How does the Bible define ‘equality’? Does it espouse an equality of outcomes or only one of opportunity?
Merriam Webster defines equality as ‘the quality or state of being equal’. The Bible uses the word ‘equality’ in many contexts: gender, sin, justification, etc. but from your question, I get the impression that you are more concerned about the socio-economic situations that entail opportunities and outcomes.
While the secular world is primarily concerned about these socio-economic situations and looks at them purely through a secular, atheistic lens, those of us who are Christians know that this issue of equality pervades all of human life.
When we look at Scripture, we understand that any discussion on ‘equality’ must be seen in the light of the following:
With a sovereign God, nothing is an ‘accident’
From birth to death, everything about us is tinged with the question of equality―or rather, inequality―when we realise that nothing is determined by us. In fact, we do not have any control. From the sex that we are born with, the cultures and nations we are born into, to the parents and family we are part of and even down to the genetic makeup of our DNA―none of this was or is ever in our control. God alone is the one who is sovereign over all things.
God is sovereign over the entire universe (Psalm 103:19; Romans 8:28; Ephesians 1:11), over nature (Psalm 135:6-7; Matthew 5:45; 6:25-30), over angels and Satan (Psalm 103:20-21; Job 1:12), reign over nations (Psalm 47:7-9; Daniel 2:20-21; 4:34-35), over human beings (1 Samuel 2:6-7; Galatians 1:15-16), over “accidents” (Psalm 16:33; John 1:7; Matthew 10:29), over free acts of men (Exodus 3:21; 12:25-36; Ezekiel 7:27), and even over sinful acts of men and Satan (2 Samuel 24:1; 1 Chronicles 21:1; Genesis 45:5; 50:20).
God’s sovereignty is so all-encompassing that many things that happen in this life―even when not known to us―are all under His control. We may not understand or even know how God is working in our lives but we can be assured that, with a sovereign God, nothing is an ‘accident’.
John Piper describes God’s providence as ‘His purposeful sovereignty by which He will be completely successful in the achievement of His ultimate goal for the universe’. If God is completely sovereign, and in His providence, He brings about all things for His ultimate goal, is there any injustice for our so-called ‘inequalities’? The goal of God for His children in Christ is for Himself (1 Corinthians 8:6, Hebrews 2:10) and to bring about the praise of the glory of His grace (Ephesians 1:4-6).
God’s purpose in His providence is to bring glory to Himself (Romans 11:36). Everything we have and possess is from God and is entrusted to us to bring Him glory!
Regardless of our situation, we have already seen that God is at work in sovereignly placing us on this earth in a particular situation such that He providentially brings about His own glory.
So if God is the sovereign One and everything is for His glory, it sounds like we don’t have anything to do with anything. But that is not the case. While God is supremely sovereign over all things (things seen and unseen), He calls us to be faithful to what He revealed to us.
Whether we can understand how God is working in our lives, our duty is plain. “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deuteronomy 29:29). He teaches us His law (Psalm 25:9) so that we may keep it and not sin (1 John 2:1). We are responsible for our obedience to God’s word (Acts 17:30; 1 John 3:23)—for which He will judge us (Matthew 25:31-46).
So what’s the bottom line? ‘Equality of outcome’ implies that, no matter what the starting condition, the system or process should yield an equal outcome. We know this is not true as God gives each one of us different starting conditions.
Even equality of opportunity is not guaranteed in this sin-sick world
For example, I cannot play for the NBA even if I desired it with all my heart. Even if they gave me a chance to try out, I couldn’t get through. This is normal and just—i.e. there is no implicit bias from those who are running the system because the One who made us different is not man but God. And we know God is good, even when He doesn’t give me the gift of dunking.
‘Equality of opportunity’, therefore, seems like the biblical approach since it is fair. In our example, the selection criteria to play for the NBA is clearly laid out and does not discriminate on other non-competing factors such as race, nationality, etc. As Christians, we should never discriminate based on irrelevant factors (2 Corinthians 5:16).
In closing, I would like to encourage you to not think in terms of equality—in the first place—but to rather think through in terms of God’s sovereign providence of all things for the glory of Himself. Equality of outcome—or even opportunity—is not guaranteed in this sin-sick world. But we are called to live according to His word because He will one day judge all mankind perfectly. When we look at our lives, it’s easy to be disillusioned but God commands us to enjoy the little things in life and not to be upset when there is ‘inequality’ in career, life, money, etc. because, in the end, it is all ‘vanity’ (Ecclesiastes 5:18-20, 9:11-15).
“The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgement, with every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14).
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