Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Dying God

View ImageThe aspect of the Moral Law that is most difficult to explain in naturalistic terms is the kind of altruism that makes a person willing to die for a stranger and even an enemy, or to suffer scorn and rejection for the well-being of others. In my previous post, we discussed possible natural explanations, like evolution or culture. Now we will discuss the possibility of a divine Lawgiver.

If there is such a thing as an objective Moral Law, this Lawgiver would have to epitomize it. The imprint of the Law on the human heart would have to match His nature in every way, like Cinderella's glass slipper fit her foot.

A few weeks ago, a non-Christian asked me why Jesus had to die on the cross. He couldn't see why an omnipotent God, who presumably had an unlimited number of options at His disposal, would choose such a barbaric method. There are a number of important reasons, but for the sake of this discussion I will focus on Jesus having to fulfill the Moral Law on our behalf.

Although God is certainly omnipotent, He cannot do that which is logically impossible. That is, He cannot be holy and not holy at the same time. And if He is holy, He cannot be capricious; He has to have integrity. Because God epitomizes moral perfection, there are certain things He cannot do and still be true to His nature. This does not diminish His omnipotence, because, as C. S. Lewis says, "omnipotence means the power to do all that is intrinsically possible." That does not include making 2 + 2 = 5 or being both holy and not holy. If something is logically impossible, then being able to do it is not omnipotence, it is nonsense.

The Bible says that God is holy, and in order to determine whether this is true, we should compare His nature to the Moral Law within us. But we do not look at the nature of God in the Old Testament, where He was the Head and Commander in Chief of a political system (a theocracy) that functioned in an Ancient Near East culture. Like any political system, this theocracy had to take into account practicality and culture. As Jesus explained, the Law of Moses made allowances for human nature and the hardness of unredeemed hearts (Matthew 19:8). Instead, we have to look to Christ, in whom "all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form" (Colossians 2:9). Christ is God, and as such He perfectly represents God's nature (John 1:1, Hebrews 1:3).

Jesus came to "fulfill all righteousness" (Matthew 3:15), so a look at His life, as manifested in the Gospels, will give us the Christian standard for righteousness. Jesus condemned religious hypocrisy more than any other type of sin (Matthew 23:27-28, Luke 11:44); and the religious hypocrites--His chief enemies--ultimately crucified Him. He befriended sinners, but transformed them rather than learning their ways (Matthew 11:19). He broke through social barriers by treating women and foreigners with respect (John 4:1-26). He valued marriage (Matthew 19:8) and sexual purity (Matthew 5:28). He taught peaceful resistance (Matthew 26:52) and respect for government authority (Matthew 17:27), but He also had the courage to speak truth to power (Luke 11:45-46). He combined justice (John 12:48) and mercy (Luke 18:13-14).

But most of all, His message was one of altruistic love, including love for our enemies (Luke 6:35). And the greatest act of love is to lay down our lives for our friends (John 15:13), so in order to fulfill all righteousness, Jesus had to do that. But He went beyond that--laying down His life for His enemies. When His enemies slapped, mocked, and scourged Him, pushing a crown of thorns into his head and nailing his hands and feet to a cross, his blood covered every sin that has ever been and will ever be committed.

He died on the Preparation Day of the Passover, when the Passover lambs were being slaughtered. And when He breathed His last, the heavy veil of the temple tore in two from top to bottom, granting sinners free access to the inner sanctuary of God.

4 comments:

stranger.strange.land said...

Thank you for this post, Anette.

I am just overwhelmed by the thought of what our Lord Jesus did out of amazing love for us, and loving obedience to his Father.

Quietly meditating on the cross makes me love Him more; He couldn't have loved me any more than He did (and does).

Craig

Anette Acker said...

I agree, Craig.

Iron Knife said...

Hi Annette. This is my first time actually writing on your blog, so I'm excited. I'm learning to stay away from AC these days as it is becoming too depressing to read. So I'm coming over to yours to get a more positive spin on important issues. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and insights, it is clearly way beyond what I've ever delved into.

