The incredible "smallness" of Jesus' sacrifice

Christianity has taught, preached and proclaimed that mankind should stand in awe of the "incredible" depth of Jesus sacrifice on behalf of poor wretched sinners. As we have been taught, Jesus took himself from the highest place in the universe down to the lowest place on the human scale. There to die a death, not just any death but a most cruel and inhuman death which our small heads might be able to imagine. As the trite saying goes, "God bankrupted heaven in order that we might enjoy his riches."

Now, to be sure, the story of Jesus does provide a illustration of a sacrifice. However, are we to be awe-fully impressed by it. Is that sacrifice truly a sacrifice of such magnitude claimed? Let's take a brief look.

First of all, Jesus sacrifice was encapsulated in 33 brief years. So, sandwiched in between eternity previous and eternity post is a segment of time which, in comparison, does not even register as a relative blip on the screen. The insignificance of 33 years is brought out by the statement in II Peter 3:8, "...with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. (ESV). I understand that thousand years can easily be interpreted figuratively and not literally. Nonetheless, the point can be argued that 33 years does not even constitute a significant portion of the divine day. Would we commend someone excessively for devoting 1-2 hours out of entire lifetime to be face to face with those he claimed to love. No, we are not impressed. Jesus gave very little of his time to be with us.

Next we must ask, "how hard was it to be away from heaven for those 33 years?" Imagine if a person lived an incredible life of luxury for his entire life . But the only time he had to really sacrifice would be 1-2 hours of incredible suffering. Then immediately afterwards he could go back to his life of incredible luxury. Now this scenerio is flawed with contingencies based on the mental health status of the person involved. But suppose the person involved is a mentally balanced, rational being. Would that person consider this suffering overwhelming? As long as the person kept the 1-2 hours of suffering in perspective, the situation would be "no sweat." How much more from a divine perspective? How much did Jesus really sacrifice by giving up the riches of heaven when he knew it would only be a short time before he received all back again?
In this question, we are defining sacrifice simply as time spent being human, a fate which most of us do not consider a sacrifice. It is a sacrifice for him, Jesus, only in a condescending way. Maybe a true sacrifice would be Jesus being reborn in each generation to be with us. Maybe it would be Jesus just being with us antlike humans from the beginning. I would actually be impressed if the person that I have worshipped for over 30 years actually took the time to meet me face to face in person. That I think I would begin to call a sacrifice on a divine level. As it is, no we are not impressed.

Let us scrutinize a little further. Up to approximately his thirtieth birthday, Jesus simply lived a normal life of a Galilean peasant. Nothing special. He may have gone hungry sometimes. But we are given no indications that Jesus almost starved to death during his physical development. We are given no indications that Jesus suffered any significant physical impairments. How could a real Jesus honestly look at a person who has had cerebral palsy from birth and say that he has made a great sacrifice when Jesus' "sacrificial" experience would provide him not a clue of what it felt like to be CP from birth. If Jesus was going to be truly sacrificial, why couldn't he grow up in a slave camp being beaten daily. Or why couldn't he have a lifetime experience of chronic pain sydrome so that he could truly understand what some of his creature go through without any of the praise and adulation accorded to his name? This shows just how superficial his sacrifice really was. Truly, Jesus, we are not impressed.

Going a bit further, his ministry lasted a mere 3 years, but maybe as short as one year. One cannot disipute that he gave much during this time going without sleep many nights, reaching out to many in need and preaching his double edged message of love and condemnation. Jesus' effort pales incredibly in relation to many of his own followers who have devotedan entire lifetime sacrificing all worldly goods and worldly desires to follow his message. Who should stand in awe and praise of whom. I think Jesus should worship many of his followers because they have sacrificed insurmountably more than he.

Even during this time, did Jesus' sacrifice call him to truly physically suffer? No more than millions of altruistic persons have done. Then what does it come down to? Jesus spent no more than 1 human day truly suffering on an elevated scale including the trial, the scouraging, the mockery, and the actual crucifixion (in which Jesus was granted a brief than usual stay on the cross of only 6 hours. Many others crucified usually spend a much longer time than the fortunate son.). Imagine Jesus thinking to himself, "Sure, right now this is bad. But if I can hang on a few hours. I will be right back up in heaven. And my father promised that everyone will have to bow to my name nowand forever more. I guess that's not such bad deal" Now I am not so "blasphemous" as to suggest that that is the way Jesus actually thought or that the gospel writers imply that thinking. Nonetheless, it pretty much sums up the essence of the situation. How is this sacrifice any greater on the human level? Spartacus, circa 70 BCE,and his compatriots endured torture and the sacrifice on the cross over a much longer period of time for for the commandable goal of raising the status of slaves to a level of human dignifity. His sacrifice was just as noble. But he operated without any promise of a life after death. That raises his sacrifice much higher into the realm of the sublime. If Jesus is the ultimate sacrifice, why then does it not appear to be so ultimate?

Shouldn't we expect more of divine sacrifice than we do of human sacrifice?

Does this not make Jesus' sacrifice embarrassing and infinitely small?

Can I ask one more question?

Are we impressed yet?

30 comments:

Anonymous said...

Baby jesus will be 2007 years old in a week or twa - should we send cards?

Anonymous said...

Some time before, Jesus referred to His death by crucifixion as a "distraction" and on the way to the cross, He told the people not to weep for Him -their suffering was/would be greater than His. He didn't ask us to be impressed by His sacrifice - but there is grace if people chose to do so.

Gina

exapologist said...

What a wonderful example Gina is for other Christians -- gracious, tactful, and reasonable.

All the best,

exapologist

Steven Carr said...

