Why Does God Seem Partial?

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When God seems to favor some of us more than others, maybe there’s a reason for that.

How would you feel if your parents were partial towards your sibling, or your teacher towards your classmate? It is natural to expect from one’s superior or guardian a similar treatment as one’s equals receive. Any discrepancy in that leads to disappointment. Perception of partiality is painful and can demotivate people and slacken their spirits. How does the idea of partiality apply to God?

Isn’t God Equal to All?

Yes, because He is the eternal father of all beings and doesn’t have the faults of an ordinary father. The Supreme Lord Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita (9.17–18) that He is the ultimate source, shelter, sustainer, and well-wisher of everyone in the universe . Every living entity is His part, or amsha: mamaivamsho jiva-loke (Gita 15.7). Thus He loves everyone as His own child and hates no one. However, He also says that He is especially inclined towards His devotees:

samo ’ham sarva-bhuteshu
na me dveshyo ’sti na priyah
ye bhajanti tu mam bhaktya
mayi te teshu chapy aham

“I envy no one, nor am I partial to anyone. I am equal to all. But whoever renders service unto Me in devotion is a friend, is in Me, and I am also a friend to him.” (Gita 9.29)

But He Shows Favoritism!

Lord Krishna also says in the Gita that He descends into this world in various incarnations to revive dharma, protect the devotees, and annihilate the miscreants. If God is equal to all, why should He protect His devotees and punish the demons?

To favor the demigods, the Lord incarnated as Varahadeva and killed a great demon named Hiranyaksha. He later took the form of Nrisimhadeva and killed the demon Hiranyakashipu. To reinstate Indra as the king of heaven, the Lord appeared as a dwarf brahmana named Vamana and took back Indra’s kingdom from Bali Maharaja by cheating. When the demigods and demons churned the milk ocean (samudra-manthana), the so-called nectar of immortality appeared. At that time the Lord came in the form of a beautiful woman, Mohini-murti, cheated the demons, gave all the nectar to the demigods, and beheaded the demon Rahu, who in disguise tried to drink the nectar. Thus the Lord often cheats, subdues, or kills the demons and shows favoritism towards the demigods. He is therefore also known as Surapriya, one who is dear to the demigods, or one for whom the demigods are dear.

Why This Disparity?

Actually, this characteristic of the Lord is not a disparity. This difference in treatment is not exactly God’s partiality, but His reciprocal nature. Some people expect God to fulfill their material desires, and some desire to become one with Him. But some selflessly serve Him with no expectation of return. Lord Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita (4.11) that He reciprocates with people according to the mood in which they approach Him (ye yatha mam prapadyante tams tathaiva bhajamy aham). That is why different people achieve different results although their endeavors seem similar.

Human eyes see only the external endeavor, but with His divine eyes God sees the attitude behind the endeavor and reciprocates accordingly. This cannot be called partiality on God’s part.

One who is influenced by the three material modes (gunas), namely goodness, passion, and ignorance (sattva, rajas, and tamas), exhibits partiality on the material plane. God is transcendental to these modes (nirguna) and is beyond the dualities of happiness and distress. He is self-sufficient (atmarama), and even though He sides with the demigods, unlike their worshipers He’s not dependent on them for His happiness. And He is not afraid of the demons, nor does He suffer distress as a result of their actions. So He has nothing to achieve by favoring the demigods or destroying the demons. Thus, unlike ordinary selfish, materialistic people, He has no need to be partial.

In regard to the different outcomes for the demigods and the demons in the samudra-manthana, Srila Shukadeva Goswami says,

evam surasura-ganah sama-desha-kala-
hetv-artha-karma-matayo ’pi phale vikalpah
tatramritam sura-ganah phalam añjasapu
yat-pada-pankaja-rajah-shrayanan na daityah

“The place, the time, the cause, the purpose, the activity and the ambition were all the same for both the demigods and the demons, but the demigods achieved one result and the demons another. Because the demigods are always under the shelter of the dust of the Lord’s lotus feet, they could very easily drink the nectar and get its result. The demons, however, not having sought shelter at the lotus feet of the Lord, were unable to achieve the result they desired.” (Bhagavatam 8.9.28)

One who is satisfying the Lord gets His special mercy and attention while others don’t. Srila Prabhupada writes, “Any activity performed for the Supreme Lord is permanent. As a result of such activities, the performer is immediately recognized. . . . The only distinction between materialistic activity and spiritual activity is that material activity is performed only to satisfy one’s own senses whereas spiritual activity is meant to satisfy the transcendental senses of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.” (Bhagavatam 8.9.29, Purport)

Isn’t It Expected?

