Weblog of a Christian philosophy student

Weblog of a Christian philosophy student. Please feel free to comment. All of my posts are public domain. Subscribe to posts [Atom]. Email me at countaltair [at] yahoo.com.au. I also run a Chinese to English translation business at www.willfanyi.com.

Location: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Sin, Judgment And Atonement

Sin, Judgment And Atonement
Will G

1. Introduction

As anyone engaged in apologetics can testify to, soteriology (the study of salvation) is frequently criticised by those who object to the coherency of internal Christian doctrines. In reference to these criticisms, I am going to promulgate in this essay a new doctrine of soteriology that I feel withstands such criticisms very well. I have called this doctrine 'expiation' theology - due to the idea Christ's atonement has more to do with removing sin rather than satisfying wrath. How my view is Biblical I will explain. Though I do not necessarily feel 'forced' to adopt expiation theology, I have adopted it - however it is more cumbersome than the traditional explanation, and most importantly has not been explicitly taught in the Church.

2. Problems With The Classical View

Anyone with a serious interest in debating and discussing apologetics with nonbelievers should be aware of the most basic and most fundamental problems with Christian soteriology regarding the ideas of hell and atonement. Those two aspects of Christianity have three main objections levelled at them, which are along the following lines:

Infinite punishment for finite sin. Typically, humans believe that punishment should be proportioned to the crime. Thus it would follow that a very great punishment for a minor wrong is unjust. However, in a nutshell, it seems that the Biblical God proportions an infinite amount of punishment for what appear to be less than infinite wrongs. Although sins such as murder or adultery may not be insignificant, an atheist would argue that they are 'finite', i.e. limited in duration or scope, and thus not enough to constitute a warrant for 'infinite' punishment.

Regarding this apparent incommensurability between punishment and sin, a key point I want to get across beforehand before I discuss my view, is that I do not believe that the Biblical model necessarily involves infinite punishment (see here.) It is possible hell might be a state of eternal limbo-like existence away from God, suffering neither joy nor sadness except the shame of exclusion. J.P. Holding, who has studied this issue in great depth in the above link would say this is compatible with all Biblical scripture once the Bible is properly contextualised. Another satisfactory idea regarding finite punishment could be found from the idea that God is timeless. If God is timeless, hell may also be timeless, and a timeless hell cannot, logically, have successive moments. Although a timeless hell can last forever, the lack of successive moments means that if we view suffering as 'X pain per moment', then the conclusion that hell is, or can be, very finite must follow, for there are no successive moments of pain (just one timeless moment). However, even if we adopt these two explanations, one can still say that although hell could be finite in the sense of suffering, it is unjust deny sinners an infinite amount of happiness (in heaven) without a good reason. A response to this along Christian lines might be that those in the afterlife freely choose to reject God, in addition to their finite punishment in hell. I should note that part 3 of this series will explain this 'choice' element more clearly.

Punitive vs Utilitarian punishment. There are two often cited schools of thought about why or how people should be punished, the punitive (retributive) view, and the utilitarian view. The retributive/punitive view is the Biblical one, whereby a 'real' wrong must receive a 'real' punishment, apart from any ideas of rehabilitation. Whereas a utilitarian view only holds punishment is good when it can be used for rehabilitation, and at the very least a rehabilitated criminal should be let free if he is genuinely reformed. The difference between these views might be illustrated from the movie a Clockwork Orange. Alex, a thoroughly reprehensible individual, rapes, murders and terrorises people indiscriminately, but then is caught by the police and undergoes a behavioural transformation. Although he has only served a portion of his sentence, he is immediately released once he is transformed into a being who cannot physically do harm, although he would wish to. According to a punitive idea of punishment, Alex should have served out his full sentence for his crimes despite the fact he was now physically incapable of doing wrong. A utilitarian view would disagree and say that once he is no threat to society he should be set free. Personally I think the real world is a mixture of both views. If God does not punish people punitively, wrongdoing does not really pose any threat to one's salvation, only one's attitude. This is contrary to the Biblical picture however, because if one's attitude is the only problem in terms of humans being saved, then Christ's death as an atonement was unnecessary - to save people God only needs to alter our attitudes to him. The most persuasive defense of punitive punishment is found here at Glenn Miller's website, which is a good introduction to the issue from a Christian perspective.