Jesus sacrifice was a bit like somebody promising to forgive our debts to him by his taking all his money out of the bank on Friday, burying it, and then putting it back in the bank on Sunday.

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

Very good post on the sacrifices that Yeshua bar-Joseph did not make, the pain he spared himself -- had he been, in fact, divine.

But there were so many more. He was a member of the dominant ethnic group in his area. Imagine had he 'incarnated' himself as a Samaritain. (We forget, so frequently, when we discuss the parable what a Samaritain was, in the eyes of the Jews. Imagine a Southern Christian preacher in the fifties telling the same story, only the one who 'did not pass by' was, in his words, a 'nigger.' That's how Samaritains were viewed, and was the point of the parable.
Imagine had he, instead, incarnated as a 'she,' when the Jews of the time criticized Yeshua for actually having the temerity, as a rabbi, to speak with a woman.

He had, we are told, a good childhood. Imagine had he suffered the pain so many of us do from the problems our parents have given us. I am not talking about true abuse -- though the thought of him undergoing the sort of upbringing that too many Christians lay upon their children, the likes of the Dobsons, Fugatesa, Tripps and Pearls is worth thinking about. But the two people closest to me at present, the two people who were with me for Thanksgiving Dinner, one is so wracked with insecurity and anxiety that she is attempting to get herself declared 'psychologically disabled' because she can't work, can barely leave the house at night, and needs me to be a combination psychiatric nurse/maid/paid companion. The other has such a difficulty with relationships that she seems to destroy the possibility of anyone getting close to her, finding ways to criticize them until she is again alone and lonely.
Imagine Yb-J feeling those feelings.

We have no idea of his sexuality, and many Christians would claim he was sexless. (Did Yeshua masturbate, or have wet dreams? If he were truly (male) human, his physiology would have required one or the other -- but how would he have dealt with them -- and, irrelevantly, what fantasies would he have had?) He supposedly never had to deal with the pain (or pleasure) of sexual relationships, the suffering they can cause. But did he feel sexual desire -- and wouldn't his pain of frustration been even greater because he knew how easily he could satisfy these desires? (And if he wished to fully feel the spectrum of humanness, would he not have had to be bisexual?)

He was not a parent (oh, shut up, Dan Brown) and never felt the sufferings that that causes -- or the joys. Think of what he could have taught us, had he been divine, if he had been, and how much suffering he could have avoided for humanity afterwards if they had him as a model. But what child of his could have lived up to his expectations, and what sufferings would he have felt watching a child grow up, and fighting his two natures whether he should protect the child too much or let him take the risks that every child dows.

Imagine him born forty years later, and having reached his maturity during a time of war. Soldier or pacifist, both suffer, but he avoided either.

Suffering, pain, sacrifice, yes, if we accept the Bible stories, his death gave him that. But what of the pain and joy each of us feel every day as part of being human? (Even the wonder of looking around at the beauties of the world, a sunrise, the feel of a cat purring against you, the accidental beauty of a fallen leaf. How could he have felt them, when he knew too much.)

Anonymous said...

Come to think about it, God made a sacrifice too...his only begotten son.

Weirdly, most parents I know would put themselves through hell, rather than having their children do so.

The concepts in the bible regarding sacrifice are nieve given what we know today, the specifics are way to culturally based.

Fletcher said...

I think the difference between Jesus' sacrifice and any human sacrifice is that the Christian Jesus is both God and Man, he had a dual nature. So therefore, in being God, and God being perfect and omnipotent (the Creator of the universe ex nihilo), Jesus' sacrifice was therefore perfect and sufficient. The magnitude of his death greatly exceeds anything that mankind can do by the very fact of his divine nature (if, you believe he had/has a divine nature of course!).

Sure, we can come up with many different examples of people having suffered worse, but none of these people were God in the flesh, and none of them reduced themselves voluntarily from God to man in order to atone for the "bad" that was, is, and will be done by all people.

In short, IF Christianity is true (and to argue that the sacrifice of Jesus is unimpressive first implies that he was sacrificed in the first place, at least for the sake of argument), then there are several things about it that we will never fully understand.

We will never understand the origin of the universe, just as much as we will never understand why exactly God chose to redeem mankind through faith in Christ as Lord and suffering servant. It's just what God did - it was His plan, whether I like it or not. Just like hell... nobody likes the doctrine of hell, but (if it is true), will we ever understand why God didn't choose to give unbelievers "another chance" after death? No, at least not in this lifetime!

s burgener said...

Fletcher, I want to thank you for the heart felt nature of your comments. But does the fact that he was attributed as god in flesh automatically redefine the nature of what sacrifice means? The depth of a sacrifice is defined in proportion from what one can give to what one actually does give. The sacrifice of the widow with two mites was extraordinarily greater than the rich man who gave much greater sums of money. But what he gave was quite small in proportion to what he could have given. In this case, the rich man is god or Jesus who actually gave much less than he could have given if he were a god. My blog is intended to bring out that Jesus even as he is presented in the New Testament does not reach the level of sacrifice which many humans have given in order to help their fellow man or woman. One would think that a god could taken sacrifice to a new level.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate the respectful demeanor of this blog’s participants. Unfortunately it is not nearly common enough that people that disagree on worldviews and metaphysics can have respectful discussions with each other. American culture has taught us to just “throw ideas over the fence” at each other and whoever yells loudest wins.

