God is not fair. This is a fact. But His unfairness is exactly what makes Him worthy to be praised. Allow me to explain. R.C. Sproul writes:

“The concept of justice incorporates all that is just. The concept of non-justice includes everything outside the concept of justice: injustice, which violates justice and is evil; and mercy, which does not violate justice and is not evil. God gives his mercy (non-justice) to some and leaves the rest to his justice. No one is treated with injustice. No one can charge that there is unrighteousness in God.”[1]

Justice is, in fact, very fair. Justice says that if you harm an innocent person, you have to pay for your crime one way or another. Justice says that if you steal something from another person, you owe them their property back plus a penalty for the inconvenience of the rightful owner’s loss of use. In many ways, justice is mechanistic and tit-for-tat. Justice seems to be fair when the penalty fits the crime. Justice does not seem to be fair, however, when the crime and the penalty seem mismatched.

From this point of mismatch, many in the modern world tend to derive a sense of unfairness when they contemplate God. Many look at the penalties—whether they be supernatural (e.g., hell) or natural (e.g., war, disease, or interpersonal strife)—and come to the conclusion that God isn’t being fair because the harsh punishment doesn’t seem to fit the less heinous crime. After all, for people who are genuinely “good” or “decent” to be subjected to, for example, wanton cruelty and prejudice just doesn’t seem fair. Yet, this analysis does not consider the wholly detestable nature of the real crime. The real crime, of course, is sin, which has cataclysmic and destructive effects on our association with God. In the Garden of Eden, sin ended a deep, personal relationship with The Lord and drove a wedge between humankind and God. Sin has since been inherited by all humanity. In the beginning, God called all of creation good, and He walked in the garden He made for us. Now, because of sin, a distance and separation exists between creation and the Creator. Sin is a blatant offense to a holy and just God, and it necessitated God taking the form of a human being to reconcile humanity back to Him. Sin is so wretched that it made the devil the devil.

Lucifer by design was a good creation that The Lord had made. Sin is what turned this angel into the Deceiver and the father of lies. What do you get if you take sin away from the devil? An angel that worships God. Sin is so bad that it in itself is what makes hell really hell. Anselm of Canterbury famously said that if he had the choice of entering hell clean and innocent or entering into heaven with the stain of one sin, he would gladly leap into hell. Hell is not what separates a person from God: sin is.

Sin is so bad that it demands nothing short of the justice of God, and His justice says that the penalty for sin is death. All of the tragedy in this world—whether it takes the form of suffering, grief, dehumanization, violence, or pain—has a root cause in sin. If at once sin were wiped out from the face of the earth, then all evil would immediately cease. And the reason sin cannot be immediately wiped out is rooted in the justice of God; that is, because a crime has been committed, a penalty must be paid. If God were not just, then God wouldn’t be God. He would be a pushover who stands for nothing. And that, ironically, wouldn’t be fair.

The good news is that the story does not end in the Garden of Eden.

While the justice of God is totally fair and requires a penalty to be paid for sin, the non-justice of God is completely and absolutely unfair. It is senseless, illogical, and defies reason. The non-justice of God allows a totally depraved and radically corrupt person to walk into God’s courtroom and assemble all of his sins into a heaping pile of filthy rags, only for God to say, “Not guilty.”

The non-justice of God can look to the atoning blood sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross and then look upon a sinner and say, “I will remember your sins no more.” The non-justice of God manifests as hesed, or good favor, lovingkindness, and mercy. The non-justice of God is what compelled Him to take the form of a human being (Jesus) who would bear the penalty of our sins and motivate us to realize that in a world full of absolute fairness, there would be no room for Christ.

So, yes. God is not fair at all. And this is a reason to praise Him.


Dr. C. H. E. Sadaphal


[1] R.C. Sproul, What is Reformed Theology? (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1997), 160.

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