Thursday, July 24, 2008

Reconcile This.

I may have stumbled upon a core reason as to another reason why the penal substitution atonement theory bothers me.

We say that God is just. The Bible has many sections where God's justice is praised, is sought out, and is seen as a wonderful thing.

We know what justice is. If we say that the society is just, we mean that is fair, it is equal, it doesn't oppress its people or exploit them. It's a wonderful place to live in.

If someone breaks a law, and we say that they must face justice, we mean that they must be held accountable for their actions. That person, and not anyone else.

If we look in a dictionary, "just" means as follows:

a: having a basis in or conforming to fact or reason : reasonable -- a just but not a generous decision -- : faithful to an original c: conforming to a standard of correctness : proper -- just proportions --
2 a (1): acting or being in conformity with what is morally upright or good : righteous -- a just war -- (2): being what is merited : deserved -- a just punishment -- b: legally correct : lawful -- just title to an estate --

However, we also have an idea that Jesus took our punishment in our place, thus satisfying God's justice. Therefore, if someone has wronged you, and then repented to God, Jesus has taken their punishment, and satisfied the requirements of justice.

Yet justice demands that the person who did the action is the one held responsible for the action. If Jesus takes on the responsibility for the outcome of the action ... can we still call this situation just?

Can we even still call God just? If our society suddenly changed the idea of justice to be that an innocent person could take the place of a guilty person, there'd be an uproar. Especially from those who are the victims, and the uproar would be because such a change would not be just.

Can saying "God is just" hold any meaning if an innocent man is punished in our place? Even if the innocent man offered to take the punishment, willingly offered with his whole heart, shouldn't the very fact that God is just prevent God from accepting such an offer in the first place?

If Jesus accepting the punishment completes God's justice, then it seems justice is no longer about what is right or what is fair, but justice becomes all about a punishment occurring no matter what. Doesn't this mean that the situation is no longer moral?

If the morality of the situation is violated -- the innocent in the place of the guilty -- then can we still have justice? Or does it just become about retribution and revenge?

Friday, July 18, 2008

Bring out your just!

A serial rapist lies on his deathbed. He's been thinking about his life, and a wave of recrimination hits him for all the women he's hurt, all the pain he's caused. He sees what his behavior truly was, and he's grief-stricken. He doesn't want to die like this, realizing that he has not done one iota of good in his life. Sure, no one ever caught him in what he did, and he appeared good on the outside. But he can't avoid seeing the truth now. So he calls out to God, he genuinely repents of his sins, he accepts the cross and the sacrifice of Jesus. Five minutes later, the rapist is dead. Jesus, sitting on the throne of judgement, welcomes the new child of God into Heaven.

Victim #1 was attacked when she was 18. It was long, it was brutal, and she never saw the attacker's face. She tried to pick her life back up, go to college, not be defined by this one event. She talked to a counselor, she considered God, she even had periods in her life where she had forgiven the attacker. She would put this behind her, meet someone, and start a family. Yet every time she tried to get close to another man, she froze. She flashed back to that moment, physical contact repealed her, and she died alone. Jesus, sitting on the throne of judgement, says, "Depart from me, I never knew you."

Victim #2 was attacked when she was 45. A mother of two children, vice president of a company, successful in every way possible. Things like this didn't happen to her. Yet, she was attacked. She rallied back, also determined to pick up her life. With the help of her family, she was successful, and decided to help others who were attacked in the same way, or those exploited by similar situations. She directs her company's resources to this job, and ends up helping hundreds. Her death was mourned by all she helped, and her life was celebrated for how she was not overcome by evil. Jesus, sitting on the throne of judgement, tells her, "Depart from me, for I never knew you."

Victim #3 was special. She was kidnapped by the attacker when she was five, and not rescued until ten years later. She had been used in horrible ways, and consequently, was unable to rise above her circumstances. She offered herself to anyone who would have her, let them use her body in any way they pleased. She found things that made her body feel better, that made her only happy. She died alone, unnoticed, not mourned by anyone. Jesus, sitting on the throne of judgement, tells her, "Depart from me, for I never knew you."

The "worst" person of the group went to eternal paradise. The other three, the innocent victims, end up in hell, because they have "rejected God."

In what way is this just? I've been on a few blogs that had provided examples as to why they find it difficult to believe in God -- such as the circumstances that occured to Victim #3. Or that recent news, where I believe the daughter was held in the basement by her own father.

A common Christian response was that there would be justice done in the end, for what happened to the victim. Really? Because my understanding is that if the attacker confesses his sins and truly repents, the confessor is then free. There is no punishment, there is no justice in a legal system sort of way (such as rape someone, go to jail). Rather, Jesus has almost provided the "get out of jail" free card.