Not that anyone cares probably, but I thought I would share my situation, since from this blog I have had the opportunity to understand the situation of many of you: I am a 35 year old Christian but I didn’t grow up that way. I converted at the age of 27. However, I do consider myself a critical thinker, and these critical thoughts soon got the best of my faith and my early walk was peppered with doubts. I wanted to know “why and how” to everything Christian. Apologetics was what kept me from deconverting very early on. That doesn’t mean that I don’t have any remaining doubts or questions. To be sure, there are still plenty. However, if Christianity is actually true… then it follows that there will be many ideas or doctrines that are inscrutable, at least for a “regular guy” like me. The problem of evil is the biggest example of this for me. Why doesn’t a benevolent God step in and save a baby from suffering from leukemia? My best answers are not totally adequate, but it’s the best I have: 1) God knows more than we do about eternity, He holds the complete metanarrative, and 2) The world is fallen (unbelievers really love that one, I know).

About your notion that Jesus’ suffering is unimpressive: If we begin with the premise that Jesus has/had a dual nature (which is the Christian position, from which view you are critiquing his sacrifice) then can we really measure the power or magnitude of his sacrifice. How can we? We are finite beings. Even so, say he didn’t suffer very much compared to others who have.. I don’t sit around and think to myself “you know, Jesus knew that all he was really doing was taking a ‘nap’, because he knew he was going to be risen again and return to paradise his torturous, sacrificial, voluntary death was really no big deal.” Why doesn’t it bother me? Well, it doesn’t bother God the Father for one. The NT is replete with testimony that Jesus’ death on the cross is a sufficient ransom for our sinfulness. So therefore, even if you don’t think he suffered in an impressive fashion, why does that really matter? The biblical fact is, this is how God “set up” our salvation, so if it’s good enough for the creator of the universe, it’s good enough for me.

I’d much rather spend my time thinking about the power and reality of His resurrection than mulling over whether or not I am impressed with how much he suffered.

About all of you ex-Christians, ex-Pastors, etc. I wonder if you really ever had true, deep, solid faith in Christ as Lord in the first place? Salvation by definition is infinite, but by having deconverted you have made it finite, thereby debunking the notion that you were ever saved by grace through faith in Christ in the first place. I am going out on a limb by suggesting that you never really believed down to the core of your being, that your doubts always chewed away at you, like a little voice inside of you saying “you don’t really believe this nonsense do you?” and you never really got past that. I know that sounds presumptuous, but I’d like to hear what you have to say.

I appreciate the dialog gang. As deconverts, can you still enjoy the holiday season to the fullest? I’m sure it takes on a whole new meaning now!

Anonymous said...

Jesus' physical ordeal doesn't sound all that bad compared with how people die in Baghdad on a daily basis. The Romans couldn't have shot off Jesus face with an AK-47, for example, or doused his body with kerosene and set him on fire, or blown him to gooey shred with a car bomb. Compared with those ways to die, Jesus had it relatively easy.

Touchstone said...

I think the element that is missing here is the... *cosmic* injustice. I agree that "one man's" sacrifice does not add up to much, no matter how horrible and painful, on a cosmic scale. But Jesus was not just 'one man', in the Christian view. He was God incarnate.

Of course, if the Christian's claim is false, then Jesus' sacrifice seems tragic, but small and ultimately pathetic. But the central anchor of the sacrifice draws from the innocence, the injustice implicated by the crucifixion.

I'm thinking about the Clint Eastwood movie where he squints and says in his gravelly voice: We all got it comin', kid. At the root, there is an understanding of a brute: we all got it comin'. There are no purely innocent victims. Even the newborn is a "sinner in waiting" in the Christian model, born into the Adam's curse of original sin.

I'm sure you're well aware of that line of reasoning, but it's worth pointing out here that the crucifixion of Jesus, in the Christian view, represents an injustice that is sui generis -- without precedent on a cosmic scale. The Lawgiver, the Sovereign Creator, the Definer of Justice, willingly assented to being humiliated, savaged, and killed by man. It doesn't obtain from the blood or the depth of suffering, but rather from the cosmic sacrifice... the divine and holy capitulating voluntarily, delivering itself into the hands of evil.

I completely understand the thesis of this post. If God *didn't* become man, than the whole story is really pretty lame and sad. But if God *did* become man, then the sacrifice becomes ontologically something wholly different than the sum of the physical blows, the measure of the blood and fluids Jesus spilled on the ground.

All of which is to say that if we assume the atheist premise, then the post proceeds from it quite naturally. If the Christian premise is assumed, then this post completely misunderstands the nature of what took place. In that sense, it's just a recapitulation of the central dispute over the claims of Christ. A beg to the question, of a sort.

-Touchstone

beepbeepitsme said...

How much of a sacrifice is it, if you don't die?

Anonymous said...

Touchstone:

Assuming your premises, how do you know that Jesus' sacrfice worked? After all, consider god's track record:

God creates the angels, but some of them rebelled and became corrupt.

God creates Adam & Eve, the perfect man and woman. But they rebelled and became corrupt.

God sent the flood to destroy all the bad people. But the people who descended from the flood's survivors are just as bad as the ones before.

God gave the Jews his law through Moses. But following the law can't save anyone.

Now, the story goes, god has devised a Rube Goldberg "plan of salvation" involving Jesus' death on the cross.

How do we know that god got it right this time?

If Jesus' actions allegedly made things better for humanity, consider that nothing observable in the human condition really improved for the many centuries after Jesus' alleged "resurrection," until applied science came along and transformed the human environment for the better. For all the tangible difference Jesus made, he might as well not have existed.

DagoodS said...

Touchstone,

Welcome! I have seen your contributions elsewhere, and you input here would be enjoyable and appreciated. Well…at least by me.

