April 3, 2007

Social Disguises as Judgement

Posted in culture, film, mythology, psychology, scripture, theology at 1:41 am by Jerry

There may be many reasons why we don’t reveal certain aspects of ourselves in public. But only recently have I considered the thought of our social selves being a commentary on humanity in general. Is it possible that what we reveal of ourselves to the general public is a judgement of them?

If you’ve checked out the youtube above – I’m not saying we’re all superheros (or better than others) in our individual worlds. I want to emphasize the fact that when we’re at home (with or without those closest to us) there’s no need to build a relational bridge of commonalities. There’s no concern about how we’re perceived by others. We just are ourselves (which could be interpreted in so many ways from the perspective of so many different pairs of eyes). But when we’re in the public, something always changes. And my questions are: what’s changed? and why?

I suppose the positive commentary on humanity (via Clark Kent) is left out in the clip above to make a point about the negative. And since Easter is just next door, I’d like to explore the biblical theologians’ commentary on humanity in the same manner – through their rendition of God Incarnate…

Did the biblical God need Jesus to shed blood “for our sins”? Or did God want him to in order to make a communicative connection with humanity? There’s a big difference here. If God didn’t need Jesus to shed his blood to make us heaven worthy, if God was capable of making us good enough through other means, then isn’t the blood shedding (torture, gruesome death) merely a divine commentary on humanity’s archaic need for death as an appeasement of their fears?

You might have heard Christians say something like, “We all killed Christ by committing sin and we all deserve severe judgement. But innocent Jesus took the place of us guilty ones.”

No one deserves this.

Christians believe that Christ’s death and resurrection frees them from God’s judgement, but I can’t help but wonder if their theology ironically communicates that Christ’s death is God’s judgement – a judgement of what humanity wants rather than needs.

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14 Comments »

  1. Matt said,

    I followed you here from John Stackhouse’s blog. I hope you don’t mind me intruding! You’re obviously a deep thinker as is evidenced by your thoughts expressed here. And you’re obviously not afraid to begin thinking about huge concepts, such as atonement.

    I would like to give you some food to chew on. First of all, survey your Old Testament to see God’s attitude for sin. I think you will see (at least) two things – God is above all Holy. In fact, he cannot even look upon sin he is so holy. From a legal standpoint before a holy God, we are sentenced to death (both physical and spiritual) on the basis of even one sin. For, even on the basis of one sin, we are no longer righteous and holy as God is. We cannot partake of His glory in that sinful state. Yet God is also merciful, and He did allow our sin to be transferred onto animals (symbolically) in order that humanity may still have communion with God.

    Then fast forward to the New Testament. We see that Jesus is the final sacrifice. We find in the book of Hebrews that the old system did not work, for it was not possible for the blood of unholy animals to literally take away sin. There had to be a perfect sacrifice – one that would *literally* take away our sin and impute His perfect righteousness onto us. The imputation of God’s holy perfection onto us is possible through the blood of Christ, but not through the blood of animals. (see my comment at Stackhouse’s blog if you wish).

    I encourage you in your pursuit, and would suggest that the blood of Christ was necessarry for God to declare us righteous (ie – impute our sin onto Christ and impute His righteousness onto us). While the cross certainly does *communicate* to us something of God’s justice and mercy – it was objectively needed by God to fulfill His requirement that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins”.

    I would love to discuss this further if you wish. Either on your blog or by personal email!

    Easter blessings!
    Matt

  2. Jerry said,

    Matt, I hope I didn’t lose your attention because of my short blogging hiatus. I’d definitely like to discuss this further.

    You said, “God is above all Holy. In fact, he cannot even look upon sin he is so holy.” I’d like you to unpack the words ‘holy’ and ‘sin’ for me. Because if God is all-good and all-powerful, shouldn’t he be able to withstand the sight of sin? Shouldn’t the power of his love able him to embrace ALL his children whether they’re perfect or not? For myself, if I was all-powerful and all-good, there would be NOTHING that would keep me from having my children close to me, living with me in my home, my heaven.

    You also said, “(a)We find in the book of Hebrews that the old system did not work, (b)for it was not possible for the blood of unholy animals to literally take away sin. (c)There had to be a perfect sacrifice – one that would *literally* take away our sin and impute His perfect righteousness onto us.”

