Saturday, July 31, 2010

Substitutionary Atonement and Sacrifice in the Hebrew Scriptures

It is clear in many passages that Jesus’ death is associated with the OT (Hebrew Scriptures) sacrifices, especially the Passover sacrifice. John 1 and Revelation 5 both call Jesus a Lamb, the sacrificial animal of the Passover. In all four gospels a point is made that Jesus’ death was at the time of the Passover meal, and Jesus’ last supper and the establishment of the Eucharist is at the Passover meal. And sacrificial language is used in connection with Jesus’ death by Paul, the writer of Hebrews, as well as the prophecy in Isaiah 53. Clearly, sacrifice is an important theme to understand Jesus’ death.

This is the most significant theme of Substitutionary Atonement, but is it enough to establish it as the premier theory? The problem with this is determining that sacrifice in the OT was considered Substitutionary in nature, but there is little evidence for this. In fact, the clearest example of substitution in the OT is in the scapegoat sacrifice. On the day of Atonement the High Priest sacrifices a bull for the sins of the people, and two goats are presented. One goat is sacrificed, but the High Priest lays hands on the second goat, putting on that goat all the sins of the people, and that goat is released, alive, into the wilderness. It is interesting that the goat that is sacrificed does not contain the sins of the people, but the goat in the wilderness.

It is also interesting that Jesus’ death doesn’t follow the pattern of the day of atonement, but rather the Passover. Jesus’ death is likened to the death of the innocent lamb who dies so that the people might make an indication to the angel of death that they belong to God’s people and so Death might not visit the house. And this was the means by which the people might leave the oppressive slavery of Egypt.

But even a sin offering was not considered substitutionary. Rather, in Malachi 1:8, a sacrifice for sin to God is compared to a gift to a governor. It is a gift to curry favor, not a means to transfer sin off of one. The only sacrifice that was considered that is the release of the scapegoat, which Jesus’ death is never compared to.

Nevertheless, Jesus’ death is considered a sacrifice. It is an offering to God which gives one release from death and oppression. Again, this theme must be recognized in any atonement theory.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Important Theological Ideas of the Atonement

It is often stated that there are three theories of the atonement: The Ransom Theory, in which Jesus’ death is a payment made to Satan; The Moral Theory in which Jesus’ death is the prime example of love; and The Substitutionary Theory, which is being discussed. However, atonement theories are not limited to three. In fact, there are many theories of the atonement and more are being created annually. But it makes it easy to set up three main theories in order to discuss how they are not biblical or not realistic. The problem with almost all atonement theories, however, is that they limit themselves to talking about only a few passages and then rely on particular definitions or cultural ideas to make their point. An inadequate theory is often found by significant themes that are not discussed. Below, I want to talk about some biblical themes that must be included in any atonement theory and are almost never discussed when presenting Substitutionary Atonement Theory, or, in fact, any single atonement theory.

Salvation is found in the combination of Jesus’ death and resurrection
Many atonement theories only spend time speaking of the significance of Jesus’ death. However, any well-rounded atonement theory must include a discussion about Jesus’ resurrection as well as His death. Main passages about atonement and Jesus’ death speak just as strongly about Jesus’ resurrection. These include: Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Psalm 22; Jesus’ predictions of his death, including Mark 8:31; Philippians 2:6-11; John 12:24-25; Romans 5:10 and many more. Jesus is not just the dying Savior, but also the living Lord and this must be reflected in any compete atonement theory.

Jesus’ death defeated all the powers
It is said by some that the Ransom Theory is unbiblical. If one sees the Ransom Theory (also called the Christus Victor theory) as simply being a payment to Satan, one can perhaps make the point. However, that is only one formulation of the atonement theory, a straw man that is easy to dismiss. If one formulates the theory as being through his death and resurrection, Jesus triumphed over the powers, there is strong Biblical evidence for this. Colossians 2:14-15, John 12:31-32 and Hebrews 2:14 makes this connection explicit. And if Sin, Death and Hades are seen as powers, then Jesus’ death is seen to defeat them as well: Revelation 1:18; Romans 6:8-10; and all of I Cor. 15, especially vv. 54-57. While an atonement theory does not have to center around Jesus’ defeat of the powers, it must include that as a theme.

Jesus’ death is an example for us to follow
The example theory promoted by Peter Abelard is often rejected by believers as being salvation by works. However, Jesus’ death is clearly promoted as an example for believers to follow. Philippians 2:5-12; I Peter 2:21-25; Ephesians 5:25-28; Mark 8:31-38 and John 15:12-13 all speak of it being necessary to imitate Jesus’ death. Revelation 12:10-11 connect Jesus’ death with both the defeat of Satan and the example of Jesus being lived out among the disciples. And Colossians 1:14 goes so far as to say that Jesus’ death is insufficient for the church and that the suffering of the apostles must accompany it. The difficulty with Peter Abelard’s approach is connecting Jesus’ death strictly with love. Yes, love is significant, especially in John 15 and Ephesians 5, but the major theme is that of humility and even death in following Jesus. This theme is significant and must be included in any atonement theory.