Not that this will avoid the scalpel to your comment, of course. *grin*

I do not see this as “begging the question.” Christians inform me that their God performed an act of “sacrifice.” That word—“sacrifice”--has significance, denoting an act or death that is different than a normal, non-sacrificial act or death. Within our language, we recognize the word as imparting a meaning. It is that meaning we question when a Christian tells us this was a sacrifice.

Not that you have done this (yet) but often as we delve into the word “sacrifice” and how this act was a sacrifice, we are quickly met with “we don’t know.” “It is a mystery.” “God’s ways are not our ways.” In other words, they don’t know how it is a sacrifice, either! It is a label, used to create a noble act, but upon peeling back the first layer, has no support.

We understand that a sacrifice is so much more important, so much more honorable, so much more significant than a non-sacrificial act. A guy who dies from cancer, while tragic, is not a sacrifice. A guy who jumps on a grenade to save his fellow soldiers, is worthy of a medal. We recognize the bias in labeling an act as “sacrifice,” and why it is more desirable to call what Jesus did a “sacrifice” rather than “a day in the Life of God.”

But is it really? Or is this just a term, used for convenience that in the end the Christian doesn’t have an inkling of a clue as to whether it is a sacrifice. That is the question.

Three areas to focus on, in your comment:

Injustice.

Ah—one of my favorite topics when it comes to God. You indicate, within the Christian framework, the “injustice” of the crucifixion. (And I am pretty sure we are both encompassing more than just the death of Jesus, when discussing sacrifice.)

Again, the word “injustice” is a human term connoting a certain meaning. Simply put, “justice” means in accordance with a law. “Injustice” means not in accordance with a law. To call Jesus’ act “injustice” means it was no in accordance with a law. It gets more complicated when you indicate Jesus was the Lawgiver as well.

Imagine there was a law that said if you pay $1 Million dollars, you do not have to serve prison time. Unfair? Absolutely. It would mean that the rich could avoid prison, whereas the poor would have to serve their time. Unjust? Absolutely not. The law allows a person to plunk down cold hard cash and walk out the prison doors.

In the same way, Christianity informs us that the act of Jesus, by becoming incarnate, dying, and resurrecting performed some act that allowed for the atonement of sins. (Yes, I know that is simplistic, but do we really want to get into a full theological debate at this point?)

If Jesus established the Law, and within that law was the allowance of atonement of sins by his act, then what he did was not unjust. It was, in fact, most just in that it followed in accordance with his law. If Jesus’ act was unjust, than it was contrary to his own law. Which opens Pandora’s box—what other laws of Jesus can Jesus violate? And does it eliminate the concept of justice (when it comes to God) entirely?

By claiming it was a “sacrifice” because it was “injustice” merely introduces another, equally problematic, equally mysterious and unknown term when it comes to God. It does not further our solution.

Dual Nature of Christ.

Obviously we are all familiar with the concept of Christ being both God and Human. While Christians throw this term out, again it is a mysterious, unexplainable concept that defies anything we observe as humans.

We are told “He was 100% God, and 100% Man” and that we must accept that, without definition, without argumentation, without explanation. Worse, when we try and investigate it, we note a convenient tendency for the Christian proponent to claim Jesus was God (when convenient) and Jesus was human (when convenient) but when we point out the difficulty of a God-part at a moment, we are informed to ignore it.

How does a God die? Oh, that was “Jesus the Human” dying. How does a human death constitute a sacrifice? Oh, that was “Jesus the God” sacrificing. See how the Christian hops from one foot to the other and always, always, always to their own bias and prejudice. Yes, I know that his human tendency but is it persuasive? To always bend the facts towards one’s own proposition. It dangerously appears (to those questioning) to be the use of blinders.

Even setting that aside, let’s assume Jesus was both God/not-God. As you are well-aware, this violates a very basic premise of logic—something cannot be both “A” and “Non-A” at the same time. (I would avoid the question of “where logic comes from” at this moment. Suffice it to say, I would hope we both agree, at the least, logic is a useful tool for communication.)

If Jesus can violate Logic, there must be something on the supernatural scale that is different, in some way, as to our logic. Something that DOES allow a creature to be both “A” and “Not-A” at the same time. Something that allows a creature to be 200%. Let’s call this difference “gLogic” (short for “God Logic, but I’ll bet you caught that!)

gLogic is convenient. It can explain away the problem of Free will versus predetermination. It can explain away the problem of Time. It can be useful for a variety of notions about God. The one thing it cannot be is explained. Because we use Logic to communicate, not gLogic.

But assuming there is such a thing, I claim under gLogic, what Jesus (who was God and Human) did was both a sacrifice and not a sacrifice. Prove me wrong. Remember, under gLogic, under the dual nature of Jesus, we can have a creature perform the same act, and it is two, contradictory things.

Could his act be both sacrifice and non-sacrifice?

Scale

You introduce an interesting notion that this act was on a different “scale” as compared to other acts of sacrifice.

How do we measure scale? It is a very human notion, utilized by our own observation. Yet by its very terms, this sacrifice was neither human, nor observable. Without those parameters, by which to gauge it, any claim as to its “scale” is speculative.

We would consider a soldier jumping on a grenade to save others as a “sacrifice.” We would consider my six-year-old giving up a cherished toy to a person more needy as equally a sacrifice.

Which was the greater sacrifice? Sure, on the one hand we would react with the soldier, but part of what we have to look at is the person doing the sacrifice. Perhaps, for my daughter, giving up that toy was a greater act than even a person dying, because of her personality as compared to the soldier.

Each of us giving a homeless person $20 is a different level of sacrifice, based upon our situation, our opportunity, our personality, etc. The same $20, very different levels of “sacrifice.”

