Is there any proof that people in the world (whether professing Christians or not) are actually angry at God? And is this actually seen within the African-American community, besides other communities?
I’m going to answer both of these questions with a ‘Yes’, and I want to appeal to a wonderful book that I had the pleasure of reading several months ago entitled The Quest for Cosmic Justice by Thomas Sowell. Now, if you are not familiar with Sowell, he is a brilliant African-American economist that has spent much of his life analyzing the cross-sections of historical facts, peoples and cultures, and policy implications. I absolutely love his work in general, but I think his book really demonstrates the underlying anger that I mentioned before. Consequently, the quotations that you see will be coming from this book.
Social and Cosmic Justice
Sowell begins by bringing up the topic that is naturally offensive to most people in the realm of social justice, which is “the great inequalities of income and wealth which we see all around us.” Now, historically, most economists were not (and are not) professing Christians. So a lot of things that we would see clearly as the providence of God as Christians, they have different ways of explaining it (i.e. the invisible hand, the market mechanism, etc.). Nevertheless, Sowell does an amazing job capturing the beliefs of past economists on the topic of justice:
“The late Nobel Prize-winning economist and free-market champion Friedrich A. Hayek, for example, declared, “the manner in which the benefits and burdens are apportioned by the market mechanism would in many instances have to be regarded as very unjust if it were the result of a deliberate allocation to particular people.” The only reason he did not regard it as unjust was because “the particulars of a spontaneous order cannot be just or unjust.” The absence of personal intention in a spontaneous order – a cosmos, as Hayek defined it – means an absence of either justice or injustice. “Nature can be neither just nor unjust,” he said. “Only if we mean to blame a personal creator does it make sense to describe it as unjust that somebody has been born with a physical defect, or been stricken with a disease, or has suffered the loss of a loved one.”
Others who share a similarly secular view are often driven to personify “society” in order to re-introduce concepts of moral responsibility and justice into the cosmos, seeking to rectify the tragic misfortunes of individuals and groups through collective action in the name of “social justice.” Yet this collective action is not limited to correcting the consequences of social decisions or other collective social action, but extends to mitigating as well the misfortunes of the physically and mentally disabled, for example. In other words, it seeks to mitigate and make more just the undeserved misfortunes arising from the cosmos, as well as from society. It seeks to produce cosmic justice, going beyond strictly social justice, which becomes just one aspect of cosmic justice.”
From this, we see that most economists do not view inequalities as actual injustices because transactions are being made in an impersonal marketplace that is not going to discriminate (or maintain discrimination) when a profit wants to be made. It would be irrational (another economic term) to do so. But someone must be responsible for the gross inequalities that we see with income and wealth, so who is to blame? And here we see Sowell’s driving thesis, that is, the collective action of groups under the banner of “social justice” is actually trying to rectify the “undeserved misfortunes arising from the cosmos, as well as from society.”
What does that mean?
People are trying to fix the “problems” and “mistakes” that they see that have arisen from society and happenstance in the world. But we know as Christians that nothing just happens. God has intentionally and directly acted or permitted certain actions to take place for His own glory. But in the eyes of most people, these things should not be, and they want to fix it. Whether you want to say history messed up or the cosmos was acting quirky, the real belief is that God messed up, and we need to step in and make things right because these problems are too morally reprehensible to continue on like this. Angry at God, anyone?
But shouldn’t we love our neighbors and treat them all fairly?
Sowell continues later on:
“Back in the 1960s, President Lyndon Johnson made one of the classic statements of the vision of cosmic justice: “You do not take a man who, for years, has been hobbled by chains, liberate him, and bring him to the starting line of a race, saying, “You are free to compete with all others,” and still justly believe you have been completely fair.” Professor John Rawls’ celebrated treatise, A Theory of Justice, puts the case more generally. According to Rawls, “undeserved inequalities call for redress,” in order to produce “genuine equality of opportunity.” This is “fair (as opposed to formal) equality of opportunity.” In other words, having everyone play by the same rules or be judged by the same standards is merely “formal” equality, in Professor Rawls’ view, while truly “fair” equality of opportunity means providing everyone with equal prospects of success from equal individual efforts.
Note how the word “fair” has an entirely different meaning in this context. Cosmic justice is not about the rules of the game. It is about putting particular segments of society in the position that they would have been in but for some undeserved misfortune. This conception of fairness requires that third parties must wield the power to control outcomes, over-riding rules, standards, or the preferences of other people. …In short, all are not to be judged by the same rules or standards within the given process; pre-existing inequalities are to be counter-balanced.
…Since “undeserved inequalities” extend beyond prejudicial decisions made by others to encompass biological differences among individuals and groups – the fact that women are usually not as large or as physically strong as men, for example – and profound differences in the geographical settings in which whole races and nations have evolved culturally, not to mention individual and group differences in child-rearing practices and moral values, cosmic justice requires – or assumes – vastly more knowledge than is necessary for traditional justice.”