Jesus’ death leads to the ending of sin in believers
It is often connected with Substitutionary Atonement Theory that Jesus’ righteousness is imputed to believers in Jesus. This means that faith in Jesus unifies one in Jesus, and then a believer becomes “clothed” in righteousness, taking on the righteousness of Jesus which one did not earn oneself. This theory might be true, but the Scripture declares that this righteousness is not simply “imputed” but is also practical. Jesus’ death isn’t only to stop the power of sin, but also the action of sin in followers of Jesus. I Peter 2:24; Galatians 5:24 and especially Romans 6 declares that the death of Jesus is not only to impute righteousness, but it creates a lifestyle of living for God in the follower. Thus, sin is perhaps not ceased, but one’s life is clearly to no longer be characterized by sin, but by doing righteousness. A theory of atonement must include this.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Does The Bible Teach Substitutionary Atonement?

There are a number of passages that are used as “proof” of Substitutionary atonement. I am not going to deny that they are about that particular theory of atonement, but I see no evidence that they “prove” one particular view of atonement. Rather, they speak about atonement in general without speaking to how atonement works. I’m going to cover each one, and it will sound as if I’m a naysayer to all of them. My real evidence against the atonement theory comes later. This isn’t evidence. It is simply showing that the passages don’t have to be speaking of one particular theory:

I Peter 2:24—“He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.” The evidence for a substation comes in the phrase “bore our sins in His body”. Thus, the idea is that Jesus took the sins of (at least) believers when He died, offering salvation. Note that it does not speak of paying the penalty for sin, though, nor of bearing the wrath of God. And the term “bore” has implications in English that don’t exist in Greek. In fact, the Greek word anaphero is often used in sacrifice language to bring to an altar or, more simply to “carry away”, as it is translated in the New Living Translation. Thus, it just means that Jesus is on the cross due to our sins, and that His death in some way gives us freedom from sins. But it does not imply any kind of substitution or of payment for a penalty. That is read into the text. In fact, it says that Jesus did this for the purpose of not living in sin anymore, but living for God’s righteousness. However, a simple substitution would imply the opportunity to live as we will, not necessarily to encourage a change of lifestyle.

Isaiah 53:4-6—“Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him.” This is certainly the passage that I Peter 2:24 is quoting. And Isaiah 53 is certainly speaking of a person’s death acting as an atonement for other’s sins. The story of it, however, doesn’t have to be a vicarious substitute, however. In fact, the broader passage seems to emphasize something else.
The people, in their sin, see the prophet of God as being reject by God and so they punish him severely. Thus he was “crushed for our iniquities”—because of the sin of the people they saw HIM as the sinner. However, God, seeing the evil of the people and the innocence of the sufferer, places the one who suffered unjustly as the ruler of the people. And instead of taking vengeance on them, he teaches them the way of justice and establishes the rule of mercy. If one reads from Isaiah 52- 53, this story comes out clearly. Substitution might be possible, but not necessary.

II Cor. 5:21-- He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
The language there isn’t necessary. The Greek says, “He made him who knew no sin to be a sin offering for us.” So this is sacrifice language. How does the atonement work? That depends on how sacrifice works, which I will discuss later.

Genesis 22—The offering of Isaac is often seen as a type of Jesus’ death, and that very well could be. However, it can be shown in this story that human sacrifice is rejected as a demonstration of God’s love, that Isaac isn’t a substitute for anyone’s sins, but rather the sacrifice would be a demonstration of Abraham’s ultimate devotion to God. I don’t see how this works for Substitutionary atonement at all.

Romans 3:25; I John 2:2; I John 4:10— All three of these passages uses the word iesterios, which is often translated “propitiation”. Propitiation is a word that means an offering to set aside wrath. However, there isn’t a clear connection between the idea of “propitiation” and “iesterios”. Most Greek lexicons, including the UBS lexicon and the Lowe-Nida lexicon translate the word as “the means of forgiveness” or “the place of forgiveness”. In other words, the negative idea of God’s wrath being appeased need not apply. Jesus death is simply the means of God’s forgiveness. How that works isn’t specifically mentioned.

II Cor 1:9—“We had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead” This passage is occasionally used to speak of the sentence of death. However, it is in the context of Paul and his companions suffering that this passage is used. A better passage about all humanity being under Death is Romans 3:23.

John 19:30
—“It is finished.” When Jesus died he made this final statement. But what is finished? Anyone can invent what Jesus was intending there.

So, from these passages we can say clearly that Jesus’ death is meant to be a kind of sacrifice, that Jesus death is due to our sins, and that Jesus’ death is meant to offer forgiveness. Also, it is mentioned in a couple of the passages that Jesus’ death is to cause us to become righteous and put away our sin. But how does sacrifice work? And how does Jesus’ death cause us to set aside our sin? And how do we get forgiveness? None of that is explained in these passages. However a broader look at Scripture will give us a better idea of how Jesus’ sacrifice worked.