According to Christianity God created the cosmos. What is a “cosmic sacrifice” on a scale with God? Perhaps it is the equivalent of our giving a person $20.

Therein is the constant problem—we have no way of determining it.

Touchstone, if we “misunderstand” the concept of the sacrifice of Christ, it is not from our lack of attempting to understand it. Our problem is that we desire to dig deeper. We actually look at the word “sacrifice” within our human understanding (what with being human and all) and when we ask for clarification from the Christian, we are left with “we don’t know either—take our word for it.”

It is not so much misunderstanding as the fact that “we want to call it something grand, but we have no idea why” is not persuasive.

Please note, that I am not accusing you of making any specific claims (‘cept where I quote you directly.) It is on the broader scale in talking with a variety of Christians on this issue in which I present my response. In other words, I am not only responding to your comment, but other common statements made as well.

Thanks.

Touchstone said...

Hi Mark Plus,

You said:
How do we know that god got it right this time?

Espistemically, we *don't* know that God got it right this time. I'm not one to point to a deductive production that establishes that. But the question, and your points above, carry an implicit notion of "getting it right". If I traipse off into fantasy land in my head, and imagine myself a Creator of some hypothetical universe (I'm a C++ programmer by vocation), I think I'd be intensely dissatisfied with a deterministic universe, even though that might well constitute what you draw as "getting it right".

Instead, I'd be much more interested in stochastic processes that produced freewill. Perhaps even freewill that inclined actors with free agency away from "getting things right", just to see who *would* navigate the gates correctly, in spite of their nature. In such a world, I'd still have full control overall, and the ability to intervene as a pleased, but I'd expect to see things trending away from "right" as a general disposition -- an inclination that proceeds from free will.

This is a reframing, then of what it means to "get things right", but I suspect is much closer to God's goals.

As for the aftermath of Jesus, I'd be the first to agree that sin and suffering and evil of all sorts remained in force after Jesus' ascencion. But at the same time, even in spite of the church itself participating in the tyranny and evil patterns of our unredeemed nature, the radical ethic of Jesus has produced a transformative legacy for mankind (or at least the West) that is so pervasive at this point, that it's easy to miss. Or, the Western world has been so foundationally grounded in the Christian epistemology (not its *theology* however), that it doesn't seem even Christian any more, but just "human".

At any rate, my response to you is simply that given your view of what God's goals were, He does seem remarkable inept, bumbling even. But I suggest that reflects a mistaken view of God's agenda in the plan.

Good comments, thanks.

-Touchstone

Touchstone said...

Hi dagoods,

I'm a little chagrined to understand you see me approaching with a knife or weapon, if even metaphorically. I'd hope you see me approaching you with an extended hand a "how ya doin'" smile. Nice to make your acquaintance.

About sacrifice, let me try to avoid the "mystery" talk that vexes you in Christians' response. I don't think it's needed. Sacrifice may *be* symbolic, but it's not *intrinsically* symbolic. Sacrifice is just a fancy word for "forfeit", or "give up" or "pay for", usually in return for something. So, Jesus death, as I see it wasn't fundamentally different because Jesus shed his blood. As several here have pointed out, blood is blood. What *is* remarkable about Jesus' death is his *forfeiture* of his sovereignty not over just the local milieu of first century Palestine, but over all of the universe. Here we have the cosmic warden, putting himself in the death chair, and allowing the inmates to pull the switch.

The sacrifice, then, was God's forfeiture of his status as ruler, as plenipotentiary of the universe. The significance doesn't obtain from Jesus being put to death, but instead from His submission to a context where he *would* be put to death. We might attach nearly the same significance to Jesus' story if Pilate had granted him clemency at the moment he was wavering, and Jesus *hadn't* been executed. Why? because if we believe that Jesus was in a position to be at Pilate's mercy, a significant amount of cosmic "forfeiture" -- giving up one's throne to be enchained and flogged by the like of these -- had already taken place. Indeed, the Incarnation itself -- Jesus' birth -- is the predicate for all of this.

Which is not to say that Jesus' death was an afterthought. Tracing all the way back to the very beginning of the Genesis, the principle of death proceeding from transgression is found. Adam transgressed, and died as a result. From the beginning then, a moral calculus has been put in place, a calculus which demands blood, blood of the guilty, but also of the innocent as restitution for transgression.

So Jesus' death, in addition to the intrinsically sacrificial nature of His incarnation in the first place, involved him dying, dying as "innocent blood", just like the innocent, unblemished lambs sacrificed over centuries in Jewish rites. Jesus forfeited His own innocence, His blamelessness, and took the cosmic burden of man's sin -- in the aggregate -- on Himself.

Dying wasn't merely the *expression*, the outward "sign" of the sacrifice. It was *not* the sacrifice itself. Scripture says it is appointed to all men to die, and as a man -- if Jesus was truly a real man, and I suggest that He was -- then death itself isn't much a sacrifice. It's a capitulation to inevitability!

Now. As to your three treatments of my themes....

Injustice

This sounds flip, but it's not intended to be: Just is as Just does. I fully realize the tautologous nature of that formulation, but that's simply a nod toward a brute fact: the one who creates the universe gets to make the rules. If you proceed for the sake of argument under the premise that God *is* real, and the immanent, omnipotent, sovereign Creator, then there is an intrinsic indemnification, a transcendence above the concept of "law".