    (a) Why didn’t God give a working system in the first place?
    (b) How do the animals themselves “take away sin”?
    (c) Why is it that we still see Christians disobeying God if their sin was “literally” taken away and “His perfect righteousness” was imputed onto them?

  3. Matt said,

    Hi Jerry, glad you want to follow up on this. I’ll try my best to answer your questions.

    When I say “holy” it means above all perfection and unity. In other words, it signifies a God who is “whole” – He has no deficiencies. The unity of God (tied in with holiness) means that God is not just a compilation of separate attributes that are held in tension. In other words, what God is He is in His entirety. So, rather than God being just + merciful + omniscient + omnipresent + onmibenevolent + holy, etc. He is entirely all of these things. So in this case, when we view the justice and the mercy of God, we should not view them as two separate things which God must hold in tension, sometimes favouring the one and sometimes the other. Rather, every act of God is both perfectly just and perfectly merciful. To say God sometimes acts with mercy and suspends justice or vice versa is to say that God actually ceases to be Himself in these instances. And because God is a necessarry being, that is impossible.

    Sin is anything that is contrary to the nature of God. So, if God is truth, then untruth is sin. If God is loving then hate is sin. If God is just, then injustice is sin, etc. It is the exact opposite of holiness.

    Because God is a unity, and every one of His acts is met with His entire being, then we have to say that God will not act in a way that is contrary to His being. So, even as God’s mercy allows for reconciliation, His justice means that unforgiven sin cannot co-exist with His glory.

    The power of His love does indeed enable Him to embrace ALL people. He has made repeated offers to this effect, and it is His explicit wish that none would perish (1 Peter). However, because God is omnibenevolent, He will not coerce us into His embrace. He will only offer. He created us with a free will, and we are free to reject Him.

    I share your desire to keep your children close to you. I feel the same way. While we may both ensure that nothing keep *us* from having our children close, there may be something that keeps *them* from being close to us. What would your all-powerful love prompt you to do – force them onto yourself and coerce them into saying “I love you Daddy” agains their wishes? Or would you make repeated offers of love and allow them to freely choose your love? Which is truly benevolent?

    A) God has progressively revealed Himself through redemptive history. Even the system of Law and animal sacrifice was preceded by other redemptive covenants. These were in fact working systems for their time, but were not the final system. They were sufficient for the time that God put them in place. Why He didn’t institute a “final” system immediately, I will have to say that I do not know for He does not say. Perhaps it actually shows even more of His patience and forebearance as He makes *repeated* efforts at reconciliation even while He is not the guilty party.
    B) I affirmed that the animals do not in fact *literally* take away sin. In fact, Hebrews tells us that it is impossible for the blood of sheep and goats to take away sin. This fits with Romans 3 where it talks of God’s forebearance in passing over the sins of previous times. What the sacrifice did do was transfer the death sentence that sin demands from a human to an animal. In this sense it was both *just* in that death was paid for sin, and *merciful* in that God allowed the sentence to be transferred away from the guilty party. However, the imputation of righteousness was not possible as animals are not righteous.
    C)Our sin is imputed onto Christ and His righteousness is imputed onto us in a *legal* way. In other words, God is able to separate function and essence. He declares us righteous while we are still in our sinning state (Rom.5). Christians on earth are trapped between two kingdoms – the kingdom of God and the kingdom of earth. As long as we are bound to earth, the effect of sin is still real, even in the life of the Christian. This will no longer be the case in heaven.

    I just have to say again that the cross is a perfect symbol of mercy and justice. Sin goes properly punished, and free grace is extended to all who will come! This is excellent, exciting, and deeply fulfilling!

  4. Saskatoon atheist society said,

    Go Jerry go.

  5. Jerry said,

    Hi Matt,

    I think an all-good, all-powerful parent could (and therefore should) do/be better in the parental distribution of justice than what the bible presents. (See above, my post called “What What YOU Do?”)

    You said, “..because God is omnibenevolent, He will not coerce us into His embrace. He will only offer. He created us with a free will, and we are free to reject Him.” I’ve never received an offer from God, and many people tell me they haven’t either. Some people think that the bible is filled with God’s offers to others and ourselves, but when I ask them how they know that, they argue that it requires “faith”. (I think the “faith argument” is a weak argument because ANYONE can say that about ANYTHING – like: the ground beneath us has a personality. I know this is true because I have faith it does)

    You also said, “As long as we are bound to earth, the effect of sin is still real, even in the life of the Christian. This will no longer be the case in heaven.” Why doesn’t God make a *real* change against the “effect of sin” in this present day? Isn’t it immoral for him to wait while his children suffer?