My interpretation of the Scriptures above might seem dissatisfactory. After all, I haven't proved that they don't talk about substitutionary atonement. I've only shown that they are general statements of atonement. Again, in this place, I am not trying to prove an atonement theory, nor am I trying to prove that substitutionary atonement is wrong-- I'll save that for later. Instead I am showing that the Bible doesn't necessarily teach it, and thus it cannot be used as a doctrine for salvation. Because there are different interpretations, we have to allow for diversity. Jesus died for our sins -- that is enough to believe.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Why Substitutionary Atonement Isn't The Gospel

It is claimed by many that one must believe that Jesus died as the replacement for our sins in order to be saved. In other words, they are saying that we must believe in one theory of atonement-- the Penal Substitution Theory-- above all others to be saved.

As I posted yesterday, this statement is difficult, for it claims that all those who could not have known about the theory, even though they lived lives of following Jesus, were not actually saved.

What does the Scripture say about "What we must do to be saved"?

The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.“ Mark 1:15

"This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.“ John 6:29

“Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Acts 2:38

"Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.“ Acts 16:31

There are many other passages I could quote, but these are representative. First of all, the Scripture says we must repent. That means that we must admit that we have messed up our relationship with God and that it is our fault. It means that we must ask God for forgiveness and invite Him to lead us out of our sin.

It also means we must believe. Jesus said that we must believe "the gospel" in Mark 1. Especially in the parable of the sower in Mark 4, we can see that "the gospel" is specifically the teaching of Jesus, not just the theological assumptions of human reasoning.

But most importantly, the Scripture says again and again that we must believe in Jesus. Not ABOUT Jesus-- as if belief is some intellectual achievement, but IN Jesus. We must believe, as Nathaniel in John 1:49-50, that Jesus is not just a King, but OUR King. We must put Jesus first in our lives as our Lord and our sole government. This is what is repeated again and again in the New Testament. Nothing less than having Jesus as our Lord will save us. Not belief in any part of theology, but the surrender of our sovereignty to Jesus.

Another time I'd like to talk about the implications of this theology, but it is enough to say that it is not belief in any theory of atonement that saves us, not according to Scripture. It does say in I Corinthians 15:3-4 that we need to believe that Jesus "died for our sins", but that word "for" doesn't imply substitution, but rather causation (as we will see next time). And Paul's emphasis (as it is throughout his writings) is faith in Jesus' resurrection as the basis for our resurrection.

Jesus' death is certainly important in the mechanics of HOW we are saved. But the mechanics of how atonement works is not the object of faith-- only Jesus is. It used to be when I was in school that they would give us computer classes. Today, if you take classes they teach you how to run programs so you can practically use a computer. In that day they taught programming, which did nothing for us trying to write reports or do accounting on a computer. Even as learning programming or the mechanics of a motherboard isn't necessary to use a computer, so is understanding the atonement unnecessary to follow Jesus or to live in the Spirit.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

When Did Substitutionary Atonement Begin?

It is the claim of most evangelicals that “the gospel” or the object of our belief is contained in the theory of Substitutionary atonement. What we need to realize, however, is that whatever theory one uses for atonement, it is simply the mechanism by which the death of Jesus works toward our salvation, and that there are different ideas as to how this works. Good Christians disagree as to this mechanism-- in other words, there are different points of view. It is an error, then, to package the entirety of Christianity—the basis of one’s belief, the heart of the gospel—to be contained in a single theory of atonement. It is a mistake to teach unbelievers and new believers that this one theory is the entirety of the gospel, the focus of one’s belief. Why do I believe this?

For the next few post, I want to make clear that I am not attacking the theory of Substitutionary Atonement. Rather, I am making the claim that it is not exclusive and that it is not what we need to believe in for our salvation. My first point is historic:

The atonement theory stated in the last post has many names. It can be called the penal substitution atonement theory, the vicarious atonement theory and Anselm’s version of it is called the satisfaction theory. Although there were certain people who held to parts of the atonement, including Augustine (Fifth century) and Anselm (Eleventh century), the classic form was not taught as doctrine until well into the reformation period by Luther and Calvin. (

This means that the far majority of Christians did not hold to this theory of atonement before the time of the reformation. This is true even if the Bible originally taught the substitution view-- most Christians throughout the history of the church held to a different view. And, in fact, a large portion of Christians —those of the Eastern Orthodox churches, for example— still do not hold to this view of the atonement.

While it is questionable whether the earliest Christians held to such a view, it is not questioned whether this view was held from the second century on—they most certainly did not. Thus, it cannot be held that one particular view of atonement must be the one that must be believed in for salvation, unless we are going to hold that the majority of believers in the past and a strong minority in the present didn’t have salvation because they didn’t hold to one theory of atonement.

This would mean that Francis of Assisi, Peter Waldo, Clare of Assisi, Aquinas, John Hus, John Wycliffe, as well as all the martyrs of the second century were not saved because they didn't believe in the right "gospel". Because they had no knowledge of the substitutionary atonement theory, but that most of them believed that Jesus' death was a ransom paid to Satan must we say that they didn't have true faith? That their suffering for the sake of Jesus was based on a false gospel?

Or should we say that it is enough for them to have believed that Jesus died for their sins, even if they didn't have all the details right? This seems more rational, and, as I will show, more biblical.

What Is Substitutionary Atonement?

A friend of mine recently challenged my questioning the idea of substitutionary atonement. She says that this is what she understands to be the gospel, and so she couldn't see how I-- a pastor and a serious student and believer in the Bible-- could disagree with it. At first I gave her a quick answer, but she didn't buy into that, and she responded with giving me a longer response.