And the victims, since they have rejected God, end up in hell. So at what point did the victims receive this supposed justice?

I have a feeling the argument would be that Jesus took the punishment the rapist deserved, but that really doesn't cut it for me. Jesus didn't rape the victims, the rapist did. And if Jesus takes the punishment, then that is a distortion of what justice is all about.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Blazing goodness.

"Whoever receives a prophet as a prophet will be given a prophet's reward, and whoever receives a good man because he is a good man will be given a good man's reward."

Matthew 10: 41-42.

"For the words that the mouth utters come from the overflowing of the heart. A good man produces good from the store of good within himself; and an evil man from evil within produces evil."

Matthew 12: 34-35.

I've been observing, and somewhat participating, in a few discussions regarding the good fruits one produces, and what is considered 'good' in the first place. Most of the time, the definition of good here gets defined somewhere along the lines of faith in God/Christ, or the good works/fruits produced are speaking of the faith in God/Christ.

However, is that how any of the listeners in the Gospels would've understood the word "good?" Or would they have defined "good" based on characteristics? Compassion, mercy, loving kindness. Such as the two verses above -- people hearing those, how would they have defined the good people? The good man who is received by another, what makes that man good? The good man producing good because of the goodness stored within himself -- what is this goodness stored within him?

In most cases, when we see a contrast between a good person and an evil person, or we hear of a good person being received, we get the impression that there are actually good people, and that we'd recognize these people based on their qualities and actions. If a good person is received by another, then a kind person has been received. Someone who loves his/her neighbors and enemies. Someone who pursues peace.

What we don't mean by "good" is someone who has faith in God, or someone who is a Christian. "Good" has a definite value assigned to it, a concrete definition that we can measure anyone by. Same with "evil." An evil person is a murderer, a rapist, a terrorist, to name a few. The definition of "good" should not suddenly have a relaxed, relative definition.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Asking those who have gone before.

In mulling over the nature of heaven and hell, I recently found it interesting that the "full-death" occurrences in the Bible aren't used. We have at least two people in the Gospels who have died, and Jesus brought back to life: Lazarus, and the daughter of the President of the synagogue (Matthew 9:18-26). Although Luke 8:40-56 has the person named Jairus, and the daughter's age is around 12.

In the case of Lazarus, he was dead for about three to four days. Where was his soul during that time? Heaven or hell? An argument could be made that perhaps heaven, given that Martha said that she believed that Jesus was "the Messiah, the Son of God who was come into the world." Yet that interaction sounds like she believed it at that moment, so who knows what Lazarus believed?

We aren't told what his reaction was upon returning to life, but surely it would've given huge credence to the heaven/hell theology? If he were in hell, I assume he would've been enormously grateful that he had a second opportunity to not go there, and would've gone about the whole nation telling people what a horrible fate awaited them after death.

On the other hand, if he were in heaven, I wonder if he would've been as grateful. He might have gone about telling people how much better heaven was compared to Earth, and especially compared to hell. And possibly been a bit resentful that Jesus made him return to Earth.

Same with Jairus' daughter. I know some Christian traditions hold to the age of accountability, in that any child who dies below a certain age automatically goes to heaven. I'm not sure if that age extends to 12, but even if it does, surely the child would've talked about heaven, for the brief period of time in which she was there? Or hell -- wouldn't the first words out of her mouth be thanks that she was no longer there? Shouldn't her father have mentioned her eternal location?

Even Acts has the "full death experiences." Acts 9:36-43 has a disciple named Tabitha die, and Peter brings her back to life. She would've been pulled from heaven, and yet no mention of the glorious place that she once was at? Or regret that she had to leave it for a brief period of time?

Paul also brings someone back to life. In Acts 20: 7-12, he restores a youth named Eutychus. Although, the translation I'm using makes that a bit iffy, where Paul says for people to stop panicking, as there's still life in Eutychus. However, even if this youth was not dead, it sounds like he was one of the saved who was gathered to hear Paul talk. So if Eutychus was dead, then wouldn't he be in heaven?

Given the current focus on a person's location after death, these four examples don't seem to match up to that fervor. There's no concern as to the location of the person's soul for the daughter, and no rejoicing in the other three, if they are in heaven. There's no reaction from any of the people who were resurrected, as to what location they left. Leaving either should have produced some sort of strong emotion. Those witnessing the deaths shoud have mentioned something about the person being in heaven, or God calling the person home, or something.