Isn’t it natural for anyone to reciprocate with others according to the way they’re approached? If people treat us respectfully, we give them respect, and if they mistreat us, we may stay away from them or even speak or act against them.

For instance, a teacher in the classroom gives the same lecture to all the students without discrimination. But if some students are more eager to learn and approach the teacher with relevant inquiries on the subject, the teacher becomes especially happy with them and explains more to them. On the other hand, the teacher scolds or even punishes a mischievous student. This is not the teacher’s partiality, but a natural response to the students’ behavior.

Similarly, although the Lord is equal to everyone, He gives more attention to His surrendered devotees. This favoritism is not a fault for Him, but an ornament. Lord Krishna is specially inclined to His devotees because they approach Him with devotion, sincerity, and a service attitude. They seek His shelter and depend on Him. In this regard, Prahlada Maharaja, an exalted devotee of Lord Nrisimhadeva, prayed,

naisha paravara-matir bhavato nanu syaj
jantor yathatma-suhrido jagatas tathapi
samsevaya surataror iva te prasadah
sevanurupam udayo na paravaratvam

“Unlike an ordinary living entity, my Lord, You do not discriminate between friends and enemies, the favorable and the unfavorable, because for You there is no conception of higher and lower. Nonetheless, You offer Your benedictions according to the level of one’s service, exactly as a desire tree delivers fruits according to one’s desires and makes no distinction between the lower and the higher.” (Bhagavatam 7.9.27)

Natural Examples

A bee was relishing nectar inside a lotus. When the sun set, the flower’s petals closed and trapped the bee, killing it. Is the sun responsible for the bee’s death? Certainly not. The sun was only following its routine of rising and setting while giving heat and light to all beings. Srila Vishvanatha Chakravarti writes, “The sun shows attachment to the sun stone by imparting its own qualities. It shows indifference to blind people and helps the chakravaka birds (who become joyful when the sun rises and destroys darkness). The sun is harmful to the darkness used by thieves and owls. But the sun is not partial to anyone. It manifests the same light to all. The cause of difference is the good or bad qualities of the specific object. It is the same with the Lord. Different people relate with the Lord in different ways according to their qualities.” (Bhagavatam 1.8.29, Commentary)

A cup of milk can be perceived by different people in different ways. One who just sees the milk understands it as some white substance. One who just hears about the milk will only know some information about its characteristics, nutrient values, and so on. One who just touches the milk might feel that it’s a hot or cold liquid. And one who just smells the milk might just relish its aroma. But one who drinks the milk gets the real advantage of the milk by satisfying his hunger and getting nourished. The substance – milk – is same in all the five cases. But one derives maximum advantage of milk by drinking it rather than just seeing, touching, smelling, or hearing about it. Here milk is not partial, but different people experienced it according to their approach. If this is true of milk, it is even more so when we speak of God.

In this regard Srila Prabhupada writes, “[T]hose who are trying to find the Supreme Godhead by mental speculation may approach the bodily effulgence, or the impersonal Brahman, and those who are trying to find the Supreme Godhead by yoga practice may find Him as the localized Supersoul, but those who are directly trying to approach the Supreme Truth by practice of bhakti-yoga can see Him face to face as the Supreme Person.” (Bhagavatam 3.32.33, Purport)

Giving another example of impartiality, Srila Prabhupada writes:

By the order of a judge, one person is released from jail, and another is imprisoned, but the judge is not responsible, for the distress and happiness of these different people is due to their own activities. Although the government is ultimately the supreme authority, the justice is administered by the departments of the government, and the government is not responsible for the individual judgments. Therefore the government is equal to all the citizens. Similarly, the Supreme Lord is neutral to everyone, but for the maintenance of law and order His supreme government has various departments, which control the activities of the living entities. (Bhagavatam 6.17.23, Purport)

Considering these examples, therefore, one cannot attribute partiality to the Supreme Lord, who loves everyone.

Does God Hate Bad People?

No. God hates no one. God disapproves the nefarious activities of demoniac people, but He never disowns them. He tries to rectify their mentality, and He is willing to forgive their misdeeds, but He never interferes with their little independence.