Well, theological discussions are kind of like violence-- they tend to escalate. So rather than just give another quick response, I decided to give her a thorough response. And so I give it here, in sections. And when I say long, I mean long. I am truly sorry for those not interested in the topic of how specifically the death of Jesus atones for our sin, because I'm going to cover this for a while. And specifically I will be discussing the most common evangelical/Protestant perspective on this topic-- Substitutionary Atonement.

First of all, what is it? I summarize the evangelical version of the atonement as follows:

a. Adam and Eve sinned before God. The result of that sin was death. Now every child of Adam is under the curse of death.
b. We all sin, thus we are all deserving of death. God’s ultimate death is an eternity in hell. This is the just result of our sin against God.
c. Jesus is God, but he came to earth as a human being. However, he was not a son of Adam, but the son of God, and so not under the curse of Adam. Nor did he sin, so he was not deserving of the penalty of hell.
d. Jesus was killed as if he were a sinner. At this time, God put on Jesus all the sin of humanity. This gave the opportunity for humanity to be freed from the penalty of their sin.
e. Anyone who believes in Jesus is freed from the penalty of their sin and thus can obtain eternal life.

As anyone who has been evangelized by an evangelical knows, this is a common view of "the gospel", so you can see why my friend is a little baffled as to my disbelief in this view. However, as I hope to show I have some strong historic, biblical and theological reasons. I will also describe what I do believe in, a point of view I consider to be more biblical than the common evangelical viewpoint.

BTW, my summary, although popular, isn't the most precise theological statement. For that, I suggest checking out the wikipedia article on this subject:
Penal Substitution View of Atonement

Why Only Thomas?

I'm continuing to respond to the excellent questions posed by AZ on his series: Tough Questions for Christians. Here's the next one:

Why Only Thomas?

AZ needs to get his facts straight. Thomas believed all the miracles, but, like all the rest of the disciples, didn’t hear or understand Jesus’ prophecy that he would be raised from the dead. Probably, they all thought Jesus was speaking of the general resurrection of the dead, not his own specific one. So when the other disciples saw Jesus, perhaps Thomas thought they were having a mass hallucination, or they were all pulling his leg. Whatever the case, he didn’t believe. Jesus then appeared to them and he told Thomas to touch him, but Thomas didn’t. Rather, Thomas immediately said, “My Lord and My God.” Seeing Jesus was enough.

However, that doesn’t pertain to the question. AZ wants to know why he doesn’t get the same level of proof Thomas got in order to believe in Jesus.

Well, a couple reasons. First of all, Thomas isn’t the most extreme skeptic. That place goes to the rich man brothers, in Luke 16. The rich man begs Abraham to send Lazarus to his brothers from the dead to tell them to help the poor. Abraham refuses, because he says, “If they don’t listen to Moses, they won’t pay attention to someone even if they are raised from the dead.” Thomas DID believe the One risen from the dead. These guys would not.

And most skeptics today are in the same place. If they saw and even touched a person risen from the dead, telling them to believe in Jesus, they would figure that it was a figment of their imagination, a result of something they ate. Perhaps they’d think it was a temporary psychosis. But an atheist has a faith. A faith that God cannot exist. Not that there is insufficient proof, but that there cannot be proof.

If AZ really wanted proof, it might not be a person rising from the dead, but something that he would accept. What is that proof? I don’t know and perhaps AZ doesn’t know. But God knows. If AZ is really looking for proof and not just trying to tear down other’s belief, then he should ask God. It can’t hurt. If God doesn’t exist, he might be slightly embarrassed, but no harm done. However, if God does exist, and AZ is sincere in seeking evidence, God will give it to him. So that’s the best answer. You don’t have because you don’t ask.

Friday, July 23, 2010

God's Success Rate

God's Failures

He does go on a bit, but AZ asks a good question: The Bible seems to be an account of one failure after another of God attempting to make a perfect humanity. Thus, is this a description of a perfect being, one that fails?

One issue is the word “perfect”. I honestly hate that word. There is nothing—not even God—that can match up to that word. If God is faithful to His word, but isn’t successful, then He is “imperfect”? Imperfect by which standard?

God never claims to be 100 percent successful. If that was the case, then great sacrifice wouldn’t be necessary would it? Rather, He claims to be faithful, merciful, forgiving and powerful. The Bible does describe that kind of God. If God is a completely controlling God, then the Bible story might seem strange. But God is instead loving and faithful. And so the Bible story makes good sense.

Because right at the beginning, Genesis 1, God handed over rule of the earth to humanity. All creatures—including humans—are ultimately under human control. God steps in when it gets particularly bad—when violence is excessive or the poor are abused (Genesis 6, Psalm 82), but apart from that, God keeps his hands off, for the most part. So the story of the Bible is not about God’s failure. Rather it is the story of God’s occasional intervention in an otherwise human-controlled environment. Thus, if we need to point to failure, we need to look to humanity.