    Lastly, out of curiousity, I have to ask some tangent questions: is it a sin to hate sin? (You mentioned in your comment that “hate is sin”.) And, how is God a “necessary being”?

  6. Matt said,

    Hi Jerry,

    as to receiving offers – I will not employ the “faith” argument. Faith is a crucial component of the Christian life, but it should be grounded in reasonableness. I’m not a fan of the “upper story leap” or the Kierkegaardian “leap of faith”. Christianity is not irrational. I would argue that you have received offers if you have ever heard the gospel or read the Bible. God was willing to give up His son in order to make an offer to YOU. Read the NT – it is an invitation to join fellowship with Jesus from Matthew to Revelation!

    I should not have used the word “effect” but rather “reality” when referring to sin. God has in fact made a real change against sin’s *effect* by offering atonement and the imputation of His perfect righteousness (though we are completely undeserving). However, given His nature and goodness, he doesn’t annihilate our free will. Because Satan has influence over earth (for a finite amount of time) it is very possible for us to choose evil. An all-loving God will not turn us into mindless zombies any more than you want that for your daughter. Reciprocal love is only meaningful if it is grounded in legitimate choice and freedom. And no, it is not immoral of Him to wait because He is not the *cause* of evil and suffering. We are, through our choices and free agency. God would be perfectly justified to condemn all humans, past, present, and future because we fall short of His perfect glory. The fact that He has made an offer to ALL, and that SOME will CHOOSE to accept that offer is an act of incredible mercy.

    No, it is not a sin to hate sin. When I say “hate” is a sin, I am using the word to contrast it to “loving others”, not in contrast to “accomodating the immoral”. I used it on a personal relationship level.

    God is a necessary being in the sense that He is the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe. The universe would cease to be if God ceased to be. He is the source of Creation and therefore He is necessary as to its existence. Because God is necessary, He also cannot be other than that which He is. So, for example, He cannot declare that torturing 2 year olds is “good”, because this would be against His nature, and His nature cannot be other than that which it is. He works according to His nature.

    Out of curiosity, how do you handle the problem of pain and evil without a loving and merciful and just and holy God? From your posts it appears that your issues come not so much from an intellectual dilema as from the fact that it seems like you have been genuinely hurt by someone claiming to act in the name of Jesus when they may in fact not have been. From where does your doubt stem? How would you describe yourself – deistic? atheistic? agnostic? Something else?

  7. Jerry said,

    Matt,

    I’m confused by this latest comment and your response to my “What Would YOU Do?” post. If that post is “so far so good” then you seem to be contradicting yourself in this latest comment. Normally, I wouldn’t respond to a contradictory statement other than stating it is one, but I feel compelled.. for some reason…

    “I would argue that you have received offers if you have ever heard the gospel or read the Bible.” Does this mean that any offers to humanity from a Greek God within the Odyssey, the Iliad, or other greek texts are also legit?

    “And no, it is not immoral of Him to wait because He is not the *cause* of evil and suffering. We are, through our choices and free agency.” So, you don’t think it’s wrong (sin of omission?) if you standby while 2 year olds are tortured when you know you could stop it?

    “God would be perfectly justified to condemn all humans, past, present, and future because we fall short of His perfect glory.” I suppose, a Supreme Being can make whatever rules he wants, and live by them. I’m just surprised that an omnibenevolent God is willing to discard his children.

    “The universe would cease to be if God ceased to be. He is the source of Creation and therefore He is necessary as to its existence.” Isn’t it just as possible that the universe is the source of the God idea, and that God would cease to be if the universe ceased to be? Isn’t it possible that the universe is without a beginning instead of God?

    “Out of curiosity, (a)how do you handle the problem of pain and evil without a loving and merciful and just and holy God? (b)From your posts it appears that your issues come not so much from an intellectual dilema as from the fact that it seems like you have been genuinely hurt by someone claiming to act in the name of Jesus when they may in fact not have been. (c)From where does your doubt stem? (d)How would you describe yourself – deistic? atheistic? agnostic? Something else?”