Atonement. The issue of atonement, or substitution, is the crux of Christian theology, and hence is often attacked by those critical of Christian views. But as I am going to explain, when individuals criticise Christianity regarding Christians' view of atonement, they sometimes neglect to think about the fact that it is only penal substitution that (possibly) is unjust. But substitution is clearly a valid principle in the world. Soldiers sacrificing themselves in battle for their fellows is a kind of substitution. Someone paying someone else's debt is a pecuniary (monetary) substitution. However, the problem is that Biblical theology involves a moral transfer of either guilt or punishment in PENAL substitution, and this view is thought by some to be inconceivable. But as many scholars and apologists would argue, it is not necessarily so. See here for two effective defenses of penal substitution from an alternative point of view, here at Tektonics and here and Christian-Thinktank.

3. Pre-Note

I would like to note that I am using a definition of hell that defines it as separation from God and/or spiritual death. Read here (Christian Think-Tank) and here (Tektonics) for an idea of what moderate to liberal Christian understandings of hell are like.

I would also like to define what I mean by 'perfection process' as I will refer to it and to becoming good enough for the New Kingdom (which is the eschatological kingdom of God in the afterlife.) According to Christian soteriology all humans are basically sinful in terms of being good enough for God. I interpret this as being good enough for the kind of society God wishes to create, where there is no evil and all do good over an eternity. The key to this is the power that God has to make anyone who wishes it perfect - literally all that is needed is acceptance of God. However as a limitation God cannot do this perfection process on earth - but only in heaven in his presence with prior acceptance of God.

Part 1

1. Sin And Judgment

There are 3 basic principles of sin and judgment I am about to advocate, in lieu of the traditional version. There are in fact about 5 different conceptions of sin and judgment I am aware of, 4 of which I will lay out now. The fifth, based on Christian philosopher Jonathan Kvanvig's views, I do not think relevant to include here. But all these methods I have included can (potentially) be applied to the Biblical model. I will also defend them from basic criticisms.

1. Hell/Judgment as automatic. Under this view, separation from God, due to sin is not something done consciously or volitionally by God, but is rather an automatic consequence of sin inflicting by one's own wrongdoing, as part of the way that souls/spiritual beings are inherently structured. Just like ebola, when it infects people, kills them, or bubonic plague, so does sin infect and kill someone in a spiritual sense. Although I would argue God can intervene to save someone from this fate, the actual fate itself has little to do with God's direct action. So for example, say I murder someone. Due to this, and due to the fact I am a spiritual being, and all wrongdoing is anathema to anything made in the image of God, I will automatically be separated from God in the afterlife as a consequence. This leads to the conclusion that the objection to hell as being too great a punishment is cancelled, because concepts of punishment (in a morally retributive sense) have little to do with the fate of sinners.

However there is one objection to this view I believe is significant. For if we grant that sin automatically leads to spiritual death, then a response to the efficacy of this as a defense could be to say that God could avoid the issue of hell by simply removing the automatic consequence of the sin via punishing or forgiving the original wrong. And under this view as people's wrongdoing (our sin) causes the automatic consequence then God could effectively 'eliminate' hell, it seems, by dealing with what causes hell in the first place, that being our moral wrongs.

However as I will argue, there are interesting characteristics that both forgiveness and punishment have regarding the automatic consequences of a moral wrong. Specifically, I will argue that punishment or forgiveness for a wrong may have no effect on the automatic consequence, depending on a variety of circumstances, and that this means that removing the guilt for a wrong may have no effect on whether that person goes to hell. For example, suppose a criminal commits a serious crime. As a result that person cannot get work in some places. This is apart from fulfilling what society deems a just and fair punishment, because serving time in prison will not necessarily remove the consequence of being unable to get some kinds of work. And hence it follows that the indirect consequences of his crime (such as being unable to get some work) are not removable by punishment. Similarly, that criminal may be unable to travel to other countries, because those other countries will refuse his visa. As I will argue, this is apart from any conceivable 'just' punishment society can put on the criminal, and hence illustrates the fact automatic consequences are not the same as the actual moral wrong, and that removing one will not necessarily remove the effects of the other.