Why, then, does God allow humans to continue to rule? Because He is faithful to His promise. He promised humans to rule. And even when all of humanity was pretty much corrupt, God still kept eight human beings to maintain His promise. Even when all of humanity proved corrupt, God sent His Son to be a human being—the only righteous ruler of all. If this is imperfection, then give me faithfulness and mercy over success any day.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Purpose of Hell

Tough Questions for Christians: Hell

AZ says that there are three purposes for punishment: a. Correction, b. Deterrent or c. Protection for the rest of society. And so he concludes because hell is after one’s actions, it can’t act as correction, and because not everyone believes in it, it can’t act as a deterrent, and in eternity, protection is not needed.

There are a few things I want to say about this. First of all, there is a fourth category that AZ doesn’t consider and that is punitive justice. In other words, a torturer deserves to suffer because of the suffering they have caused other. Most people in the world hope that Hitler burns in hell, not because he is to be corrected, or because it would stop others from doing the same thing, or for our protection, but simply because he deserves it for causing so many to suffer and die.

Secondly, hell is protection. It is primarily a place of separation, not torture. It is the place people go to be separated from God’s people. It is primarily exile so God’s kingdom can run without problems.

Also, I agree that hell doesn’t act as a good deterrent to those who do not believe in it. It is interesting, however, that Jesus, who talks the most about hell, also doesn’t ever say that hell is for anyone apart from those who believe in God. Hell is, Jesus says, made for Satan, but those who enter into hell are those who act for Satan but claim to be followers of God. It is for “hypocrites, stumbling blocks, and those who refuse God’s law”, which is the law of love (Matt 13:41). But this all seems to indicate that this punishment, this exile, is for those who consider themselves worthy of being in God’s kingdom. So there is the possibility that many people who don’t believe might not be in consideration for hell. Perhaps annihilation is an option?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Torture in Hell?

AZ's next question has to do with the nature of eternal punishment.

Tough Questions for Christians- Torture

AZ is now speaking against the statement, “We all deserve to be tortured for all eternity for our sins.” In summary, he says that those who say that don’t really understand true torture. If we truly see torture, can we honestly say we “deserve” that kind of treatment?

This time I’ll have to agree with AZ. God is a just God and He gives back in accordance to what is done. We reap what we sow—we do not get many times magnified what we deserve. I believe—and I’m willing to be wrong about this—that the description of fire and physical torture is symbolic. Some people will get that kind of suffering (more about that in a moment), but not all.

What we all deserve is to be around people who are just like us. To have to deal with people who act like we act. Thus, if we are liars, we deserve to be living in a community of people who you can’t trust. If we are
anxious, we deserve to be in a community of the fearful, isolated and scared that someone may lash out because of their own fear. If we are violent, we deserve to be in a society of the violent.

God gives us back that which we give to others. If we give mercy to others, we will receive mercy. If we give forgiveness to others, we will obtain forgiveness. But if we spend our time judging others, then we deserve to be judged. If we spend our time hurting others, we deserve to be hurt. If we torture others, we deserve to be tortured.

Jesus, however, gives a very interesting example in Luke 16. He talks about a wealthy man who was in constant contact with a terribly poor man. The poor man was starving and had sores all over his body and dogs licked the sores. The wealthy man had feasts each night. He had medicine for his sores. He had a house to keep out unwanted creatures. And this man died and went to hell. He suffered in flame. Why is this? What had the wealthy man done to deserve torture? He wasn’t a torturer himself. He didn’t harm others. He didn’t do anything.

And that was his sin. He had the power to relieve the poor man’s tortures. He could have relieved his suffering at any point, but chose to use all of his wealth and resources on himself, instead of on even a single person that could have used his help. Because of this, God tortured him. Not because he held the whip in his hand, but because he looked at a tortured soul, and though he had the power to do something about it, he did nothing. “Deliver those who are being taken away to death, And those who are staggering to slaughter, Oh hold them back. If you say, "See, we did not know this," Does He not consider it who weighs the hearts? And does He not know it who keeps your soul? And will He not render to man according to his work?” Proverbs 24:11-12

God’s justice also acts on our inaction. With our free will we also have the responsibility to help those who are in need of help. And God will punish us due to our apathy as well as for our unjust actions. If we can do something about AIDS in Africa, about the homeless, about the sex slaves in our own nation, about the innocent being destroyed by U.S. bombers—if we can do something about this and we do nothing, then we are given the responsibility. If we can stop the torture of souls and we do nothing, then we are deserving of torture.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Are We Not Allowed To Use Our Freewill?

Another comment from azsuperman:

Tough Questions for Christians- Freewill

AZ asks: "If we use our freewill, it can only be as robots. If we actually use it freely, we will burn in hell forever. Is this actually free?"

AZ has the same problem as many children-- he can only see the little that is not allowed rather than the huge variety that is.

Even if we follow the law, which is considered restrictive by many, it has 618 laws. Jesus whittled down all the laws to simply two-- Love God and love your neighbor. But we make thousands of choices a day. For every choice we have, there are many different options, only some of them are actually sin.

It actually reminds me of Adam and Eve. Many people consider them to have been tricked by God because the tree He didn't want them to eat was right in the middle of the garden, and thus tempting. That might be a possibility, but they are ignoring the opportunities they had. If the rivers are correct, the garden was literally millions of acres, filled with trees. So there were countless trees and God only asked them not to eat one.