That doesn't strike me as mysterious in the least. It's just a matter of subordination. All the universe is subordinate to the Creator. If that Creator, the master, the Lord, chooses to "forfeit" His position, and not just become bound be the Law He gave, but the *law* of Caesar and Herod, that's quite an inversion of the cosmic hierarchy. What *is* mysterious is the rationale, or more precisely the *lack* of a rationale for this. Why would the sovereign, transcendant God *do* such a thing?

The obvious answer is "love", from Christians, and I think that's the right answer. But it's a different cognate than "love" in every other context. It's wildly irrational and intractable as a cause/effect chain, I admit. I'm glad to believe that's what actually happened, though. ;-)

Sacrifice
I grant the complexities of Jesus dual nature. It's plainly a conundrum, and if it coheres as a matter of logic, it's definitely a transcendant form of logic. You've coined the neologism we can use "gLogic", and I'm happy to use that. But know that I'm probably not a good proxy for arguing against "traditional" Christianity here. I identify many, if not all, of the problems you list here as being just that: problems. I'm inclined away from determinism, and toward freewill, to the point that other consider me an "open theist". I'm not sure that's a mantle I'm willing to take on just now, but "gLogic" is something I resist actively in Christendom; I'm not afraid of mystery, and I don't suppose I can understand or even approach the ultimate propositional calculus at work on the cosmic level (if indeed there *is* such a calculus). However, much of traditional Christian theology has been very self indulgent philosophically. We happily reject stupid logical contradictions others try to fob off on God:

Can God make a rock so heavy He can't lift it?

And always the self-satisfied smile at the cleverness of that idea. But it's a bit of irony when Christians scoff at such shenanigans, then insist that God *did* make a rock so heavy He can't lift it, or, we have our free agency but our fates our pre-known.

That leaves me a bit off topic, but I offer that by way of understanding where I'm coming from. I believe in free will, and believe God is *completely* powerful and sovereign enough over all creation to have perfect knowledge and perfect control. But I believe he has foregone both of these in some measure, and only temporarily. That exempts me from "gLogic" in that area.

Even as you have it, though, I don't find the "sacrifice/no-sacrifice" duality problematic. Here's a thought to "bake your noodle" as the Oracle in the Matrix puts it: Did Jesus *know* He would resurrect/be resurrected? I think scriptural, there's just too much evidence of His ultimate knowledge of His path to deny this (but it's a question I'm willing to entertain -- Jesus behaves at the end on the cross like might *not* have His own resurrection in view). If Jesus *did* know that He was going to be resurrected, then death for Him was as perfectly painful and awful in the physical sense as it would be for you and I, but I think absolutely different in terms of the *psychological* aspects -- the horror and grief and doubt at facing one's physical "end".

So, if that's the case, I would say there are meaningful dissimilarities to the experience of death for each of us. The only way it would be *exactly* equivalent to a man dying would be if God became man in such a way that He was not God, but purely and only a man. That would achieve a perfect isomorphism to our experience, but completely screw up the cosmic calculus. If God becomes a man that isn't man, then you have these strange semantic loops to run around in thinking that God could not have become man in that case. This is simply a "divide by zero" error, and a point where one must interrupt oneself and move on, if progress is to be made.

But all that said, I affirm the cosmic, metaphysical sacrifice that is implicated in the Incarnation and the death of Jesus, but at the same time, I do not deny that there were elements of Jesus' suffering and death which did not and could not mirror our own, and indeed lessen the "sacrificial" gravitas of the Jesus' death, if it's only viewed as a physical event.

Scale
I understand your line of questioning here in asking about metrics and observation and measurement. But with respect to the soldier sacrificing his life to save others (something Jesus deemed man's "greatest love") or the daughter putting the needs/desires of others before her own, or the $20 donation to a homeless charity, all of these are points on a human axis. You're asking about degree.

I can offer opinions on what I would see as relative degrees for those, but I'd rather suggest that that's not at all what I was intending to convey by the term "scale". And the fault for the confusion in this regard is my own. Hopefully I can clear it up here.

Instead of considering points on the "sacrificial axis" for humans, I'm asking you to consider a completely different axis -- an *ontological* axis. This is an axis that is completely orthogonal to the "sacrificial axis for humans". Whereas the sacrifices you offer are simply degrees of forfeiture of assets and resources -- even one's physical health --, the cosmic "scale" is one where the units of measurement are few, but dramatic. Perhaps this axis is quantized to simply "God" and "Not God".

I'm suggesting that an ontological axis like this exists, and this axis is cosmic in "scope", rather than degree. Does that work better for you as a term. Thinking about it, "scale" was not nearly as clear as it might have been. Anyway, this ontological axis is cosmic because as we move back and forth on the axis, we are not measuring degrees of forfeiture of assets or resource, but forfeiture of *ontological* and *hierarchical* positions on a (meta) universal plane.

God sacrificed on this axis to become subservient, "not-God" if you will, something subordinated to that which is subordinate to him. If we think of extending our quantized axis to having three points on the line: (1) Master, (2)slave (3) slave to slave, then I'm suggesting God made the sacrifice of forfeiting his place at (1) and jumping all the way down to (3). It's a strange loop of the first order, and produces all sorts of philosophical questions in its own right.

But I won't digress into that here. The point is that by scale, I was pointing (badly) at this notion of sacrifice that transcends resources and forfeiture of assets, and reifies a forfeiture of *ontological status*, or at a minimum, one's place in the cosmic order/hierarchy.

Apologies if that got too abstract. That's what I meant there, for better or worse. Hopefully you can get a sense of my thinking, whether or not you agree with its validity.

I don't know if that qualifies as the kind of "we don’t know either—take our word for it." answer that leaves you unsatisfied, but that's the best "snapshot" answer I can offer you just now. If you want to push on that view -- I think I was going in a very different direction than what you replied to (my fault) -- you are certainly welcome.

