Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Nothing but the blood

According to JD Walters:

"It is important to note that, while the New Testament does say that the death of Jesus was unjust, nevertheless God did act to deliberately bring it about, which is to say that men's motives for bringing about the death of Jesus were not the same as God's:

And yes, it is clear that the suffering and death of Jesus was something God wanted to happen, and made sure that it did happen. It is also true that God is not (necessarily) unjust in allowing or ordaining something evil to happen in order to bring about a greater good. However, what's at issue here is not whether God ordained something to happen for a greater good, but what his intentions were. Advocates of PSA assume that the purpose for which God ordained Jesus' death was to show His justice in punishing sin, but the above texts and similar ones do not establish that. They only establish that God ordained Jesus' death for a purpose, they do not specify what that purpose was."

JD is conflating two different issues:

i) I didn’t cite prooftexts like Isa 53:10, Lk 22:22, Acts 2:23, 4:27-28, and Rom 8:32 to establish what God’s intention was in the death of Jesus, but to establish that the death of Jesus was divinely intended.

ii) Apropos (i), JD has argued that penal substitution is wrong because it would be wrong for God to punish an innocent victim. However, the same objection would apply if God made an innocent victim suffer. For in both cases, the victim did nothing to deserve that treatment–or mistreatment.

iii) There are other passages that establish penal substitution.

“First of all we should notice the asymmetry in the two cases: even if God does pursue future generations of those that hate him, it is only to the third and fourth generation at most, whereas his mercy and faithfulness extend to a thousand generations. Even if there is a concept of corporate responsibility in the Bible, it is strictly limited in extent.”

i) Even if we accept his interpretation, it doesn’t solve the problem he posed for himself. On the face of it, JD objected to penal substitution because it would be intrinsically wrong for God to punish the innocent. However, the asymmetry is a difference of degree, not of kind. So he can’t continue to object to collective guilt (or related concepts) in principle, but only if the punishment is excessive.

ii) However, the point of the asymmetry is that God’s mercy outweighs his judgment in the life of his people.

“Second, we should make a distinction between punishment for the sins of another, and suffering for the sins of another. Because no man is an island, obviously many sins will have consequences for others who are not individually culpable for those sins. I may go to jail or death-row for blowing up a building which caused the death of several people, but those deaths are not punishments for my sin, they are the consequence of my sin. Succeeding generations may certainly suffer for the sins of the prior generation. Indeed, it is part of the punishment of that generation that their children will suffer for it.”

But this distinction doesn’t solve the problem that JD posed for himself. Unless they did something to deserve the dire consequences, then that raises the same theodicean issue as undeserved punishment.

“Take the exile, for example. It was simply inevitable that, in punishing Israel for its apostasy by exiling it, God would be involving future generations in that punishment, even if those future generations did not themselves apostatize. The consequences of exile would extend far beyond the first generation.

But successive generations cannot use the fact that they are suffering for the sins of their fathers as an excuse to cover up their own sins. That is the point of Ezekiel 18. There is a clear difference to be drawn between the exilic condition and individual punishment for sins. For succeeding generations, the exile becomes the backdrop against which they must reckon with the consequences of their own actions. It also becomes the backdrop against which God can use pious Israelites for his own good purposes, for example the exilic prophets to lay out the vision of God's final redemption, or people like Daniel and his friends to be a witness for God in the courts of Babylon. For them being exiled was not a punishment (even though they were suffering for the sins of their forefathers), but an opportunity for them to be a witness. God works in all things for the good for those who love him.”

i) Once again, this fails to address the underlying problem, as JD has identified the problem. If he’s going to deploy the greater-good defense to justify unmerited suffering, then he can continue to object in principle to unmerited punishment. It ceases to be wrong in itself, but only wrong absent mitigating factors.

ii) Moreover, if an opponent of penal substitution can invoke the second-order goods to justify unmerited suffering, then a proponent of penal substitution can also invoke second-order goods to justify unmerited punishment.