This is the fact of freewill-- God gives us the right to rule the earth. And we've been doing that. Sometimes we've done alright. Other times we've done very poorly. But it is an optical illusion to think that all the choices we really have are sinful ones. There is the occasional moral dilemma, but most of the time we are just living life. And we have the choice to live it as we please.

Some may say, "But if we sin once, God will send us to hell eternally." That doesn't seem accurate with Scripture, but let's say that it's true. God also gave us the choice to escape hell eternally by being in His kingdom. All we have to do is follow Jesus and participate in the discipline of repenting of our sin. That's pretty simple, really.

One last item. AZ is comparing hell with death. It's not exactly the same. God gives us our freedom, almost without restriction, throughout our life. Yes, after our life there is a judgment, but this is not the same as saying, "Spend one dollar and I will kill you." God is not telling us not to "spend" our freewill-- He is restricting our choices slightly for the good of all. And God is not killing us the instant we use our freewill-- we have sixty to eighty years to act as we choose. And how we choose to act is the basis for our eternity.

Not like robots at all.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Why Do We Have To Believe In Jesus?

A response to this video:

Tough Questions for Christians #2

There are some decent challenges to Christian theology out there. We shouldn't just put our fingers in our ears and hope they go away. Instead, we should consider these challenges, ask if they make logical sense and then answer them, if we can. And if we can't we need to admit that.

Here, the challenge is pretty simple: "If Jesus died for the whole world to pay for our sins, then why should I have to do anything-- believe in Jesus or anything else? If a debt is paid, then it is simply paid, right?"

There are a lot of answers one could give to this. Some would say that Jesus didn't technically die for the whole world, only for believers. However, Scripture seems to refute this: "Jesus died for sins, the just for the unjust." I Pet. 3:18; "Jesus died for sins, once for all" Romans 6:10.

The passages seem to be indicating the sufficiency of Jesus' death, not necessarily their universality. In other words, Jesus' death is sufficient for all, but that doesn't necessarily mean that it is a covering for all humanity.

However, Christians often miscommunicate how Jesus' death takes care of sin. We are in a sinful lineage, of a sinful race, of a sinful nation, of a sinful society. God will punish us all for simply participating in the society that forces us to sin-- to act in opposition to God's love. Scripture says that Jesus' death is for this purpose: "For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living." Romans 14:9. Jesus' death established a new kingdom, one in which everyone has a new beginning, with Jesus at the head.

Thus, Jesus' death isn't a simple payment, it is rather an opportunity. It is a chance for everyone--without exception-- to immigrate to Jesus' kingdom. Everyone has the opportunity to change nationalities, change lineages, change societies to be a part of Jesus' kingdom. But to enter that kingdom, one must accept Jesus as one's Lord and King. That seems pretty simple, huh? We have to have faith in Jesus in order to enter His kingdom.

Thus, if Jesus' death is to have any effectiveness, we need to accept Him.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Fearing Harm

Often we are afraid that if we allow others freedom in some area, then we are allowing ourselves to be harmed. For instance, I might be afraid that my son will hit his sister unless I keep him away from her. Or, more broadly, a society might fear that another race will do them harm unless they keep them oppressed (such as Jews in Nazi Germany, blacks in the United States). However, it is exactly this kind of situation that the law of freedom is given. It seems so much safer to limit other’s freedom, or we might think it is to their benefit. But fear of harm is not the same as proven harm. The only time we should limit the freedom of another is when they have proven that they would harm, not just because we fear it. And even when we limit freedom, we should do so only to the degree in which the assured harm would be prevented.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Limiting our Freedom to Limit Harm

Another complication is having the freedom to do something that is known to indirectly cause harm to others. For instance, one might want to give a dog the opportunity to run in the yard. But if we know that the dog will jump the fence and then bite someone else, then should that freedom be limited? The answer to almost all societies is that if an action is known to cause harm to others, then that freedom should be limited.

But what if it is different in different cases? Some people, when they get drunk, they get abusive. Others, most, do not. Some people, when they use drugs, steal. Others do not. Should everyone be limited from these activities because of the harm of a few? Or should each case be taken separately? Most societies make general principles—i.e. drinking is okay, drunk driving is not—that limit one’s harm, but allows freedom.

This means that we must make more limitations ourselves. If we know we can cause harm to others indirectly, then we must avoid that harm ahead of time. We cannot depend upon the law to determine all of our ethical choices. Freedom means doing what is right ourselves because it is right, not because someone is telling us to.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Should We Limit The Freedom of the Mentally Ill?

If, in general, we should seek to not limit the freedom of adults who are responsible for their actions, then the question is, should we limit the freedom of the mentally ill, who may not be responsible for their actions? Are there times to limit freedom or or not?

People who are mentally ill are adults and they have (often) full knowledge of consequences of their actions. In their freedom, they seek to do actions that could be self-harming or just socially unacceptable. Yet they make these choices because they see the world in a different way than society around them. Perhaps they see harms that others do not, or perhaps they see certain people or acts as being more harmful than others do. Should these people be treated as children, or as adults?

In the ancient world, they were considered adults that made strange choices. Modern societies, for the most part have chosen to treat the mentally ill as children, unable to make choices for themselves. In that case, the mentally ill are committed, or placed under the authority of a government agency.

