Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Bill Gates Analogy

Imagine that you read an article about Bill Gates. Gates, a multibillionaire of his own making, has decided to give underprivileged children a chance for an education. So he decides that he will create a scholarship fund for black children whose parents live below the poverty line.

Now imagine that someone raises a stink about it. They are a white kid, or a Latino kid, whose parents are poor. “It isn’t fair,” they say. “I’m just as deserving as the people who are getting scholarships. Bill Gates owes it to me just as much as to them. It isn’t fair that I should be destined to remain poor and they should be given a college education just because he arbitrarily chose to reward black kids.”

What would you say to this?

My guess is that you would be offended by the white kid’s complaints. You would make some form of the following arguments against the complainer, in defense of Gates:
1. It’s his money so he can give to whom he wants.
2. The white kid has done nothing to earn Gates’ money, or obligate him to give it. If he chooses not to give it to the white kid, he has not done anything wrong.
3. The black kid didn’t do anything to earn it, but was given it based upon Gates’ free choice.
4. Gates would be completely right to give no one anything, or to give random people some money, or to give everyone a small amount, or to make any arbitrary decision he wants. It is his money, after all.

And you would be right. Neither the white kid nor the black kid did anything to earn Gates’ gift, and Gates is the only one who “deserving” of his money. To be ‘fair’ would be for Gates to keep it all to himself, since he earned it! Anything he gives is inherently unfair, but in a good way: he is giving to someone who did not earn it. The fact that he does not give money to everyone who did not earn it does not mean that it is unfair to give it to someone who did not earn it. And indeed, Gates could choose to give only based upon the color of skin, or based upon random number generation, or based upon what city someone lives in, or who their favorite football team is, or what color their hair is, or where they went to high school. None of that makes the gift unfair.

I think basically everyone would agree with that.

But now, let’s change that story very slightly. Let’s make the gift eternal life, and the giver God.

If I say the same thing to you that I did before, but with this change, think of how differently you tend to view it: “God is the only one who is Eternal by nature, and eternal life is His to keep or give as He sees fit. He chose to give eternal life to some undeserving humans, and chose a simple way to distinguish who would get it and who would not: those who believe in Him and love Him will get it, and those who don’t, won’t.” Critics will say, “That isn’t fair—I’m just as good a person as they are. Why should I be excluded while they get eternal life based upon arbitrary things like what I believe?”

And if you are intellectually honest, you will use the same line of argument you did against the white kid earlier:
1. Eternal life is God’s to give, so He can give to whom He wants.
2. The unbeliever has done (and can do) nothing to earn salvation, or obligate God to give it to him. So if God chooses not to give it, He has done no wrong.
3. The believer has done nothing to earn it, but was given based upon God’s choice.
4. God would be completely right to give no one eternal life, or give random people eternal life, or give everyone a slightly longer life, or make any arbitrary decision He wants. It is His to give, after all.

This is the heart of understanding God’s sovereignty: to admit that He owes us nothing. He doesn’t owe us salvation if we do X, Y, and Z. There is nothing we can do to earn it, and thus He does nothing wrong if He chooses not to save some people.

It is His to offer, and only His. Our willpower, desires, etc. have nothing to do with it. So He can choose to give (or not give) eternal life as He sees fit. He “owes” us nothing, nor have we earned the right to receive anything.

But the Gospel, the Good News, is that He decided to give us eternal life anyway. And He decided to do it with a profound and painful love, choosing to give His own son’s life in order to wash away any barriers between us.

So God only put one tiny condition on this salvation: if He is going to let His son’s death count as payment for your eternal life, then you actually have to believe that He and His son actually exist.

That’s it. Just truly believe that Jesus lived and sacrificially died and rose again: and, as a natural conclusion to belief, you will find that you are loyal to Him as a result of His amazing sacrifice.

But remember, He doesn’t have to do even that. He could make the decision completely arbitrary, for no sound logic whatsoever: and He would still be “good” in having done so. Because it was His gift to give or keep; we cannot earn it and He does not owe it to a single person in all of human history. So no matter how arbitrary His decision making it would have been completely defensible.

As it is, He offered it widely and freely. Thank God for that Good News.

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