Christianity and Equality 5: Judge of All, Father to Some
God is king in a way mere mortal monarchs can only dream. Kings and queens have their own subjects, but not anyone else’s. God is different: His dominion knows no bounds. Psalm 47 speaks of God as “our King”—that is, as the king of his own people—but also as “the King of all the earth”—that is, as the king of everything that is. Being the king of some does not preclude God from being the king of all.
God is not the universe’s democratically elected leader, selected according to rules acceptable to rational contractors. God is everyone’s king. He is king over his people, but he is also king over those who are not his people; he is king over his friends, but he is king over his enemies, too. God rules what he owns, and he owns what he has made—and he has made everything that has been made. “The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein” (Psalm 24:1). Why? “For he has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers” (Psalm 24:2). He made it. He owns it. He is king.
God isn’t just a king. He’s a good king. Not every king is good. After all, Ahab was a king, too—but a wicked one. So what makes God a good king?
Judge to All, Father to Some
A good king is a just king. And God is a just king! As we have seen, God is king over two different groups: king over all the earth and king over his people. This difference raises an important question: Does justice require God to be the same kind of king to these two different groups?
To answer this question, we must explore two additional relationships, being a judge and being a father. (To do that, we can rely on the flowchart described in Christianity and Equality 3: The Flowchart.)
God the king is certainly a judge. Indeed, Abraham calls him “the Judge of all the earth” (Genesis 18:25; cf. Isaiah 33:22). A just king judges well. Indeed, 2 Samuel 8:15 praises David’s reign over all Israel using judicial language: “And David administered justice and equity to all his people.” No wonder: God executes justice impartially (Deuteronomy 10:17–18), and human judges should be like him. They should not be “partial to the poor or defer to the great” (Leviticus 19:15; cf. Exodus 23:3,6). So justice in judgment—for a judge and for a king—is impartial and looks to desert.
If the goodness of God’s kingship requires justice in this way—and it does—then God is a good king when he is impartial in judgment and looks to desert.
Though God is not less than the judge of all the earth, he’s more than that, too. Yes, God is the great judge of all the earth, but God the king is also a father to his people: “But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand” (Isaiah 64:8). God exhibits preferential love to his people, and they can appeal to this special relationship in their time of need.
Notice the difference in scope: God is the judge of all, but he is our father. That may sound like a surprising claim, but it’s actually a relatively straightforward one. God is not a father to everyone. He is never designated the father of Satan, to offer an obvious example.
God has a relationship with all people, but he does not have every kind of relationship with every kind of person. Indeed, God’s use of the language of fatherhood underscores, in addition to intimacy and tenderness, the exclusivity of his connection to his children. They are his chosen people, and he is their loving God:
For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt (Deuteronomy 7:6–8).
God rescues his people because he has chosen them and loves them. When God acts as a king on behalf of his children, we should expect him to be their champion, against those who would oppress them, just as a father protects his children from those who would do them harm. The mighty hand that saves God’s people condemns their pursuers. God is a good king when he conquers his children’s enemies.
Notice the difference between God as a king over all the earth and God as a king for his people. In the one instance, he rules everyone impartially; he judges everyone fairly. In the second case, God lovingly protects those who are his; he fights for his children.
Here I cannot help but remember the Westminster Shorter Catechism: “Christ executeth the office of a king, in subduing us to himself, in ruling and defending us, and in restraining and conquering all his and our enemies” (WSC 26). Christ the king makes us his people (“in subduing us to himself”); he exercises authority over us (“in ruling”), and he protects us (in “defending us, and in restraining and conquering all his and our enemies”). Though the exercise of Christ’s kingly office can be said to be judicial in some respect, because he does conquer his enemies (which serves as a kind of punishment), the focus on Christ’s kingship is intimate and familial. More than impartial judgment, we see special love. But we do not see special love for all people. We see special love for his people, his treasured possession.
God’s special love for some rather than for all fits awkwardly with the spirit of the age. But the biblical emphasis on exclusive love—regularly elided in Christian conversation about God’s relationship to the world—cannot be avoided, because it’s all over the Bible.
Christians may underplay the exclusivity of divine love for fear of running athwart the following contemporary consensus: God should love everyone, or he should love no one at all. Indeed, some who call themselves Christians have abandoned the idea of exclusive love altogether, embracing wholeheartedly the maxim that God must love all if he is to love some. But that’s an abandonment of the Christian view of the relationship of God to his people, not a modification of it. The Bible speaks very differently: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated” being an obvious example from the Old Testament that Paul uses in the New.
Christians should ask themselves why their God does not seem to accept the requirements of fairness that many people embrace today. I have my thoughts. Please share yours, below.
In future posts in this series, we’ll explore how these different ideas about God’s relationship to the world impact our thoughts about providence and free will, sin and salvation, and heaven and hell.
Until then, I welcome your comments. Thanks for reading.