Certainly, if a person is going to harm others, their freedom should be limited-- whether mentally ill or not. No one should be given the freedom to harm another. But what about if a person chooses to harm themselves when in an "attack" or depressed? The current government has chosen to commit those who are in the process of harming themselves. But does that restrict freedom too much?

Certainly making a calculated risk that potentially could harm oneself should be given freedom. This could mean climbing a mountain or not wearing a seat belt. But should a person who doesn't have all of their reasoning faculties be allowed to make such choices? Certainly children shouldn't be allowed to make such choices. And if someone doesn't understand all the choices they make, perhaps they shouldn't be allowed to make such choices.

But well-reasoned adults make decisions like that every day. We don't always know all the facts when we cross the street, but we still get to make that choice. We don't read the "terms and liabilities" for the software we download because we wrongly think it doesn't matter. But we are still allowed to do that.

I have a friend who is somewhat developmentally disabled who makes annual trips to Idaho so he can be in the snow. He was warned many times by his friends that he shouldn't make these trips, at least not alone, because he might be harmed. He loves the snow so much, though, that he wants to do it. Then, a couple years ago, one one of his trips, he did get beat up by people who didn't appreciate his differences. His friends told him, "I told you so." But he STILL makes the trip when he can. He understands what the consequences might be, but he won't stop his trips.

Even so, we should grant freedom whenever possible, even if the consequences could be severe. Personal choice is God-given, and even when harm could come, we shouldn't limit people unless they are going to harm others.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Limiting Freedom

Sovereignty, although we are born with the command to rule, isn't all it's cracked up to be. The more individual freedom we have, the more separated we are from others. And we are made not only to be free-- to make individual, sovereign choices-- but also to be in community-- to be connected to other people. Thus, in order for us to be balanced, we often will need to agree to limit our freedom for the sake of our needs.

We can make the choice to limit our freedom for a short or long term. Contracts are made to pay for services rendered—this means that we receive a service or good and we lose the freedom to use our money in other ways. We can make an agreement with an employer to work for him or her for a period of time a week, which the employer agrees to pay us certain amounts of money. This is a long term arrangement which limits our freedom, but one in which we have the freedom to annul to obtain more freedom.

We may feel like slaves because our livelihood depends on the employer, but the fact is that we have other choices, just perhaps not so many that allows us to live the lifestyle we expect or want. But, again, it is our freedom to choose that lifestyle or another, such as being homeless.

Homeless people may feel limited because their lifestyle is illegal and they feel that they have no choice but to live on the street. Freedom in this context is complicated. Homelessness demands a certain freedom, but it also thrusts one to live freely when one may not want to live with so much freedom (i.e. without employment). So it could be that forced homelessness, while seeming more free, is actually the least free lifestyle.

The important aspect of agreeing to limit our freedom is the freedom to opt out of that agreement with few limitations. But if one’s survival depends on the limitation of freedom, are we really free to opt out of it?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Freedom to Harm Oneself?

Should we limit people’s freedom if in their freedom they are harming themselves? To harm oneself might be in opposition to the principle of harming others. Even though one is not the same as the other, to harm oneself IS to harm a human being. Should we limit harm to oneself? Each society seems to have different answers to this question. Usually there is a list of personal harms that are accepted (eating junk food, smoking), while others that are not (suicide, some kinds of drug use). So societies make their own choices.

But as a personal choice, we need to remember that harming ourselves is often a moral choice because it effects others. If we allow ourselves to be harmed, but we are to care for children, the children will be harmed by our choices for ourselves. Others will be emotionally harmed if we kill ourselves, no matter if we tell ourselves otherwise. So generally, the moral choice is to curtail our own freedom for the sake of others. But making this choice does not limit our freedom at all because it is still our own choice.

What about suicide?
Suicide has been considered an unforgivable sin from the time of Augustine. The classic Catholic argument is that suicide is giving into despair, without the opportunity for repentance. A more modern idea of the sin of suicide is that it is the taking of human life and all human life is sacred and protected by God.

However, both of these views are limited. The second view limits human sovereignty. It is the taking of another person's life that is declared to be sin in Scripture-- the taking of another's God-given sovereignty. But one has the right to do what one finds necessary to do with one's own life. The moral view is also limited: What if a person is attempting, however wrongly, to obey Jesus command to "cut off" whatever is causing one to sin? What if a person is simplistically seeking the presence of Jesus (as a friend in my high school did)?

The motivations of suicide are too complex to clearly mark as "unforgivable." Jesus declared that there was only one sin that was unforgivable, and suicide wasn't it. Thus, for suicides, there is the opportunity for God's mercy. It is interesting that the early church for 300 plus years refrained from calling suicide a sin, for Jesus and some of the martyrs could be seen as staging an elaborate suicide, which would not only not be a sin, but is the righteousness of God.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Ethical Principle of Freedom

We must allow others the freedom they have.

If everyone has freedom to make their own choices, then we must have a moral obligation not to limit what freedom they have. This does not mean that an agreement cannot be reached to limit one’s freedom. But it does mean that if an agreement is not made, and if a person is not harming another, then freedom must not be limited. This is a difficult principle to live by because we want people to live the best way they can, and sometimes we think we know better what they must do better than they do. Even if that is true, we do not have the right to force people to live according to our ideals.