Thanks for a thought provoking and challenging set of comments.

-Touchstone

DagoodS said...

Touchstone,

No need for chagrin. I envision you as a person to talk to. No weapons. No knives. The scalpel statement was meant as slight humor. (Hence the “*grin*”) A lost element in these discussions, I fear.

I understood that sacrifice implied more than just a death, burial and resurrection. That it also implied the Creator of the Universe taking on the form of a human. Although, I must point out that the Creator did get a choice that no other human has ever had—i.e. to pick out his own DNA, and his own capabilities.

Apparently he picked DNA that allowed him to be smarter than most by age 12. That he was able to heal, outsmart anyone else, walk on water, raise the dead, create food and wine, see into the future, and do things no human ever could before or since. How much, exactly, did he “forfeit” to become human?

A bit like saying how bad off Superman is, because he is stuck on earth. (There’s some of that humor.)

Further, we need to look at the whole picture, not just this isolated incident. We have a tendency to treat God as a cosmic baby-sitter that got stuck with humanity as it is, forgetting he created this situation.

Look, I had to give up my super-duper powerboat in order to fund my children’s college fund. Poor me. What a sacrifice, right? But wait a minute. It was my choice to have children, and the resulting implications with that. I knew, going into it, that children were expensive, in time, finances, efforts, and life in general. I knew that buying dinner for 5 means not going out for steak.

With all that in mind, apparently the benefit of having children outweighed any detriments I felt. (Otherwise I wouldn’t have done it, right?) Looking at just the lost of my boat—it appears to be a sacrifice. In light of the big picture, it was a cost I was willing to have, in order to gain children.

Jesus, as the Lawgiver, had a moment to decide whether to create humanity. Whether to place that tree in the Garden. Whether to create evil. To create choice. Jesus, as the Lawgiver, understood the detriment. The possibilities. The fact that he may have to become human, in order to fix some of the problems he created. Yet he choose to do it anyway.

Numerous times, touchstone, I have had to “sacrifice” my own wants and desires for others. I have had to be subservient to their demands, secondary to my own.

Jesus creates humans.
Jesus creates Evil.
Jesus creates choice.
Jesus knows exactly what is going to happen.
Jesus is the lawgiver, to make the determination as to how to correct the problem.
Jesus decides, for a time, to appear in the form of a super-human.
Even with that, Jesus can only correct some of the problem he created.

Seriously, in light of these facts, it is not persuasive that such an act was remotely significant.

Now, as to my three points.

Injustice

Sure, if there was a Creator, it is possible that he has the right to make whatever laws he desires. “Might makes right” if I can use the phrase.

However, we lose the words “just” and “mercy” when referring to God. If God can do what he wants, he is not bound by any law. Therefore, anything he does is not remarkable as being in accordance with a law. Since God and the law could change in a moment’s notice. Further, “mercy” is the deliberate act contrary to law. To not impose a sentence the law demands is mercy. Since God has no binding regarding any law, he could never act contrary to that law, exhibiting mercy.

To borrow from your phrase, it becomes “God does as God does” with no significant information about God being just or merciful. In order for God to be just, merciful, or have an act of injustice, there must be a law greater than God.

If God, since he is the creator, can do what he wants, we lose the concept of Justice and Mercy with God—is that a sacrifice you are willing to make?

(If you want a more complete treatment on this issue, I blogged it: http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2006/03/mercy-vs-justice.html, but it is fairly long and certainly not necessary for our conversation. FYI, more than anything else.)

Dual Nature of Christ

“Divide by Zero” is an apt analogy. Yeah, it’s a toughy.

How much horror and grief would Jesus have? True, he knew he was going to die. But he also had healing power. Could he tap into it, and lessen the pain of the whip? Who knows? Could he see past the cross, and eventual resurrection? (I agree with you that the most consist exegesis would be that he could. What else could be the “sign of Jonah”?)

Unfortunately, touchstone, I am no help for you here. This is your (as in Christianity’s) problem, not mine. I affirm that as the legend of Jesus grew, he went from a physical being with a spiritual representation (Paul) to a physical being that assumed a spiritual representation (Mark) to a physical being and a spiritual being (Matthew, Luke, John and eventually summed up in the Council of Nicea.) Simply put, the Jesus Legend grew (as legends do) to the point that he is affirmed as a God/Man, with no explanation.

My depiction is plausible. We see legends grow. We see heroes, such as Hercules, become gods (or the equivalent). Your depiction has problems that we are left with “mysterious.” I appreciate that you avoid the word, but you are left with the implications.

Scale

Right. “Different axis.” O.K. I propose that God’s “different axis” is that his act of appearing as a human was as much of a sacrifice as our lighting a candle.

What makes my proposal less plausible (or more plausible) than yours? Exactly—nothing! Because you have placed “scale” on an unobservable, unexplainable, undetermined level, outside of our reach.

I understand your “perhaps.” Yet it remains pure speculation. Worse, it is speculation that favors your proposal.

Again, our “misunderstanding” comes from Christians proposing something (a “sacrifice”) and when we start to question it, we hear, “Perhaps…” In other words, you don’t know either.

Touchstone, a word on my style. Do not confuse my abruptness with animosity. I enjoy these discussions very much. It is simply a matter of time/words/bandwidth. While I may come across as assertive and short, I do not intend to as much as do not have the effort within me to go through every jot and tiddle. For that, I am sorry.

Face-to-face is so much easier. Jokes and humor are better understood. We can comprise more words in less time.