    (a) I’m assuming you mean my personal problems with pain and evil because I can’t imagine anyone handling the universal problem of pain and evil. Every situation is different, of course. But my goal is to find wisdom that will get to the root cause of my afflictions.
    (b) I’m not sure how you came to this conclusion.
    (c) Does doubt need to “stem” from somewhere?
    (d) I’m still trying to figure this out.

  8. Matt said,

    Sorry, you really are a critical reader (that’s not bad!). “So far so good” means I think I follow your logic even though I don’t agree with it. It does not mean that I share your beliefs about omnipotence or omnibenevolence.

    We should try to keep our comments on one thread so it’s easier to follow. For simplicity sake, I’d be happy to move the whole conversation over to the thread from your newest post.

    For the sake of finishing off here, though, I will pick up on the “sin of omission”. I would argue that because suffering happens (through someone’s free choice to torture a 2 year old, in this case) there is a need for an omnipotent God to be just as well as merciful. There is no resolution for this sin if there is no such thing as final judgment. Even if YOU were to step in and physically stop the abuse (I trust and hope you would) you have done nothing to change the evil heart and mind of the abuser. All you have done (and rightfully so) is to stop the situation at that moment. An atheist who has no god and no source of morals has no way to see resolution in this tragic situation. In fact, apart from the standard of a Holy God, there is no basis on which to say that this situation is even tragic or evil. And, apart from the free grace of a merciful God, how is there any chance of redemption for the abuser? How much “works based salvation” will he have to perform within humanism, Buddhism, Hinduism, or Islam to become righteous? There will always be this thing of unresolved sin in his life. How can he enter the presense of a Holy and Just God in this condition, no matter how many “good deeds” he has done after the fact?

    So far as I can understand, Christ and the Cross are the ONLY satisfactory solution to the problem of evil. It acknowledges that evil exists, provides a way out for those who choose, and justly deals with the unrepentant evil heart. Atheism and agnostocism cannot even begin to answer these questions, as they don’t even provide the necessary framework to ask them in the first place!

    My little girl is just finishing her snack, so I need to go wash her up. If you want to keep the conversation going (I’m enjoying this) then let’s move to the newest thread!

    Hope you’re having a great Saturday!
    Matt

  9. Matt said,

    BTW, not all offers from any God are legitimate. A god has to be real and have real power to offer atonement or anything, for that matter.

    For the sake of our conversation, I think we’re both assuming that we are talking about the God of the Bible. That is, the God who declares that He is the only God.

  10. Eric said,

    Hey Jerry, I have been following the discussion here and I must applaud your patience, it definately outstrips mine. Your willingness to even continue this conversation, in the face of the some of the insults, irrationality, judgments and self-righteousness being leveled at you, is admirable.
    Matt, you have obviously edited out much of the world to make it fit inside your faith. What is the source of evil? I don’t have to look farther than religion to find the root of more evil than I could possibly imagine. So many examples come to mind as I write this, and I could outline many (done in the name of not only Christianity but many other religions) if that is an exercise anyone wishes to pursue. I can never accept this Bible as the final word we will ever need as a moral or ethical compass. Its a great story to be sure, but what, if anything, does it have to say about the world as it is today? What can it tell me about the challenges facing my day to day life? That I should have (to use your phrase Jerry) ‘imaginary conversations’ with…what? thin air? …in the hopes that some sort of guidance or light will show me ‘the way’ (so long as ‘the way’ DOESN’T include me finding other men attractive, wanting to allow a girl an abortion or say ‘Jesus Christ!’ if I want to just because). I don’t need an ancient book to tell me that the sufferring of others is horrible, that the happiness of others matters to me. Although the former is elucidated countless times in the bible it seems more glorified than anything. And incidentally, I would know EXACTLY what to do if I came across a 2 year old being tortured. I don’t need to believe in a fairy tale to recognize sufferring and be moved to stop it.

    Matt says,
    “Faith is a crucial component of the Christian life, but it should be grounded in reasonableness. I’m not a fan of the “upper story leap” or the Kierkegaardian “leap of faith”. Christianity is not irrational.”
    …and
    “A god has to be real and have real power to offer atonement or anything, for that matter. ”
    (I must admit this sounds reasonable, but..)