The best example of this is God Himself. God sees that people are self-destructive, but He does nothing about it, except warning. Speech by itself is not limiting freedom, but God rarely uses his almighty power to limit others from destroying themselves.

Thus, in dealing with others, we must not manipulate, control, lie to or otherwise limit others’ freedom to do what they want to. Again, the only exceptions are if they don’t know any better—they are like children—or if in their choices they are harming others.

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Basic Principle of Freedom

The basic rule of freedom is this:
Every sentient adult is free to make their own choices, as long as they do not harm others.

Let’s take this apart:

Freedom—Freedom is the ability to rule oneself. This means that one makes his or her own choices for oneself. These choices could be good, could be bad, but one is free to make them. This does not mean freedom without consequences. Everyone’s choices has consequences. Every action we do determines our future. And just because we have freedom doesn’t mean that we are well-informed. But what we choose is dependent on ourselves.

Sentient adult—Not everyone should have freedom. Children are too limited in their understanding to have freedom. They don’t understand that cars and hot stoves can kill or burn them. They don’t understand the basic rules by which any society lives by. Thus, until they have some basic understanding, their freedom must be limited. Some adults, in the same way, will never have the understanding of others, they are, in essence, perpetual children. If that is the case, then their freedom should also be limited.

Harm Others—This is the only real limitation to freedom for adults. If we harm others, especially in our community, then someone has the responsibility to limit our freedom. Freedom is purposely curtailed if one opts to use one’s freedom for the harm of people.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

God-Given Freedom

Every single person wants to be good, to at least feel like they are good. But we are only as “good” as our Creator says that we are. He is the manufacturer, and so we have to live according to His instructions or else our warranty will run out and we will be, literally, “good for nothing.”

Yet you placed humans just under the gods and gave him your glory and ruling power!
You established humans to rule over your creatures and everything is under their feet—
The living creatures, the animals, the swimming things and the flying things.
Yahweh, our Lord—Your name is ruling throughout the earth!

Psalm 8

One of the first thing God did right after humans were created was to give them sovereignty. Sovereignty can be one of those tricky theological words until we realize that it just means “rule” or “kingship.” God put humanity in charge of the earth. Specifically humanity is in charge of every creature on the earth. Every animal, even fish, is under the rule of humanity as a whole.

But if we are in charge of every single animal, this means that we are in charge of ourselves as well. Humanity is in charge of itself. This implies a certain amount of rule. Parents are in charge of children. And governments are in charge of larger groups of humans in certain places.

But the basic rule of God is freedom with some exceptions. We are to live in freedom with one another.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

What Sovereignty Looks Like

So, if we rule, then we should consider HOW we should rule. What is the ideal state that humanity should establish? There are three basic moral ways of ruling, according to Scripture. We can rule in a manner of judgment and law. One breaks the law, one dies. For instance, should a tiger or wolf kill a human, the animal dies—that’s the principle found in Genesis 9. This is the moral rule of judgment—it is fair, but it is harsh. This is the moral rule of vigilantism, which is softened and controlled by government forces, but is still the basic moral rule of government.

There is also the moral rule of self interest. This is the idea that resources are to be exploited for the self-interest of the ruling. Children are there to support their parents, the earth is there to be used for wealth and power of those who can grab it. This is the principle of business, where profit is the bottom line. This is also called “pride” by the Bible—taking that which truly doesn’t belong to you. Jesus specifically spoke against this kind of rule in Luke 22, and Paul in Ephesians 5.

Finally, there is the kind of rule Jesus supported. This is the sovereignty that holds authority for the sake of those under them. It is a rule to provide benefit, not for the ruler, but for the ones ruled. This ruler would sacrifice his or her own good for the good of the one ruled. It is a mother’s rule for her infant. And it is the kind of rule environmentalists have as an ideal for the earth, and the main characteristic of all “good” rulers.

Thus, there are two ways of being in God’s image. Surely, ruling in any way is god-like. And humanity, both individually and collectively is certainly god-like in changing the surface of the earth and ruling over all creatures—whether they know that is what they are doing or not. But the other aspect is a moral aspect. And to be like God IN our rule is to be merciful, to be forgiving, to act in the benefit of those rules, to use our power for the benefit of all, even our enemies. In this way, we show how truly divine we can be.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Do Humans Really Rule?

Many would like to deny human sovereignty, especially over the earth. “Humans don’t deserve rule over the earth. All they do is exploit it and ruin it.”

This cannot be denied. For example, there have been five periods of time in which mass numbers of species disappeared from the earth, and we are living in one of those times, caused by human mismanagement.

However, that idea only proves that humanity IS ultimately in charge of the earth. If humans can cause such mass extinction, it means that humans are the determining factor.

The fact that humans are sovereign has nothing to do with the fact that they are moral in being sovereign. And the environmental movement and animal rights groups are just more proof of human rule over animals. No one considers themselves the equal of animals, otherwise we would not use moral reasoning with each other to change our actions. We all recognize not only that we rule, but that there are principles by which we should rule.