Srila Prabhupada writes,

Why does the Supreme Personality of Godhead permit sinful activities? The Supreme Lord does not want any living being to act sinfully, and He begs him through his good conscience to refrain from sin. But when someone insists upon acting sinfully, the Supreme Lord gives him the sanction to act at his own risk (mattah smritir jñanam apohanam ca). No one can do anything without the sanction of the Lord, but He is so kind that when the conditioned soul persists in doing something, the Lord permits the individual soul to act at his own risk. (Bhagavatam 5.18.3, Purport)

Lord Krishna supported the Pandavas in the Battle of Kurukshetra against the evil Duryodhana and company. But at the end of the battle, when Duryodhana lay on the ground with his thighs broken, Krishna was not happy to see him so. Srila Prabhupada writes,

The fall of Duryodhana, the leading son of Dhritarashtra, was not pleasing to the Lord, although He was on the side of Arjuna and it was He who advised Bhima how to break the thighs of Duryodhana while the fight was going on. The Lord is constrained to award punishment upon the wrongdoer, but He is not happy to award such punishments because the living entities are originally His parts and parcels. He is harder than the thunderbolt for the wrongdoer and softer than the rose for the faithful. The wrongdoer is misled by bad associates and by ill advice, which is against the established principles of the Lord’s order, and thus he becomes subject to punishment. The surest path to happiness is to live by the principles laid down by the Lord and not disobey His established laws, which are enacted in the Vedas and the Puranas for the forgetful living entities. (Bhagavatam 3.3.13, Purport)

Lord Krishna tried several times to give good advice to Duryodhana and rectify his vile mentality, but Duryodhana was bereft of all fortune due to the ill advice of Karna, Duhshasana, and Shakuni. Similarly, when Ravana kidnapped Sitadevi, Lord Ramachandra gave him several opportunities to return Sita and save his life, but Ravana was so stubborn that ultimately Rama had to kill him. Shishupala was envious of Krishna and always blasphemed Him since childhood. Krishna tolerated him many times, but finally beheaded him with His Sudarshana chakra when he exceeded his limit.

God wants to rectify the mentality of miscreants, but when they become too adamant, He punishes or kills them, not out of revenge, but to liberate them from their demoniac mentality.

A New Dimension of Equality

When a young boy is well behaved, his mother appreciates or hugs him. But when he does some mischief, his mother chastises him. Both acts are expressions of her love, although one appears pleasant and the other harsh. The mother’s dealing with the child is tuned to the child’s mood and needs, but her underlying emotion is love. The same holds true for God.

When God is strict with some people and punishes them, that is only out of His compassion upon them. When He kills a demon, He liberates him from demoniac life. Thus the Lord is the well-wisher of everyone, and He shows compassion to different people in different ways according to their condition. Though apparently Krishna punishes or kills the demons, He looks for reasons to show them His causeless mercy and liberates them. Putana is one such example.

aho baki yam stana-kala-kutam
jighamsayapayayad apy asadhvi
lebhe gatim dhatry-uchitam tato ’nyam
kam va dayalum sharanam vrajema

“Alas, how shall I take shelter of one more merciful than Him [Lord Krishna], who granted the position of mother to a she-demon [Putana] although she was unfaithful and had prepared deadly poison to be sucked from her breast?” (Bhagavatam 3.2.23)

Even if one thinks of Krishna with anger or envy, by such constant thinking one gets liberated by His mercy. How much more fortunate, then, is one who lovingly remembers and serves Him? When the mind is somehow fully absorbed in Krishna, the material part is very soon vanquished and the spiritual part – attraction to Krishna – becomes manifest. Therefore the Bhagavatam says that one should always focus one’s mind on Krishna somehow or other (tasmat kenapy upayena manah krishne niveshayet). The Lord’s causeless mercy in liberating both the devotees and the demons clearly distinguishes Him from ordinary living entities.

Attitude Is Greater Than Magnitude

Even in regard to devotees, the Lord does not favor those who do more service or neglect those who do less. He accepts the mood in which a service is done (bhavagrahi janardana). For Him the attitude behind the service is more important than the magnitude of the service. Lord Ramachandra was equally pleased with Hanuman, who was bringing huge boulders to build the bridge to Lanka, and a small squirrel, who was bringing some grains of sand.

Some people are rich, some poor; some suffer, some enjoy. Some suffering people might compare themselves with others and say that God is partial, blaming Him for their misery. Some happy people might ignore God in their enjoyment. Thus people tend to claim credit for their happiness and blame God for their distress. However, mature devotees see both distress and happiness as God-sent as a result of their own past deeds and do not accuse God of partiality.

The Lord is not partial to anyone, but reciprocates with our moods and deeds. He is specially inclined to His devotees because they love and serve Him with all their heart. He is merciful to the demons as well, but owing to their negative attitude He punishes them mercifully only to uplift them. In either case, as a loving father He is the supreme well-wisher of every living being.

About the Author: 

Gauranga Darshana Dasa

Gauranga Darshana Dasa, a disciple of His Holiness Radhanath Swami, is dean of the Bhaktivedanta Vidyapitha at ISKCON Govardhan Eco Village (GEV), outside Mumbai. He has written study guides, including, Bhagavata Subodhini, and Chaitanya Subodhini, and teaches Bhagavatam courses at several places in India. He also oversees the deity worship at GEV.