“Actually, the way the Lord lays out the reason for the famine gives us some reason to think that they were not entirely innocent. The Lord tells David that the famine is "for Saul, and for his bloody house, because he slew the Gibeonites." (2 Samuel 21:1b, KJV)

Bob Deffinbaugh, after noting the Pentateuchal command that "Fathers must not be put to death for what their children do, nor children for what their fathers do; each must be put to death for their own sin," (Deuteronomy 24:16), suggests that "God's words to David seem to emphasize the fact that Saul did not act alone in seeking to annihilate the Gibeonites. He would have needed help, and who would be more likely to help than his own family? Whether any Gibeonite blood was shed by their hands or not, they must have known, and thus they became accomplices in this heinous plan." As accomplices, Saul's sons and grandsons were not innocent of this crime, and thus could justly bear responsibility for it when Saul died.”

Several problems with this analysis:

i) The phrase “bloody house” doesn’t imply that Saul’s descendents were personally complicit in the crime. To the contrary, that phrase is what we’d expect in assigning collective guilt. The king is the representative of the royal household–especially his male heirs.

ii) To say he needed his sons or grandsons to carry out the deed is ridiculous on the face of it. Saul was a king, with many soldiers at his beck-and-call.

Moreover, soldiers are expendable in ways that heirs are not. Why put an heir at risk when a soldier will do?

iii) JD disregards the sustained corporate emphasis of the narrative:

a) A divine famine falls on Israel, not the immediate culprits. Eretz Israel has incurred bloodguilt. The people of Israel stand under God’s curse.

b) This was precipitated by a breach of covenant between two people-groups. Saul violated a national treaty. Hence, that is a crime, not merely against the murder victims, but the Gibeonite people.

c) Restitution also occurs at a representative level, where the penalty for a royal father’s breach of covenant is visited on his male heirs. Since the offender is dead, retribution is exacted on his living descendents.

This is not a one-to-one correspondence between the assailant and the victim. Rather, the correspondence operates at a corporate level. The Gibeonite survivors exact retribution on the Saulide survivors.

“Given that the apparent examples of corporate responsibility are either limited in extent or involve complex historical trajectories in which it is far from obvious that those who are being punished are actually innocent, these should not outweigh the clear biblical evidence in the form of specific commandments that the innocent should not be punished for the guilty. If the two sets of texts appear to conflict, we should conclude, not that the principle of the proper meting out of punishment has to be qualified, but that in the cases where this principle seems to be ignored, we simply do not have all the information we need to verify that that principle was indeed upheld.”

i) One problem with this argument is that the passages which prohibit the punishment of the innocent have reference to the human administration of justice (i.e. what Jewish judges are allowed to do), whereas the passages to the contrary have reference to the divine administration of justice.

ii) One possible explanation is that while a sinner may be innocent of a particular crime, he is guilty of many other transgressions–of which God is fully cognizant. That leaves the sinner justly liable to the general consequences of sin, even if there is no direct correlation between a particular sin and a particular outcome.

“So when it comes to Jesus, we should not think that his suffering for sins means that the guilt for those sins was laid upon him. It could not, seeing that he was innocent of all sin and never consented to any sin either. God made Jesus to suffer for our sins, not as a punishment, but so that he could truly claim to be the One sinned against, so that his obedience could be made perfect and so that he could truly empathize with those who suffer and thus effectively intercede for them. There is no hint of Jesus being burdened with the guilt of our sins, only that he was burdened with the sins themselves, that he suffered their consequences.”

i) Not only does that beg the question, but it disregards many prooftexts to the contrary.

ii) JD continues to disregard the elementary distinction between punishing a second party and self-punishment.

“Another possible worry is that this objection (that the innocent should not be punished for the guilty) simply trades in the problem of the punishment of the innocent for the suffering of the innocent. If God would be unjust to punish an innocent person, wouldn't he also be unjust by making him suffer, even if that suffering is not punishment?