    “For the sake of our conversation, I think we’re both assuming that we are talking about the God of the Bible. That is, the God who declares that He is the only God.”
    Huh? He’s the only one because he says so. Where’s the rational reasonableness now?
    Matt, what might have happenned if you were born in Iraq? the Austrailian outback? or Tibet? Would you have found this one God who is the only one because He says so?

  11. Jerry said,

    Eric!

    I’m so glad you decided to contribute. Always a pleasure to hear from you.

  12. Matt said,

    Eric,

    I’m sorry that my tone towards Jerry has struck you as self-righteous and insulting. I have not felt either of these attitudes as I have been writing, and didn’t feel that my words would portray such an attitude. Jerry, if you have felt this way, I apologize. I have merely been trying to engage in an intellegent discussion. I have not found Jerry’s tone to be abbrasive whatsoever, and it is my hope that I have returned that.

    Eric, you ask a big question about rationality. I mentioned that I am not a fan of blind faith. Faith is to be grounded in that which correlates to reality and that which is true. It just so happens that I find it reasonable to put my faith in the God of the Bible. As such, I believe that His revelation is truth. For the Christian, revelation comes before rationality and irrationality, although not necessarily to their exclusion. The revelation of God DOES in fact correlate to reality (see for example, OT prophecy being fulfilled in Jesus Christ though it is written hundreds of years before His birth). On the point of rationality, Eric, I must aska question. You seem to prize rationality as well, and yet your post seems to be fairly emotionally charged. Why is this? I have no idea who you are or what your beliefs are, so I can say nothing about your situation. I have found it strange however, reading atheistic authors, that they seem, almost to a person, to be angry. This in spite of the fact that they feel rationally superior to Christians!

    I will have to admit that given my family climate, I have had much opportunity to hear about Jesus from early on. However, I do believe that Jesus does in fact make himself known to non-white non-North Americans. I am a Mennonite, and many people find it suprising that there are currently more non-white Mennonites in the world than white Mennonites! The Mennonite Church in Vietnam and Korea, for example, are growing at a rate that outstrips the Canadian and American Church. Evangelical Christians are not perfect, I admit, but evangelicalism at its best is inviting and hospitable, not a closed theological fortress. I however will be first to admit that many Christians (I include myself here all too often) are not as good as we could be in fulfilling the great commission!

    Matt

  13. Jerry said,

    Matt,

    You said, “The revelation of God DOES in fact correlate to reality (see for example, OT prophecy being fulfilled in Jesus Christ though it is written hundreds of years before His birth).”

    Jesus is considered a *fulfillment* of prophecy exclusively through Christian interpretations of the OT. There are many Jewish and secular scholars who would disagree with the Christian interpretation.

    Also, from my experience, reason-loving atheists think it is rational to express their innately human emotions. Though not all emotions are virtuous, some, such as righteous anger can be most fitting in a particular situation. Eric, however, didn’t seem angry to me. He did, nevertheless, refer to a lack of patience in this context.

    Jerry

  14. Eric said,

    Jerry, you nailed it, not angry, I am however guilty of impatience. I am impatient of people who have there minds closed. Closed in that they claim to have all the answers to life’s mysteries wrapped up in an ancient book. Why would they have to question anything anymore? I think I read somewhere in one of your past posts about faith without honest exploration results is a faith that slowly kills. Or something like that.
    I am supremely impatient with those who believe there is only ONE way to live (one truth, one way to happiness, one moral code for all people in all times yadda yadda). Leads people to force others to live the same way. And if they refuse to tow the line? Look no further than nearly every major war in history

    Matt, it’s obvious, you confuse opinion with fact. You ignore so much about the world lest it pierce the wall you’ve erected in your mind. You avoid rational questions and lines of reasoning, running to your bible for solace. NO ONE has complete jurisdiction on the truth for everyone at all times.

    Matt, you say I prize rationality? Absolutely, which is why my patience at this point in my spiritual journey (you likely believe that someone who is pursuing atheism incapable of a spiritual life?) runs thin in the face of your non-rational thoughts.
    for example, you said,
    “evangelicalism at its best is inviting and hospitable”
    To who? Homosexuals? Fornicators? Muslims? Divorcés? Anyone who agrees with you maybe?
    Am I missing your point here?
    Anyway, I am guilty of impatience, I am working on it. I do not think you a bad person by any means, I do not know you to make such a judgement.
    I like to reserve judgement for when I have MUCH more information.

    “What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence”
    -Christopher Hitchens


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