However the preceding example dealt only with punishment; what efficacy does forgiveness have as opposed to punishment for sins under the 'automatic consequence' model? For example, regarding the indirect consequences of committing crimes on criminals, is it plausible that where punishment will never remove some automatic consequences, forgiveness could? In my criminal example, suppose the whole community forgives the criminal for that crime. Through that forgiveness is it plausible that the community can find a way to wipe the slate entirely clean, and allow him to get work or travel to some other countries? The victims might forgive him, as well as the community, and the criminal may be hired for jobs he or she could not have before. If this is similar to the Biblical model, then it is only through God's forgiveness of our wrongs, and the working out via his omnipotence of how to remove the consequences of sin, that can remove the automatic fate of hell. The importance of the punishment/forgiveness distinction, is that if punishment can remove the indirect consequences of crimes, then in the same way God could remove all sin and its consequences by simply punishing it. However this is plainly not the case. Punishment does not really have much of an effect on the indirect consequences of wrongs, and we should concentrate only on forgiveness as having power to save sinners from an automatic separation from Himself.

Thus we have already agreed that forgiveness may have some efficacy in removing the fate of hell for a sinner as opposed to punishment for a wrong, but before moving to the next section, I would like to hint that it is possible that even God may be unable remove the automatic consequences of sin via forgiveness under some circumstances. However, in defense of this viewpoint, this limitation could be viewed as a limitation deriving from God's 'unlimitedness'. It is God's holiness, sheer perfection and separateness from sin that sometimes prevents him from removing the consequences of a wrong, which is in fact a good state of affairs to have.

Thus according to the automatic punishment view of sin, there is an internally coherent method by which all sinners will suffer hell without God's direct involvement in that fate, and that God can only remove that fate by the sinner's repentance and the working out, with the sinner's repentance, of the sinner's crimes. This may have, as I would argue, several advantages over the retributive model, in that it offers the same thing as the retributive model, but without the same problems or difficulties, such as the issue of how easy it seems that God should be able to get rid of sin or its punishment without hell. However I will lay out more of this viewpoint below.

2. Community protection. Suppose you knew via some kind of omniscient-like power, that a man was going to commit a murder tomorrow at noon in a shopping mall unless you intervened. The response of a good person would be to try and prevent that man from committing that murder. As an aside, you would not be justified in punishing that person for it pre-emptively, as he has not done anything yet (apart from possibly, punishing him for planning to murder). However you could justifiably ensure that somehow, that man was unable to commit the murder.

The issue of community protection in terms of God's justice, I will argue, is like that. God knows infallibly through our lives on this earth which of us would be anti-community anti-social members of the New Kingdom (the afterlife). Hence God excludes us from that community as long as the community lasts and we would be a danger to it. Hence punishment is simply the process of exclusion done to protect individuals from harmful potential members of the community. And, as I will argue, if that harmful potential exists forever, then necessarily the punishment of exclusion must exist forever.

To use an example, suppose there was a particularly evil person in this life (i.e. a serial rapist and murderer). God knows that if he was in the New Kingdom he would, so far as he could, desire to do evil and harm to others, so to protect the people in the New Kingdom (afterlife) God prevents this person from entering it. And since the New Kingdom is in God's direct presence, that means separation from at least part of God. Moreover if this person is a 'hardcore' non-repenter, then it is easy to see how the evil person will be forever excluded from the New Kingdom.

A topical example of this can, surprisingly, be found in Britain today. Authorities are considering expelling radical Islamic clerics who promote terrorism - and this will last as long as the Islamic clerics are radical extremists and a danger. This is based on the potential and actual threat the radical clerics pose to Britain's citizens.

