Sunday, November 04, 2007

Instead of me

A short answer in response to a question about the justice of the cross....


Justice is getting what you deserve. Getting your 'just deserts.'

Getting off "Scot free" (as you say) when you don't deserve Scott-freedness is not 'justice,' it's mercy.

So, were we treated justly? No. And, thank God.

Justice administers deserved punishment. The deserved punishment for sin is death.

Was this not administered?

It was, at Calvary. Christ became the sinner. He stood in our place, as if it were you and me up there.

So, there was no total disregard of a punishment for sin.

What's the problem?

It seems to be that Jesus took the penalty for our sin. He stood in for us. Took our place. He himself didn't deserve the penalty, we did.

What's wrong with that?

1) The idea of substitution was not foreign to the Ancient Near East mindset. We may have a problem, but it wasn't always this way. The Greek Pharmakos, comes to mind. (I just cite this to show that the idea of an "innocent" substitute for the people wasn't obviously wrong to the mind of man.)

2) It is 'illegal.' Perhaps within our legal code it is, but not in God's. Legality is determined from within a legal code. God's legal code allows for the idea of substitution, if done legally (according to his stipulations). Take Amsterdam's drug culture. Since it is legal there to ingest heroin, we wouldn't call what they're doing illegal, per se. It may be immoral, but we wouldn't call it illegal. So, since sin is a crime (it's more sophisticated than that, but crime sufficies for our purposes) in God's legal jurisdiction, against his law code, then the substitution was what took place within that law code, and hence was not 'illegal.' (The essence of this point I took from Glen Miller.)

3) It is 'immoral.' How so? Obviously to call something X immoral, one needs a framework of morality which allows one to call X immoral.

3.1) Take Utilitarianism, for instance. Seems like greater happiness resulted. Some Utilitarians even allow that it would be acceptable to rape a child if that's what a terrorist requested to avoid him detonating a nuclear bomb in the middle of Time Square.

3.2) Take Ethical Egoism, for instance. Surely if Christ chose to do this, and it was in his best interest, then it was not immoral. (Now, I think Egoism has serious problems, but all I need to do is present the *possibility* of the atonement being motivated out of self-interest, and the Egoist must accept the argument. In fact, Egoists have a knack for revision. They could easily make the atonement motivated by self-interest. And, if Ethical Egoism is motivated by Psychological Egoism - which many Egoists claim it is - then it is a *fact* that Jesus sacrificed himself out of self-interest.)

3.3) What about ethical anti-realistism, for instance. Obviously they can't complain about the immorality of the atonement, because nothing is really immoral. I bring these three up just to show that the person making the claim that it is immoral needs to offer a theory where that claim is intelligible. We've seen that on three non-Christian views, substitutionary atonement wouldn't be immoral.

3.4) Take a fourth view - Christian morality. On this view it is hardly immoral since God chose to do it and he cannot chose to do an immoral act.

4) It's not fair. That's right, it's not; for us. If we were treated fairly, we'd be in trouble. What's the problem, then? Usually we call foul when two supposed equals are matched up. If one has an advantage, then it's not fair. But if someone volunteers to do something that isn't what he deserves, we don't call that unfair. It might be unfair if a poor kid gets drafted to go to war when a rich kid should have gone in his place. But, if that poor kid *volunteers* to go in the place of the rich kid, we wouldn't call that unfair.

So, what is the problem? We've already noted that though we were not treated justly, Christ was in our place. We then asked what the problem with this view was. We can see that though we may have intuitions to the contrary, when we try to spell out what the problem is, we have problems specifying exactly what's supposed to be wrong here.


  1. Good points, Paul. We often do something for the friend of a friend (Proverbs 27:10). One person will pay the fine that another person owes.

  2. I'm paul manata
    and I'm on the mike
    gonna hip to the hop
    thro gods holy reich

    If yo' diss my god
    say he ain't all that
    gonna convince ya'
    with my base ball bat

    my rythms smooth
    and my chin is high
    if you dis my god
    your teeth will fly

    I'll knock you down
    my tail will wag
    as I nail yo' punk
    with a well placed "TAG"

    coz I believe in my god
    the big fai-ry
    due to the impossibility
    of the con tra ry

    my x-ian rhymes gonna
    be so sweet
    they make no sense
    byt I'll have you beat

    if you dare to question
    and I lose my faith
    my fist will quickly
    find your face

    so don't you dare
    disturb my cool
    coz without god
    I'm a raving fool!