicted with temporal chastisement for their sins, or were stimulated to greater attainment in virtue.
 
"But now, as it is, since we not only see good men involved in the ills of life, and bad men enjoying the good of it, which seems unjust, but also that evil often overtakes evil men, and good surprises the good, the rather on this account are God's judgments unsearchable, and His ways past finding out. Although, therefore, we do not know by what judgment these things are done or permitted to be done by God, with whom is the highest virtue, the highest wisdom, the highest justice, no infirmity, no rashness, no unrighteousness, yet it is salutary for us to learn to hold cheap such things, be they good or evil, as attach indifferently to good men and bad, and to covet those good things which belong only to good men, and flee those evils which belong only to evil men.
 
"But when we shall have come to that judgment, the date of which is called uniquely the day of judgment, and sometimes the day of the Lord, we shall then recognize the justice of all God's judgments, not only of such as shall then be pronounced, but, of all which take effect from the beginning, or may take effect before that time. And in that day we shall also recognize with what justice so many, or almost all, the just judgments of God in the present life defy the scrutiny of human sense or insight, though in this matter it is not concealed from pious minds that what is concealed is just."

Augustine, The City of God, 20.2
Isaiah 53

Who has believed what they heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
 
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.
 
Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.  
(ESV)
Prayer
Lord Christ, You have taken the enmity of the world into Your person by taking our flesh. Grant that we might accept Your inscrutable judgments with the confidence that at the final consummation all will be made clear to us. Help us to live in faith during our earthly pilgrimage and keep us from despair in the face of the world's apparent inequity. Amen.
 
For Concordia Publishing House and all its employees, that they would be upheld in the work of putting into print the Word of God
 
For Charlie Schorre, that he would regain his strength as he convalesces from a heart issue
 
For all those who are suffering from hurricane damage, that they would get the help they need to reconstruct life, businesses, and homes
Art: Albrecht DURER, The Adoration of the Trinity (1511)
Memorial Lutheran Church
smurray@mlchouston.org
http://www.mlchouston.org
© Scott Murray 2017
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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