I might also add that this type of judgment is propitiatory, in the sense that God has justified anger because of his love and desire to protect the community. His expulsion is based on his wrath against harmful evildoers through love of the community. It is in fact one example where God would clearly be wrathful and angry with good cause - agape, Biblical love, is itself strongly bound up in the desire to protect others.

I should also add that this kind of propitiatory community protection is not very atonement friendly - I do not think it can be used to defend the atonement ideal. Because the atonement needs to expiate some actual sin or effect in order for Christ to substitute for us. However the automatic consequence model above and the retributive model below does provide this.

3. Choice-based Punishment. One form of punishment which has the potential to be infinite is that of a punishment or rather consequence, that is the result of a free choice. Generally if someone freely (in the fullest sense of the word) chooses something, then whatever results from that choice cannot, really, be laid on someone else. Hence it might be offered that those who die spiritually freely reject Christ and hence God cannot be blamed for their fate.

The problem with that is that firstly, there is no reason why anyone cannot make a choice to accept or reject Christ in the afterlife, and secondly, why or how it is possible someone could rationally choose to be separated from God and thereby incur hell.

To solve those problems, I maintain there is a choice in the afterlife - but to make it (just as on earth, unconsciously) involves both a gain and a loss. Specifically, the loss involved is that to some extent, believers become part of the being of God through Christ. If this is true (to some extent) then a believer is no longer an 'I' but a part of something greater, God, and hence has lost some of its self, ego and self-dependence (although not really, just become part of God.) This is a rational motive for some people some of the time to freely reject Christ, in favour of a 'lighter' non-finite hell I described earlier.

The most extreme version of this view would state that in the afterlife there is no longer any 'us' or 'I' at all, but rather the re-absorption of spirits into God - we would not have independent existence anymore than a drop in an ocean. I do not endorse this outmost view - only that the loss of self and individual existence (to some extent) provides a rational warrant for rejection of God for some people.

I describe this 'free choice' element in a great deal of depth in part 3 to this series, which is very highly recommended reading after this (at least to not misunderstand what I mean by this.)

4. Retributive models of sin. The retributive model of sin is the traditional one the church has mostly adopted. The main problem is the difficulty with showing all people deserve an infinite amount of punishment in hell. However this is not necessarily a problem as I elucidated above. Regarding punitive punishment, one could argue that if a criminal does not repent, punitive punishment is a good (removing the problem of rehabilitation). United with a choice for hell and rejection of God, retributive models of sin may become quite viable.

2. Expiation Theology

I should note that any orthodox Christian theology involving the atonement must have either (1) or (4) or both. Expiation theology which is the subject of this essay involves (1) - automatic sin separation, (2) - community protection and (3) - free choice for hell. It does not necessarily involve (4). However (4) in conjunction with (3) - with the possibility of (2) may well be viable. I will now, (as you know these theories) go over scriptural passages and attempt to explain how they fit in with Expiation theology.

3. Verses Explanation

Matthew 5:29 And if thy right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. 30 And if thy right hand causes you to sin, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.

Now in line with the 'automatic consequence' explanation this warning on sin could well be fitted with the idea is sin is automatic; it is a terrible fate and one that should be avoided at all costs. However what about the fact that sinners are described as being 'thrown into' hell (i.e. an active punishment)?

My defense regarding this, is that Christ is talking to an audience that has not necessarily repented and accepted the choice for perfection, that is the choice to accept Jesus Christ (himself), join with God etc.. in a perfect new kingdom of heaven. Because, necessarily, everyone in the New Kingdom will be perfect so they can live together in harmony over an eternity. So Christ is saying that if you commit a wrong - you have shown yourself to God to be imperfect, and hence unless you make the choice to accept the perfection process of God (not mentioned, and not offered yet) you will inevitably be cast out (to protect whatever community there is there that is perfect.)

Mattew 13:40"As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.

I should note that this verse actually gives support to my position regarding the belief in community-protection as being a method of judgment - as this verse seems to be very different than ones dealing with a 'past legal' sin against God - this is based on active protection of the community. So we may be able to conclude there are at least 2 different methods of judgment going on in the Bible.