But it is obvious that these two cases are not at all analogous. God allows the innocent to suffer for many good reasons: so that they can show their faith and obedience to Him (see Job or the suffering believers that Peter writes to), so that the wicked can fill up their cup of judgment by showing how fully they hate God and his anointed ones (or by bringing their wickedness to light in the first place), or so that God's power can be revealed in their suffering (for example, Paul's thorn in the flesh). The problem of God punishing an innocent person is a problem of justice: He would be unjust and going against his nature to do so. But the problem of God allowing the innocent to suffer is a problem of His goodness, IF we assume that God's goodness means that the innocent would never suffer from anything, and we never get this guarantee from Scripture (indeed, all who live Godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution). The two problems are not at all analogous.”

i) Yet the two cases are clearly analogous. Why would it be unjust to punish the innocent? Because they didn’t receive what was their due. Their due reward or penalty. There’s a mismatch between the treatment and their just deserts.

JD’s explanations systematically fail to address the issue in terms of how he framed the issue.

ii) And the facile disjunction between divine justice and divine goodness won’t hold. For Scripture certainly regards the suffering of the righteous as an issue of divine justice. That sooner or later, God must recompense the faithful by punishing the wicked. He must right the scales of justice.

“It's true Paul focuses a lot on Jesus' death. I'll have to look into this some more…”

So he didn’t bother to study the Pauline doctrine of the atonement before rejecting penal substitution. Rather, he begins with his conclusion, then goes back to scene of the crime to destroy evidence to the contrary.

“…but one reason might have to do with his Gentile audience, and the problem of how the Gentiles could be included in the covenant community. Their justification is patterned after that of Abraham before circumcision, which involved believing that God would provide him an heir, even when Abraham and Sarah were basically 'as good as dead'. It was Abraham's faith that God would provide life out of death that was accounted to him as righteousness and ensured that his spiritual progeny would also be justified. Paul sees Jesus as fulfilling that motif of Scripture (trusting God to bring life out of death, i.e. resurrection).”

Is he suggesting that if Paul was writing to Jews instead of Gentiles, Paul would teach justification by circumcision rather than justification by faith?

“Salvation is a complex thing, and every part of Christ's life, death and resurrection played an essential role in accomplishing it. It seems that you're thinking of 'save' in a very limited sense here. Even if Jesus' death wasn't necessary to take away the punishment for our sins, it was still necessary in order to destroy its power, which is definitely part of salvation, as Hebrews makes clear.”

i) Except that Hebrews has a doctrine of penal substitution.

ii) JD doesn’t actually explain how Jesus’ non-penal death is necessary to destroy the power of sin. Where’s the connecting argument?

“If Jesus' death was necessary as laid out in 2, then of course the Father would want Jesus to suffer and die and would arrange for it to happen. But we must keep in mind the difference between the idea that a) the Father would bring about something evil for the greater good, i.e. whether he is just in bringing about an atrocity and b) whether the death itself was an expression of God's justice, i.e. a punishment.”

What about Rom 3:21-26–to take one example?

“But in any case, we can understand imputation as the proleptic verdict of the final judgment. Those who trust in Christ receive the Holy Spirit, who will make sure that they are able to stand blameless at the final judgment, and in the meantime Christ's righteousness covers them.”

So ultimately we’re justified by our own merit. Imputation is just a bridge loan until we can justify ourselves by our own good works. After that, who needs Jesus?

1 comment:

  1. "Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”"

    From noon to three darkness fell upon the earth.
    The Father forsakes the Son. This is Christ the Lamb of God, taking away the sins of the world. Thi is the hour of darkness.

    Paul tells us Jesus was made a Curse for us. For us, the cursed ones. God made His Son an imprecation, an execration, for us.
    This love is so far beyond the love that so many Christians are being taught in our day. The deep deep love of Jesus is incomprehensible.
    The everyday love of God we are accustomed to is so much shallowness and banal, when compared to the true love the Scripture displays.

    Satan is subtle, and he hates this perfect love of Christ; the love Paul speaks of in Ephesians:

    "that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God."

    Thanks for sharing your on going debate of such a deep subject, and most essential truth for us to ponder and pray to understand in the deepest possible depth of knowing. And so experiencing His love in deeper ways as well.