To go back to that question of love and fairness above, yes, we should love our neighbors as ourselves. The Scriptures command that we do this in both the Old and New Testaments. However, when we make direct attempts to step in and alter the circumstances of people’s lives because we believe it is not “fair” to them or too much of an “undeserved misfortune”, we have moved beyond “loving our neighbors” and stepped into the realm of determining what is best for their lives. We’ve overstepped our boundaries and started to play God because we have a problem with what He has already done.
Just a bit of a “savior” complex
Now, I’m sure someone may see that charge as being unfair in itself, but think about the presuppositions that are going into this view. As Sowell mentions, many believe that there are other factors that need to be taken into view and corrected in some people’s lives so that they really have a “chance” at life. Essentially, they think that they know more (or know better) about that person and feel justified in stepping in to fundamentally change that person’s life circumstances because they believe it will be in their best interest to do so. They are going to help and save these people and give them what they believe they should have already because they deserve it.
And you know, I don’t know a person who has not wrestled with a bit of the “savior” complex, whether they know God or not. We all encounter a few people in life that we feel have been handed the “short end of the stick”, and we don’t think it is all that fair. As Christians, we may say to ourselves that this person has been so faithful and given up so much to follow after the Lord; I don’t know why God would allow this in their lives. And you may see this in the world with statements like “everyone deserves a (free) quality college education” or “we should end wealth and income inequality.” And it also manifests itself in those quota systems that some colleges and university professors use for grading so that a certain percentage of the class always makes a certain grade, in affirmative action laws, and in so many other places.
The problem is that no one of us is the Savior, and we only know things partially and very imperfectly. From an economic background, all of the decisions and policies that people want to implement need to be weighed against the long term effects of that decision. Essentially, a cost-benefit analysis needs to occur before you just do things because oftentimes, the benefits do not outweigh the costs of the decision, and everything that you decide to do or not do will have tradeoffs. But unfortunately, most people do not fully consider the implications of the decisions or actions they want to see take place. I think Sowell says it beautifully:
“They are treated unequally. From a cosmic perspective, this is an injustice, in the sense that, if we were creating the universe from scratch, this is not something that most of us would choose to include in it.
However, unlike God at the dawn of Creation, we cannot simply say, “Let there be equality!” or “Let there be justice!” We must begin with the universe that we were born into and weigh the costs of making any specific change in it to achieve a specific end. We cannot simply “do something” whenever we are morally indignant, while disdaining to consider the costs entailed…
But, again, the question is not what we would do if we were God on the first day of Creation or how we would judge souls if we were God on Judgment Day. The question is: What lies within our knowledge and control, given that we are only human, with all the severe limitations which that implies?
One of the many differences between human beings and God on Judgment Day is that God does not have to worry about what is going to happen the day after Judgment Day. Our decisions do not take place at the end of time, but rather in the midst of the on-going stream of time, so that what we do today affects how others will respond tomorrow and thereafter.”
So what are you trying to say?
Well, first, I’m trying to say that a lot of people are truly and genuinely angry at God (either directly and purposefully or indirectly and unintentionally), and this anger is seen in how they are responding to various circumstances in their own lives and in the rest of the world. As I mentioned in my last post, I see this a lot within the African-American community on a variety of issues from poverty and single mothers to Black populations in prison to Black representation in various academic fields.
The second thing I am trying to say is that we are not “saviors” in the sense that we can permanently alter someone’s life circumstances for their good and in the sense that we absolutely know what is best for people. We are extremely limited in the knowledge and power that we actually have. And though few people would want to admit it, simply changing people’s circumstances for the better will not change the people themselves for the better, and nor will those changes ultimately mean that everyone is better off. For a wonderful example, I hope you take the time to read this eye-opening excerpt by Sowell on minorities and education, and weigh it against most of the things that you have heard and been taught through the years about what we need to do to “fix” the education system. And I also encourage you to check out this study on poverty in the United States today, also very eye-opening.
The last thing I want to say is just a reiteration of what I said before: our knowledge and information are extremely limited. Consequently, I think it is very important for people to actually begin to do the research and investigate some of the larger issues of the day. Read up on poverty and the history of the welfare state. Read up on education history and policy in the nation. Read up on crime statistics, the justice system, and the prison system. Go beyond the standard news article and read reports, examine statistics, and keep on asking questions. If you get all your news from liberal sources, check out conservative sources or even international news sources reporting on our issues, and vice versa. There is always more to know.
Finally, I know that reading this blog can leave you with feelings of pessimism or even apathy. A lingering question is likely to be: So what should we do, or should we just do nothing? My intention is to address that in my next blog. Hope you check it out!