Matthew 18-23-35: Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened to a certain king, who would take account of his servants. And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought to him, who owed him ten thousand talents. But as he had nothing with which to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt. But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, who owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took [him] by the throat, saying, Pay me what thou owest. And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt. So when his fellow servants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told to their lord all that was done. Then his lord, having called him, said to him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou didst beg me: Shouldest thou not also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee? And his lord was angry, and delivered him to the torturers, till he should pay all that was due to him. So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also to you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.

I would like to note the verse above only offers the maxim that 'Since God has forgiven us so much, we should forgive one another.' If you read anything more into this parable, you are putting into it more than what the parable is saying.

Now according to my doctrine, the direct result of a moral wrong a person commits is that they incur offense against God and against the human community. However a non-direct result is that they are automatically separated from God and die spiritually. In my theology as I outlined earlier, it is forgiveness, not punishment that removes the non-direct result of a wrong, as with the 2 examples I offered. One more analogy will do, a highly speculative one, as it relates to the greater development of this idea in this Bible passage:

'Suppose that there were beings who were telepathic and lived in a communal consciousness. One being killed another. The direct result is that they expelled the murderer from the community. The indirect result is that murderous being, by having committed the wrong dies automatically as a result of the way that species' brain is set up. If the wrong is punished he suffers the separation from the community and as an indirect result death. If the community-consciousness forgives the evil person, the community can attempt to heal him from the consequences of his wrong - through forgiving him.'

So it seems, granted certain spiritual axioms that might be similar to the one in this analogy (i.e. that spiritual sin entails automatic spiritual death because of the 'image of God' nature of humans) then automatic sin could potentially only be healed through forgiveness and acceptance regarding a moral wrong, rather than punishment of the moral wrong causing the indirect harm. It also illustrates how useless punishing the moral wrong would be for the alleviation of the automatic consequences of a wrong.

Jn 3:36 He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him

Rom 5:8-10 But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life

1 Jn 2:2 And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.

My answer to these verses under Expiation theology is that it is not Christ's sacrifice that is the propitiation for our sins, but Christ himself. Let me explain. The relationship one needs to have with Christ for Christ's substitutionary death to be causally efficacious in removing sin requires that one has accepted the afterlife fate - including the perfection process and of course being part of God through Christ.

So if one has accepted Christ, then as per an explanation above - your community sins that make you unsuitable for the New Kingdom no longer count - because you through Christ have accepted that Kingdom and perfection. Hence there is none of God's wrath and anger against you for endangering the community - rather there is the satisfaction of God's wrath through your acceptance of the requirements to make you an appropriate non-harmful member of the Kingdom.

I am at this point convinced that Expiation theology is compatible with every verse in the New Testament. I will be building an reference to scripture verses regarding judgment soon to go over this in more detail as an ancillary to this article if I get the time.

4. Foreword To The Atonement

We are now ending Part 1 of my series on sin, judgment, atonement and choice. I would like now to make some comments referring to Part 2 on atonement.

We have canvassed 4 ideas of punishment. The traditional view by itself needs to have an ideal of finite punishment. There are 2 views of sin where this is provided, that hell is shame and exclusion (but nothing else) and that hell is timeless. Granted this, for retribution to work one must believe in punitive punishment as an appropriate recompense for those who refuse to repent for wrongs. Also granted this, to explain the great denial of happiness in heaven one must probably employ free choice as an explanation.

My problem with this view is that the atonement is less friendly to retributive views of sin. Although there are 2 explanations I think may be satisfactory (here and here again).

