In the commentary on my previous post, there was some discussion about what it means for God to be perfectly good or benevolent. Most theists like to include some notion of justice in their definition, as a way to explain why God would mete out punishment for sin. God is perfectly loving and merciful, but at the same time, he is just. He must exact payment for our sins in a perfectly fair and impartial manner. But justice seems to be in conflict with mercy. In perusing the posts on Cross Examined, I came across an article that is relevant to this issue. A commenter had noted
Justice is getting what you deserve. Mercy is getting LESS than what you deserve. Take your pick.How can God be both just and merciful at the same time? Al Serrato attempts to answer the question by explaining that God is just because he demands payment for sin, but he is also merciful because he allows someone else (Jesus) to pay the price for us. But I have some problems with that explanation.
Perhaps the most obvious problem is that someone else paying the price for my sins isn't really justice at all. If Jesus suffered and died for my sins, how can it be said that anyone is getting what they deserve? Not me, because I get off without paying. And not Jesus, because nobody else should have to pay for what I have done. What kind of justice is that? The only way you can say justice has been done is by equating justice with a balance sheet. A sin is committed, and therefore God is owed some particular price in blood and suffering. Apparently, God doesn't care whether the person who incurs this debt is the one who pays it. He just demands his payment. To me, this seems barbaric and eminently unjust. It takes a real leap of faith to call this balance-sheet system of justice a manifestation of God's goodness. And when it comes to perfect mercy, it would appear that mercy is only tendered to those who "buy into" this system. God doesn't offer any such forgiveness to those who fail to bow down before him, and accept that this vengeful being, who demands blood and suffering to appease his anger, is worthy of worship in the first place. No, they get to spend eternity paying the price for their rebellion, and not an ounce of mercy will ever be shown to them.
And that leads me to the issue of defining what payment is suitable to balance the books. If you are a criminal who kills and commits all manner of heinous and evil acts, but then you repent and accept Jesus as your savior, then Jesus' death on the cross will be deemed payment for what you have done. Or if you were simply born a sinner (as we all supposedly are), but then lived a life of piety and exemplary behavior, you still owe God a debt for being a sinner. And he will demand the exact same payment for your sins as for the life-long criminal. God must have his blood, no matter how good or how evil you are in your life. What kind of justice is that? It is apparent that the idea of paying for your sins is not a matter of balancing the books after all. There is no balance. There is no concept of debt and payment being proportional to the sin. There is no lesser price to pay for a smaller sin. The payment is always the same. God will have his blood, no matter what.
Likewise, for those who don't accept this system of justice, there is one and only one price to pay, regardless of what they have done in their lives. That is an eternity in hell. In the final analysis, sin doesn't factor into it in any way. Either you come to Jesus, in which case God demands the blood of Jesus, or you don't, in which case God demands that you spend eternity in hell. The sins you commit during your lifetime have nothing to do with it. They don't affect the debt you owe, or the payment to be made in any way. The only thing that matters is whether you come to Jesus. And this reveals the true nature of this system of justice. It isn't really about justice at all. When you take a good look at the Christian faith, all this talk about God's perfect justice is pure hogwash.
Finally (or perhaps this should have been addressed first), there is the question of whether it is right for God to be wrathful and demand payment at all, regardless of whether it be for our sins or for our failure to believe. This is a question that Christians dare not ask, because the answer might just undermine their whole system of belief. Is it right for God to unleash his anger and take retributive payment for the things we humans do? God is often depicted as a father figure, and we are the children. As a loving parent, God should want what is best for us. And he should do whatever it takes to achieve that end. No parent wants to see his child committed to never-ending punishment because of a mistake he made. A loving parent would rather teach the child the right way, and continue to work with him until he gets it right. Retribution is a barbarian's idea of justice. Correction is a superior way to achieve real justice. It would be a waste to destroy something that can be fixed. And it would be an injustice to toss away a soul that can be taught to see what is right. Retribution only compounds what is wrong. Correction makes things better.
The Christian view is based on retribution. There must be punishment for sin. This concept underlies the whole narrative of Jesus, and his reason for living and dying. Without this need for retribution, the life and death of Jesus is meaningless, and the Christian faith itself would cease to exist. What the Christians call "God's perfect justice" is actually barbarity. His perfect mercy is not shown to those who make the wrong choice. His perfect love doesn't extend to correcting the behavior of errant souls. This God would rather just consign those souls to eternal damnation. What kind of justice is that? But theism doesn't have to be conceived in such a barbaric way. God could be both just and merciful without contradiction. The theists' conception of God could be made less self-refuting by taking a more enlightened view of justice. Of course, that would entail eliminating Jesus from the religion. But at least it would make far more sense than Christianity does.