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

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Was the atonement obligatory?

In the book of Romans, 5:7-8, Paul says:

"Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners."

A problem with this paragraph is that if God hadn't 'made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf' (2 Co 5:21), then we would have kept our sin and consequently suffered separation from God when God could have done something about it. In this situation, it doesn't seem as though dying for us is especially praiseworthy, because it seems obligatory for God to step in and save us if He can do so.

But I'm not entirely sure that this analysis is correct.

Take a situation where someone is a very heavy drinker and has made the choice to drink themselves into unconsciousness as often as they can. A family member or friend would be right to feel concerned about the heavy drinker, but are they obligated to stage an intervention and forcibly commit the heavy drinker to some kind of rehabilitation?

On the one hand, if the heavy drinker knows what they are doing, then perhaps the family member or friend should accept the heavy drinker's choice and let them destroy their life. On the other hand, maybe feelings of concern make it right to commit the heavy drinker to rehabilitation. Is there an obligation to do the latter?

What if staging an intervention is very costly to the family member or friend? Suppose that the family member needs to give up his/her life savings to pay for the heavy drinker to be rehabilitated and as a consequence they must accept a much lower quality of life whenever they stop working. Is there an obligation on the family member/friend to arrange an intervention at great personal cost?

I believe that if someone is making a very self-destructive decision, then an intervention may be obligatory if it does not come at a great personal cost, depending on the situation. However, if an intervention comes at a great personal cost, and the person who is destroying their life knows what they are doing, then I doubt there is an obligation.

How does this relate to God and the quote in Romans, though?

It seems reasonable to imagine that before someone becomes a Christian they don't really care that much about the Christian God and don't wish to commit themselves to that God. It's also reasonable to think that before someone becomes a Christian the prospect of an eternity living without God is not a particularly frightening prospect, unless they follow another religion where this is that religion's idea of hell.

This implies that when God saves someone God has to change our desires so that we will not want to go through an eternity apart from, and not giving recognition to, God (Eph 2:1: "And you were dead in your trespasses and sins,")

In this respect, God is like someone intervening in someone's life because they think someone is going down the wrong track, when that person doesn't want their help (at that time) and, if someone is OK with the prospect of not being with God forever, knows what they are doing.

The other point is that God had to pay an enormous personal cost in saving us. If God performs a miracle so that you receive $1,000,000,000, then that doesn't really cost God anything even if we really appreciate it. God is all-powerful after all. But Jesus' death for us on the cross is perhaps the only good thing God has done that cost God immensely (1 Co 6:20: "for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body.") The cost that God paid was not simply being crucified, but included bearing all of humanity's sins, which may have involved pain and suffering that we cannot imagine. God did it because of the joy He would have in seeing us come to know Him for an eternity (Heb 12:2: "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.")

The conclusion is that if you combine 1) someone intervening in someone's life to help them when they know what they are doing and they do not want help, with 2) the intervention coming at a great personal cost, then there is not necessarily any moral obligation to help. This means that Paul is right when he praises God for saving us, assuming our situation fits with (1) and (2).

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