Friday, November 21, 2008

Friday Theodicy

This is from a recent comment to a long-ago post of mine about theodicy:

A perfect God cannot due to his perfect nature coexist with rebellion/evil/sin without this sin being "paid for." This is the very essence of justice - that evil actions are punished.

Free will as we now experience it is hopelessly entangled with sin. But once the price has been paid in full by the death of the perfect God in human form, there is apparently a new potential for free will to be detangled from sin and a perfect God can therefore coexist with his free-will creatures ...
I stumble on the very idea of vicarious atonement. In fact, it's fair to say I've fallen and I can't get up.

It's well and good to issue an airy abstraction like "the price has been paid in full by the death of the perfect God in human form," but when I think concretely of the debt and of the offered payment, I fail to see proportionality, equivalence, or justice.

Consider the 9/11 attackers: what they did, and the thoughts with which they did it. Jesus having died on a cross several centuries before would somehow atone for that?

Consider the Nazis who divided people deboarding from a train into two lines, one directly to their execution, the other to slow death by slave labor and malnutrition. Jesus was crucified way back when entails exactly what settling of this horrific debt?

Assume one or two jihadists and Nazis from the cases cited entertained last-second pro-Jesus thoughts -- they decided, in your terms, to accept the payment.

As a result of that acceptance, your favorite god might think more highly of them, but I most certainly do not.

Why would I? Because god is bigger and stronger and might smite me if I don't? That sort of logic doesn't justify Castro, and it doesn't justify the Castro of the imaginary world beyond the stars.

Because god sees something in that acceptance that I cannot? Please, do point it out. Until and unless god's mysterious moral scheme is clarified, I will continue to regard it as monstrous.

Surely death by crucifixion was exceedingly terrible. The horror of it should actually shock us more, and likely would if we hadn't spent most of our lifetimes surrounded with blithe representations of it, e.g., plastic "flesh-colored Christs that glow in the dark," crosses on every street corner, every third Medieval painting, etc. But no crucifixion, and no set of opinions about a particular crucifixion, can change evil to good.

4 comments:

Mike said...

Dale,I stumbled sooner than you did, right at "A perfect God cannot due to his perfect nature coexist with rebellion/evil/sin without this sin being "paid for.""
Why must it be "paid for"? Why does this "perfect God" allow it to exist?

The only answer which is compatible with the idea of an omnipotent God is that He wants it this way, which isn't acceptible to people who cling to the idea of "perfect" as meaning kind or merciful, so they fudge it in the usual ways - "it's beyond our understanding" or "we have no business questioning it" - and try to say that somehow it doesn't count.

It would be refreshing if more people would acknowledge reality and what their own texts say and emulate Lewis Black, who referred to the Old Testament (Black was raised Jewish) God as "kind of a prick".

benvanderbeek said...

"when I think concretely of the debt and of the offered payment, I fail to see proportionality, equivalence, or justice."

Discussing the idea of God becoming human and dying certainly does fall flat when one rejects the concept of God as presented by Christianity. Comparing any "debt" of any human sin or sins to the "offered payment" of an omnipotent God submitting himself to death (the mode of death is pretty arbitrary given the person being killed) is a pretty one sided comparison.

And the direction that the scale is tilting reveals whether someone is truly considering what the death of an omnipotent God would be worth.

As far as justice, again, comparing God's holiness to Human A's utter rejection of God's will, or to Human B's not-quite-utter rejection, is like comparing a pebble or a boulder to the size of the universe. The difference is so negligible as to become laughable.

The refusal to to equate one person's subtle rejection of God in his subtle self-serving life to a Hitler or equivalent villain is tantamount to making oneself God, telling Him what is fair and what's not.

And in terms of last minute confessions and U turns, luckily you and I are not the ones who make that call; Jesus, the judge of all humanity, will make it. And he doesn't have to base his judgment merely off the humanly visible outward actions. Hence we are able to trust that a perfect omniscient God will not in fact stumble when it comes to doling out perfect justice.

benvanderbeek said...

"Why must it be 'paid for'? Why does this 'perfect God' allow it to exist?"

"The only answer which is compatible with the idea of an omnipotent God is that He wants it this way..."

I for one have a sneaking suspicion that genuine free will bestowed upon a creature by its creator is an absolute guarantee of rebellion. That this creature at its first opportunity will second guess any and all rules that have been set in place, figure out a way to view it/them as arbitrary, oppressive, unfair (simply modify the rules and attempt to convince itself that that's what the Creator "really meant") and rebel.

So I believe God "allows it to exist" not because "He wants it this way" but because it is literally the only possibility.

I'm pretty sure that's philosophically outside the realm of Christianity, as I don't know of any Bible passages that talk about alternate universes that God could have made, but this is my current position. Happy to be rebutted though! :)

Guess this gets us back to "free will without sin" as presented in the concept of the Christian afterlife, and whether it can really exist as an original/unalterable state.

Dale said...

Benv,

"Comparing any "debt" of any human sin or sins to the "offered payment" of an omnipotent God submitting himself to death (the mode of death is pretty arbitrary given the person being killed) is a pretty one sided comparison."

I'm not quite sure what you're driving at, but I am not the one who introduced the comparison. You (speaking for Christian doctrine) are the one who put Jesus's death on one side the scales and human sin on the other and pronounced it in balance -- a debt paid. I called attention to this comparison only to say it doesn't make any sense. So we agree?

"The refusal to to equate one person's subtle rejection of God in his subtle self-serving life to a Hitler or equivalent villain is tantamount to making oneself God, telling Him what is fair and what's not."

I will assume the "self-serving life" you mention here is not meant to refer to my life since you know nothing of my life, and I'll let that pass. To your point: yes, I very much do refuse to equate believing/not believing in a god because you don't find the story credible with killing/not killing millions of people because you don't like their ancestry. These acts are not morally equivalent, and no, it most certainly does not take 'omniscience' to reach that conclusion. If you're truly that lost when it comes to making everyday moral distinctions, I worry for you and for those within your reach.

"... you and I are not the ones who make that call; Jesus, the judge of all humanity, will make it. And he doesn't have to base his judgment merely off the humanly visible outward actions. Hence we are able to trust that a perfect omniscient God will not in fact stumble when it comes to doling out perfect justice."

The implication of what you said -- and pronounced not only good but the product of perfect omniscience -- is that a Nazi directly responsible for thousands of deaths will be absolved by the supreme power of the universe, god, if the Nazi thinks the right thoughts about Jesus (accepts him as his personal savior, rejects all other gods, accepts the sacrifice of the cross, etc.) before his death. This also implies, by the way, that any Jews who perished in the camps without the right pro-Jesus thoughts are now just getting started on their eternal stay in hell. And this you call good; this you call the perfect justice of perfect omniscience.

Maybe I mistake it.

If you're not pronouncing it good, but deferring the moral question to Jesus, then say that. Declare you simply don't know -- you simply have no idea how to morally assess a Nazi killer who, having killed thousands for hideously racist reasons, nonetheless formed and sincerely held the correct thoughts about Jesus shortly before dying. Or take another example -- a vicious serial child rapist who spent his last earthly hours inviting Jesus into his heart. Good? Bad? Bound for heaven or hell? If you don't know, you don't know.

But if you're saying it's good, I ask you to walk me through the reasoning by which you arrive there.

Or admit you have no reasoning by which you arrive there -- just some phrases you've been taught to repeat.