This is a continuation of my response to a Christian on the topic of Adam and Eve, which I began in the previous post.
So. As I asked in that old post: is God being unjust, or is God being arbitrary, when he punishes Adam and Eve for eating the fruit?
Canterrain says it’s more like the first answer. He doesn’t say that God was unjust, but rather that God is being just to punish Adam and Eve for taking the wrong action even though, by definition, they lack the knowledge necessary to distinguish right from wrong. This seems to our human intuition to be unfair, but Canterrain says that God has “a greater sort of justice.” He writes:
From the beginning all men have sooner or later chosen their own path over God’s. Reveling in our knowledge instead of His. Man’s justice claims that all crime should be punished. Yet, as John tells us, God’s justice involves forgiveness. When is the last time a judge offered a criminal forgiveness? Yet that is God’s way.
It sounds as though we agree here — God’s justice can appear unjust to humans, because God is operating on a different standard. And it makes sense to me that if you believe God to be a perfect, benevolent being, whatever standard God uses has to be the best one. That is a logically consistent belief.
But you are going to have to stand by it even when it does not seem particularly fair and forgiving. Even when it’s harsher than what humans would have done. After all, liking a system of justice because it involves forgiveness is an imposition of human values on God’s. His actions certainly don’t always smack of forgiveness. Remember that God drowned everyone on the planet but Noah’s family when he didn’t like how humanity was going. Remember that after letting Lot’s family escape the destruction of Sodom, he turned Lot’s wife into a pillar of salt just for looking behind her while she ran away. God brings ten plagues down on the entirety of Egypt, even though the Pharaoh was the only one in charge of whether to free the Israelites, and even though God actually hardened Pharaoh’s heart against the Israelites’ demands beforehand. The tenth plague was killing all the first-born children of the Egyptians. I could go on, but I think that’s sufficient to make the point.
In the case at hand, God’s punishment is not only extremely severe on Adam and Eve, it’s severely applied to all of their descendants. This story is offered up as the reason why childbirth still hurts, and why we have to do backbreaking labor to harvest our food instead of just frolicking about in the garden of Eden. We’re clearly not back there now, so there must be at least some measure of Adam and Eve’s punishment that’s applied to all of humanity afterward too. Even if you think Adam and Eve were deserving of punishment themselves, nobody else after them took any actions or made any decisions to deserve this punishment.
I’m not conceding that Adam and Eve are obviously deserving of punishment in the first place. Canterrain argues that their punishment is fair by analogy to how parents punish young children, but I don’t really buy this. However, I don’t think this point really matters in the context of this discussion anymore, because Canterrain has already agreed with my main point — that God’s actions don’t match up with our ideas of what justice looks like.
Maybe God’s justice is the best kind of justice. It doesn’t sound very just to me, but if God is perfect, then by definition it has to be. I’m just saying that if you defend God’s justice as superior to human justice, it’s important to acknowledge that God isn’t always more charitable and forgiving. It won’t always sound like the kind of stuff we hold up as morally superior. Sometimes God’s actions will seem to our intuition to be truly monstrous.