I was reading this post, and I'm all about everything you said, however, I'm a little stuck on this paragraph:

"Although God is certainly omnipotent, He cannot do that which is logically impossible. That is, He cannot be holy and not holy at the same time. And if He is holy, He cannot be capricious; He has to have integrity. Because God epitomizes moral perfection, there are certain things He cannot do and still be true to His nature. This does not diminish His omnipotence, because, as C. S. Lewis says, "omnipotence means the power to do all that is intrinsically possible." That does not include making 2 + 2 = 5 or being both holy and not holy. If something is logically impossible, then being able to do it is not omnipotence, it is nonsense."

Once I re-read it a couple of times, I get what you're trying to say, but I can't quite grasp it. I am one of the first to give credence to an atheist's questions and this issue is a big sticking point. What you are saying here makes great intellectual sense. However, I still have a difficult time wrapping my mind around omnipotence which in the dictionary is referred to as "infinite in power." Many times when people question the seeming injustices of this world, many times a Christian will answer that we cannot grasp what God's plans or reasons are. So it seems to me that if God is omnipotent, He could do that which is logically impossible. Christians speak of God existing outside of time, and it seems to me that omnipotence could also exist out of logic. Like perhaps in His existence He can make 2+2=5. And then make us understand that when we get there.

So, I guess I'm asking, is your point that He has the power to do that which is logically impossible, but that He is choosing not to because it is against His nature? The chain of events that lead to Christ's crucifixion fit very well in my mind in it's showing us the altruistic love. Perhaps the non-believer isn't able to take that extra step to see what an act of Love and sacrifice it was when they view Him as being able to stop the whole process in the first place.

Forgive my rambling, you'll probably never want me to post here again LOL.

But I would love to hear more you would have to say about that part.

Thanks, and God bless you for all your hard work and study!

Anette Acker said...

Hi Iron Knife,

I'm glad to hear from you here, and your question is a very good one. In fact, I've been having related discussions with people who are strongly atheistic and claim that certain teachings of Christianity are logically impossible. Specifically, they think that it is logically impossible for God to exist and act outside of time, and for Him to be omniscient if we have free will.

There is a difference between those issues and something that is truly logically impossible. If something is axiomatic, it has to be true. Mathematics and logic are axiomatic. Two plus two has to equal four. Another axiom is that A cannot equal not A.

So if you apply that rule of logic to God, you can definitively say that God cannot be holy (perfect) and not holy (imperfect) at the same time. He can only be one or the other. If He is imperfect in any way, He is not perfect.

However, I recently had a conversation with an atheist where he said that it is logically impossible for God to exist and act outside of time. He backed up his reasoning by saying that time is a measure of change. Without time, he reasoned, there could be no change and therefore nobody (God included) could act outside of time.

However, in order to make that assertion, he would have had to demonstrate that it is axiomatic that time has to be a measure of change, not just that it is. That is, he would have to prove that the rules that govern within time have to govern in a timeless setting. This is impossible for him to do, because he has no knowledge of or experience with a timeless (eternal) setting.

Scientists recognize that there are many things about this universe that they don't understand, but they rely on the axiomatic nature of mathematics and the scientific method (which is grounded in logic). So they will never find out that two plus two really equals five, but they may well find strange and unexpected physical laws on the quantum level. Quantum physics is bizarre, but not fundamentally illogical.

If the God of the Bible is the Creator of this universe, the same rules have to govern Christian theology. That is, it cannot violate the rules of logic, but it would have to incorporate some ideas that are very hard for finite minds to conceptualize. This is exactly what we find to be true.

As far as the crucifixion is concerned, Jesus could have stopped the whole process by calling upon God to send over twelve legions of angels to rescue Him (Matthew 26:53). However, if He had done that, there would have been no redemption for us, because that was the only way (Matthew 26:42, 54).

It was the only way that God could be true to His nature as a righteous Judge, while also showing mercy to sinners.

Let me know if I have not expressed this clearly enough and I will elaborate.

God bless!