I came across a wonderfully well-written, honest, and thought-provoking post today on a blog named ‘120 Words of Torah’. I will quote the article — 120 words in length — in full (emphasis in the original):
It’s easy to preach causality: take enough precautions, you’ll stay healthy. Keep divine commandments and you’ll be rewarded, or punished if not. “If you listen to the Voice of God… I will not strike you with the plagues of Egypt. I am God the healer.” The first part is a simple reward-and-punishment formula. But ‘God the healer’ adds a twist: the Talmud explains “I heal whomever I please.” The true truth: healing is as chaotic and random as disease. Many vaccine-deniers are healthy; many pious people fall sick; many prayers don’t ‘work’; much suffering is meaningless. Only after abandoning a quest for fairness, at least sometimes, can we begin to pray again, by encountering the world as it actually is.https://120torah.wordpress.com/2022/01/14/beshalach-5782/ [accessed 14/01/2022]
I agree entirely with one aspect of this, that is, the absolute freedom of God to do whatever He pleases. This is something I have emphasised repeatedly on my blog and in my books. However, I believe there is something lacking in the view that because God has total freedom, we must abandon any confidence in His fairness.
The Qur’an is believed by Muslims to be a perfect revelation reflecting what God has written on a preserved tablet which He keeps with Him. Note the recurring theme of God’s fairness and justice in the following verses:
Beware of a Day when you will be returned to God: every soul will be paid in full for what it has earned, and no one will be wronged.Surah 2: 281
…anyone, male or female, who does good deeds and is a believer, will enter Paradise and will not be wronged by as much as the dip in a date stone.Surah 4:124
Whoever has done a good deed will have it ten times to his credit, but whoever has done a bad deed will be repaid only with its equivalent—they will not be wronged.Surah 6:160
Whatever you give in God’s cause will be repaid to you in full, and you will not be wronged.Surah 8:60
On the Day when every soul will come pleading for itself, every soul will be paid in full for all its actions—they will not be wronged.Surah 16:111
I could give many other examples from the Qur’an expressing the same sentiment.
The ideas of ‘fairness’ and ‘justice’ and ‘being wronged’ are of course subject to the subjectivity of God; that is to say, ultimately God will decide what is fair and what is not. But we must trust that the God who created the Universe is able to administer justice appropriately. We must also not neglect to understand that what may seem unfair during our short sojourn on Earth, will eventually be put right after we are resurrected to face judgement.
The subject matter of this article highlights why interfaith dialogue is so important, because we need some of God’s revelations (i.e. the Qur’an, which claims to be a ‘corrective’ text) to illuminate others. According to Muslims, the Qur’an was sent down to humankind to provide clarity concerning the Scriptures of the People of the Book (Jews and Christians) who came before. While the Jewish Scriptures may have relatively little to say about the nature of the afterlife, the Qur’an is very focused on providing insight in this regard.
If you only believe one thing about God, believe that God is just. Having read the Qur’an and wept at the emphatic insistence that God will administer perfect justice, I refuse to believe otherwise.
I have written an 80-page book titled Discovering the Qur’an. To find out more, click here.
6 responses to “If you only believe one thing about God…”
Thank you Steven for the interesting article! I have been following you and reading some of your articles as they are coming to my inbox! :). Just one thing I felt obligated to mention was, I haven’t studied the Qur’an in depth and wouldn’t consider myself an expert, but as far as i know, I am not sure the Qur’anic concept of God has any description of Him being able to do “anything”. Whilst He is All-Powerful, He is not able to be unjust, there is not an ounce within Him of injustice, as He is the All-Just, it would be ungodly for Him to have even a speck of injustice within Him. Same with “lying”, He is the All-Truth so it is just impossible for Him to lie, and so on. As He is so exalted, glorified, transcendent and pure, He is free from any weaknesses. Anyway I would love to read your book ‘Discovering the Qur’an’ and i have it in my amazon basket and is in my reading list to read very soon! Keep up with the good work 🙂
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Hello! Thank you for reading my article and for your thoughtful comment. My hope is that you will read my short book, and then the Qur’an, and consider your statements in light of what you read.
The Qur’an repeatedly emphasises that God does whatever He will, that’s why I say it would be absurd to suggest He would be unable to lie. It may be that He chooses not to lie, but that is something a little different. It is God who determines what justice is, so your statement that God is ‘unable’ to do what is unjust doesn’t resonate with me. There is no absolute standard of justice outside of the will of God, He is the one who decides. God is the cause and the controller of all things, and this includes both ‘good’ and ‘evil’. My feeling is that in suggesting God is unable to be unjust or lie, you are not appreciating His total sovereignty and total freedom. This is my personal understanding. May God guide us closer to what is true.
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The fair vs just argument is on display here. He is a just God. We only deem fairness from our earthly vantage point. And yes, sometimes we are right and it is obvious, but we won’t know in full until we see Him. I do believe that God cannot/will not act outside of his attributes. Therefore, God cannot lie. He says in his word that he does not. That’s my two cents.
Hello Bonnie. I already drew a distinction between ‘does not’ and ‘cannot’. They are not the same thing. Do you honestly believe it’s impossible for God to say to someone that something is going to happen and it not happen? You’re saying that even if He wanted to, God could not do this? I find that absurd. In any case, this discussion isn’t relevant to the post we’re commenting on so no further comments on the subject, please. Refer to this post for the relevant subject matter.
Thank you for this response! I think we don’t disagree here. In 120 words, there’s not a lot of room for nuance. But yes, I’m talking about a human perspective of fairness, and you’re talking about a divine one.
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Hey Josh! Great to hear from you, I’m glad you got notified about my post. I hear what you’re saying, there’s not much room for nuance in 120 words, so I apologise if I misinterpreted anything you intended to convey. I suppose I don’t distinguish between divine and human ‘fairness’ in the way you appear to, because I believe all human activity is under God’s control. So God’s justice is worked out incorporating events in both this life and the next. But perhaps this is what you believe, too. In any case, I’m glad to hear you feel we don’t disagree. Thanks for stopping by 🙂
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