Regarding Expiation theology, the result of moral wrong is that one is automatically separated from God without Him needing to judge us. However the only way to remove this non-direct consequence of evil is for God to forgive the sin, because punishment does not remove the automatic non-direct consequences of a wrong. At this point, we may have an inroad into the idea of an atonement, but I must explain, why does God not simply forgive sin? Well given my expiatory view of sin, my answer is that God's forgiveness, by itself is not causally efficacious to remove the separating effect of sin on a person unless that person is already a very good, repenting person. Hence many very observant Jews and pagans in the Old Testament were good enough so that God was able to remove the separating effect of sin from them - but it does not really work on worse people - because of the innate separation caused by the heart that is not very good and contrite. And as I already mentioned, it is only God's perfection and holiness, plus the metaphysical/spiritual 'system' that prevents him from getting rid of the consequences of sin for all. To make salvation freely attainable for all, hence, Christ's substitutionary atonement is needed, but he does not substitute for us in terms of our moral wrongs (as I already explained they do not remove the consequences) but for the consequence itself. But this will be covered in more depth in Part 2. Hence God cannot simply forgive all sin away - there should be an atonement to help more people become saved, to make salvation more commonly attainable.

Part 2: The Atonement

1. Introduction

The problems with the atonement are known less well, to some extent, by people than the problems with traditional Christian views on hell, judgment etc... but there are still issues that need to be carefully considered. Specifically it is alleged that although other kinds of substitution might work, the notion of penal substitution is inherently wrong. It is wrong for humans to do it, and thus for a God to do it, and there is simply no way of transferring punishment from humans to God.

2. Viable Penal Views On The Atonement

Before accepting this skeptical objection, I would like to point out 2 competent defenses of the atonement offered by Christian apologists, and analyze why they work.

1. JP Holding, shame atonement. Link here.
JP Holding's atonement explains how Christ substituting for us the shame we owe God for breaking his law - and of course this would require some relation between the sinner and Jesus to have an effect - such as acceptance. JP Holding's view explains the mechanism quite well, unlike many other what you might call 'solidarity' views of atonement.

2. Glenn Miller, pre-judgment atonement. Link here.
Glenn Miller's view works I think because it de-personalises the eschatological fate of sinners under retributive sin. For example, suppose a criminal hits me. The moral relationship between us can be expressed such as the criminal owes me his punishment, and I owe him my acceptance of his punishment in return. This is an intensely personal and private debt - hence the difficulty when a third party (Jesus) comes onto the scene. But according to Glenn Miller, the relationship is a very general one God has with all sinners, and Christ enters a pre-judgment for us and represents us. Hence it is not so personal and there is no real violation.

3. Atonement Under Expiation Theology

Under my 'expiation' theology when a sinner commits a crime, he owes an ordinary finite debt both to God and to society. But as a result of having committed a crime, he is saddled with the inevitable and automatic separation from God, as a non-direct result of the crime. God can punish the crime, but as with the above examples this does not remove the non-direct (automatic) results. If society punishes me for breaking the law, it does not remove the fact I cannot get work in some possible employment places, whereas forgiveness does. Also remember that because the effect is not a direct judgment from God, God cannot be blamed for its occurrence, although he should do all he can to alleviate the condition. Hence the 'infinite punishment for finite sins' objection is cancelled.

So what we have here is that all sinners, as a result of sin must suffer the ultimate eschatological consequences of sin which is separation from God/spiritual death, unless God forgives them. This is my second point. I argue that God's forgiveness, unless the sinner is already quite a good person, is not effective at removing the consequences of sin from the sinner (which is separation from God).

For example, to use a highly speculative example again to a virtually perfect group of communal extraterrestrial telepaths. A being in the community commits a moral violation and will both be expelled from the community and suffer mental death for having done wrong, not as a judgment but as an automatic consequence of the way they are constituted mentally. In response, the loving community then attempts to heal the evildoer from this automatic result of doing wrong. Granted that as extraterrestrial beings of this kind (e.g.), doing wrong is very serious and leads to 'mental death', is it plausible this healing cannot work unless the wrongdoer either did perhaps a small wrong and/or is highly contrite and willing to be re-integrated?

The situation is like that with God, as we are made in the image of God and sin is the opposite of our (original) nature. Hence we suffer spiritual death as a result of it.

