Could Life be Inherently Just? The Significance of the Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man

This is one of the most important pieces I’ve written that gets to the very heart of my soul. It was also the last post I ever did on Mormon Matters; someone promptly tried to turn it into a discussion about past racist views of an apostle… and I knew my time on Mormon Matters was coming to an end.

Could Life be Inherently Just? It seems like a silly question. We all know life isn’t fair. Its cliché, isn’t it?

There is a long time “proof” that God does not exist that goes like this: “If there is a God, how could there be such injustice and evil in the world?” What they really mean is that they can’t rationally fathom the possibility that all the evil and injustice in the world could somehow be part of a greater justice or morality. Without this further explanation, the “proof” is meaningless.

There is also a “proof” that God does exist that goes like this: “Why do we all — even those of us that claim we believe otherwise — treat morality as if it’s an absolute (that is to say, not merely a construct of convenience of situation) if morality really just rose from an inherently unjust universe?” What the asker really means is that they can’t fathom the possibility that morality really is merely a construct. (I have never met, and believe I never will, a person that isn’t outraged over immoral conduct towards his or her self rather than just saying, ‘oh, morality is just a construct anyhow, so to each their own.’”)

It seems morality is the main — perhaps only — point of contention over God, and it’s a sharp point that pierces both ways.

Now consider the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man:

  20 And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores,
  21 And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.
  22 And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried;
  23 And in @#!*% he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
  24 And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.
  25 But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.

It’s impossible to draw any definitive conclusions about the details of the afterlife or God’s judgment process from this parable, though Christians desperately try. And we can argue off topic all we want about whether or not the parable sufficiently characterizes our “good” and “bad” examples here for a modern audience’s current sensibilities. But that’s all unnecessary because the intended meaning of the parable is clear. It is no more or less than an affirmation that justice and morality are part of the hardwired DNA of life — if you include post-mortal existence in the definition of the word “life”.

Imagine that for a moment. What if life (or existence) is in fact perfectly just and moral? Jesus is teaching that it is.

This parable haunts me with its impeccable logic: For morality to not be just a construct there must be a God (and by “God” I mean any concept of an absolute higher power, if only absolute morality itself) and life must be inherently moral.

Yet it’s patently obvious mortal life isn’t moral or just, so any worldview where reality is just and moral must include an afterlife in which all injustice becomes part of a greater arc of justice.

Thus morality, God, and afterlife are not three separate things distinct from each other. You can’t have one without the others.

But what really haunts me is that the converse must then be true: if there is no afterlife then life is not inherently just or moral, and we do indeed have proof there is no God. (Likewise, if there is no God or objective morality then there can be no greater arc of justice that our lives are a part of.) But it also logically follows that what we call “morality” is but a construct than can be freely made and remade.

2 thoughts on “Could Life be Inherently Just? The Significance of the Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man

  1. This is a tough parable to parse, although your general conclusion seems sound. I think that the scriptures talking about us accounting for every deed, word, and even thought imply the same thing and also imply some of the way that justice will be served. The reward of “Abraham’s bosom” or for our current parlance “Celestial Glory” cannot be obtained with our inclinations to act, say, or think unrighteously. H@#$ can be really bad if we are trying to overcome a lifetime of bad habits, especially if we do not try to approach the Savior.

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