Does God judge fairly? Or some other way?

A Lection Reflection on Psalm 98.


There are certain Psalms in the Bible that just don’t do much for me. Lots of talk about vanquishing the enemy, and God stepping in to make it happen. And then there are the psalms that spend some time praising God in fairly uplifting phrases, only then to reveal that the writer is praising God because God is going to smite some people. Sorta like the athlete that thanks God for the victory, somewhat implying that God doesn’t care for that other team.

This week’s Psalm starts out like that: “Sing to God a new song, for he hath done marvelous things: his right hand, and his holy arm, hath gotten him the victory.” Goes through a number of verses laying out what to include in this song, and so on. And why are we writing this new song? Because “he cometh to judge the earth: with righteousness shall he judge the world, and the people with equity.” Yep – cheering on God as God puts the smackdown on people that deserve it.

Then, after a few days of just letting this week’s passages rattle around in my head, I came back to this one. And I was struck again by the last verse, but in a different way.

We often associate the word “judge” with “punishment.” And of course, in our criminal system, that is an accurate association: a judge decides the punishment for someone found guilty of a crime. That modern-day connection obscures other facets of the word, including “rule” and “administer” and even “govern.”

But what really struck me was the very last word: equity.

Equity is getting a lot of play these days, especially as we Americans continue to come to terms with our racist past and all that flows from it. Advocacy groups are including the word and its derivative “equitable” in their calls to action and in their lobbying with legislators. People are having to wrestle with the differences among fairly, equally, and equitably.

However, if you look up “equitable” in almost any dictionary, you will find words like “fairness” and “equal share.” Only recently has the word taken on a deeper meaning, beyond just fair and equal.

I searched for a while to find a definition that reflected this larger meaning, and finally found one – not in the main article, but in the first comment under the article:

Equity accentuates fairness in process and result, recognizing differences and accommodating them to prevent the continuation of inequitable status quo.

But, like many things in life, a picture may be worth a thousand definitions:

Illustration of equality vs equity: Three boys watching baseball game over fence, all standing on equal-sized boxes. Tallest boy has no trouble seeing; middle-sized boy can barely see; and shortest boy cannot see at all. In the second picture, each boy has been given enough boxes to stand on that they can all see the same.

(Illustration from the Interaction Institute for Social Change. Drawn by artist Angus Maguire)

So, God is going to judge/rule/govern in a way that is not only based on final results, but that takes into account the whole of someone’s life, including where one started AND things outside of one’s control.

Let’s be honest: this is hard. Our sense of fairness can be offended by this. We may be okay if God does it at the end of ages – but if our parents, or our teachers, or our government, or our church does this, it can really challenge us.

Take that picture above, which is somewhat touching because it is of children. Change it around to have the boxes represent tax breaks, for example, and replace the children with corporations. Is that how our world works? Or do we give the tax breaks to the biggest corporations, and tell everyone else “sucks to be you”?

Or how about in your church, if there is a sudden layoff at the local factory. Do you give the same amount of monetary help to every family? Or, do you give more to the poorer families, and tell the well-off ones that there is no money for them? I would lay dollars to donuts that at some point you’re going to hear “But that’s not fair!” – perhaps followed by “Do you know how much I gave to this church last year?”

Or, consider this possible approach to education: “Equal opportunity, equitable support.” Can you imagine how that might work?

There are any number of lessons and discussions we could draw from this verse, and from the expanding concept of “equity” in both our society and in our everyday lives. For now, let’s wrap it up with this:

When God interacts with humans, God doesn’t do so fairly – God does it equitably. We need to consider the difference, and then apply it in our own dealings with humans as well.

And, like the Psalm says, praise God that this is how God will judge us all.

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