Regarding Christ's substitution, I cannot make it clear enough that Christ is not substituting for a direct debt but for an indirect one. Just as in the community consciousness the bad telepathic suffered the indirect harm of dying mentally, we suffer the indirect harm from sin of dying spiritually. So if there is any substitution, then clearly it is not normal penal substitution - or not penal at all.

Let me keep going with that example. Suppose a member of the extraterrestrial telepathic group offered the wrongdoer who was suffering from mental death a solution. That is, by taking on parts of the wrongdoer's telepathic mental identity that was causing him to die in the community. Hence due to this kind helpful extraterrestrial, by substitution the wrongdoer is saved. (I should note that these examples need a bit of imagination to work - as long as they illustrate underlying important thematic points this is probably acceptable.)

Let me say that this happens on a global scale with Christ. As a result of wrong we suffer the automatic consequence of spiritual death, Christ substituted for us, somehow. There is no wrongdoing in this, if it is for an automatic consequence of a wrong as opposed to the wrong itself, as illustrated by my example.

4. The Connection Between Christ And The Sinner

Regarding substitution, all substitution requires some kind of relationship between the substitute and the substitutee to work. For example, if I give you some money to pay off a debt, the substitute relationship there is that I know you and am your friend, and I offer to pay you money through knowledge of our relationship. If I push you out of the way of a car to save you, the relationship is that I have to be on the scene, desire to save you and physically do so.

Is it not so unreasonable that the atonement requires a relationship too? The mechanism of Christ's atonement in fact is nothing less than the acceptance of Christ and a decision to accept the perfection process, become part of Christ (his body) and participate in the Christian community. That is the relationship needed.

5. The Length Of Time Of Christ's Sacrifice, And Its Physicality

A minor theological point to make at this juncture. What Christ is suffering for in our place is our spiritual death/separation from God. It is arguable this can be served anywhere. Hence on the cross Christ suffered the spiritual death from sin which killed him (?). Or some other variant on that. Alternatively one might simply say the physical death is symbolic and all that was needed was 'spiritual' atonement in the afterlife. Which brings us to how long Christ's sacrifice had to last.

I would adopt the opinion that Christ stood in our place, as an event within the trinity, through us becoming in Him. What I mean is that we suffer an eschatological fate of separation from God and spiritual death. Christ, before us, (although 'before' may not have much meaning if God is timeless), suffered for us this spiritual fate. The effects of the sacrifice lasts as long as our sin lasts.

A timeless perspective on this would state that necessarily Christ suffers a timeless spiritual death. Regardless, it is absolutely necessary that before we can get to heaven it is necessary that Christ removes the sin - hence the necessity for earthly atonement or some other kind at some point. In terms of timelessness, one could say Christ's atonement was a necessary 'primary' event. And if timelessness is true, that doesn't mean Christ is eternally suffering, it means that as one event in the timeless existence of the trinity Christ is suffering. Events don't happen after each other in timelessness, they happen as either primary or secondary events to another event.

I should note that other views of the atonement (JP Holding's especially) it is not strictly necessary that Christ suffered some kind of spiritual atonement - although for my view it is necessary because Christ substitutes for the non-direct (and impossible to remove by punishment of the sin), result of sin to separate the wrongdoer from God.

6. Foreword To Free Choice

My next Part 3 will deal with free choice, but there are a few things I want to make clear. First of all, there are probably viable defenses of traditional penal substitution. And even if they fail, not only is there a defense in my theology, but elements of it can be demonstrated by example very clearly and succinctly, and additionally the whole can be demonstrated in a highly speculative example (see above) which one may find compelling or not.

As I made clear in Part 1, one of the methods of judgment is through free choice. I also suggested a way that a rational and reasonable person could reject that choice in favour of spiritual death/separation from God - which is that the choice requires becoming part of God through Christ and a loss of the 'self'. In the next part I will explain how the way we act towards Christ has a perfect correlation in this life with whether we accept him in the next.

7. Conclusion

I hope this has been informative/helpful
God bless
Will G
Edited 9/2/05
Edited again 8/16/06
Edited again 9/18/06


Post a Comment

<< Home