(Besides, my comments are long enough. Imagine if I covered every ground possible! Yikes! *smile*)

Touchstone said...

Hi DagoodS,

You said:
How much, exactly, did he “forfeit” to become human?

On one level, I would simply shrug at a question like this because of its intractability; to be able to answer is to know the *essence* of God. Even if I piled on the superlatives, I don't suppose I could even pretend to have answered that question. There is no more un-knowable question I suggest.

But on another level, relating to your subsequent example of the opportunity cost of your children's tuition, I see that as operating, again, on the "sacrificial axis" of humans. There definitely are interesting things to look at along that axis, but I don't see you becoming "not-you" anywhere along that axis, accept out at the very limits, if you consider death a form of becoming "not-you".

If you had told me that you had decided to turn yourself in to a cockroach as means to serving the interests of you daughter, or some other interest, I think you'd be thinking along the lines I had proposed. Even if we allowed that you were an extraordinary cockroach, smarter than the other cockroaches, ables to run at super-cockroach speeds, etc. then I think the prospects of this sacrifice start coming in line with what I'm driving at. As a last bit of remodeling the analogy, I think you'd be obligated to commit to become a cockroach, just to save the lives of a number of other cockroaches. We might suppose you "created" these cockroaches, hatched them from larvae, etc. But your sacrifice is not at all like forfeiting a boat for your daughter's tuition so much as it would be agreeing to become a cockroach to save some of your cockroaches, if we hewing to the idea of Jesus' sacrifice.

That said, it still begs the question of how one *quantifies* that sacrifice, even if we assume its a better match for the incarnation/crucifixion of Jesus. Here'd I'd just frown and say this seems like a badly formed question; we're not talking about money, or boats, or the trading/sacrifice of things that come in discrete units. How much sacrifice does God's incarnation/death represent, in *meaningful* units? If I answered "orange", I think that'd be as meaningful answer as is to be had. If I'm wrong, and there *exists* a useful metric for gauging or comparing ontological sacrifice like this, I'd be glad to know it.

As I said, God->not God can only be assessed/appreciated as a measurement if we know the nature of God. Another divide by zero!

(In)Justice
"God is as God does" works for me. And it's clear that it's a logical error to try and map the ideas of "mercy", "justice", "sin" to God. Can God sin? A logical error, another badly formed question. What does the color "four" smell like? we might as well ask.

But "merciful" is an adjective we attribute to God within the context of administration of the law. Mercy is attributed when a transgressor gains clemency. It doesn't mean God is merciful with Himself, that's the logical error popping up again. It means God is sometimes lenient in his judgments and punishments meted out according to the Law. So I'm happy to forego notions of judging whether God is just or merciful *intrinsically* based on our human notions of those principles. He's God, and Just is as Just does. But it remains that the law that's been given is a tough law, but appeals to clemency *are* available.

Dual Nature
I appreciate your sympathies, but I don't suppose you *are* able to help me on this issue. As for the Legend factor, that can only be maintained by overlooking the manifest indications of Jesus' own understanding of His divinity. Supposing Jesus was a hapless victim of "Messiah Mania" wars against the things Jesus did that were plainly blasphemous if He wasn't God-become-man. That is, Jesus' enemies may have been bad guys, but they weren't stupid. They understood quite clearly the implication of Jesus words, his implied claims to divinity.

Now, I would say that a resurrection is a nice bit of fuel for the legend fire, true or not. Bringing oneself back from the dead after three days Tango Uniform is a remarkable feat, and to the extent it gets "sold" to the public, it pushes the Jesus cult into high gear. I believe it *was* a historical truth, and that the resurrection was an accomplished fact, and that it drove the "fame factor" of Jesus through the roof in the general area throughout the ANE in the subsequent decades. But if this was a cynical hoax well sold, it would likely have a similar effect. In either case, the "legend factor" is accounted for.

Scale
Plausibility. I don't at all deny the plausibility that Christianity is a hoax, a fraud. I'm as much a denier of Mohammed and his concept of Allah as you are of Jesus and the Christian God. So I completely understand how plausible it is that a fraud, a scam can get rolling and eventually become self-sustaining, a veritable "nuclear reactor" of religious belief and dogma. No Christian can even take a sideways glance at the fabulous success of Islam without understanding just how *possible* your theory is.

I just don't see much discomfort in the idea of such plausibilities. I don't believe in Jesus because I feel compelled to as there are no other plausible alternatives. There are, manifestly. I believe in Jesus because I believe I have experienced His love and interaction in my life in a super-rational way. That's not something I can or will try to sell as an epistemic case like a scientific theory. You won't find many critics who are harsher critics of "proving God" via bankrupt, fraudulent concepts like Intelligent Design.

I'd even go so far as to say that if Christianity does not represent a plausible framework -- it won't be *proven* by the facts, but remains *compatible* with them -- I'd call it a fraud myself. I see Christianity as completely plausible on a rational basis, given the a key axiom: God exists as sovereign, omnipotent creator. That's a *huge* bootstrapping axiom -- the mother of all axioms -- but given that, it fits. I'm a harsh critic of YEC theology, as I think that view *is* completely implausible. If that *were* the only version available of the Christian faith, I do not believe I would remain a Christian, given the evidence and knowledge that abounds. However, I don't think YEC theology is even a *good* candidate among the options, let alone the only one.

All of which to say: plausible, check!

Lastly, with respect to speculation, I don't see that as a solid basis for rejection. You're applying a "God-of-the-gaps" form of logic in reverse. Just because we don't have an evolutionary path for the bacterial flagellum, and have to say "Perhaps...", it's a large size epistemic error to assume that this establishes God's special creation of the flagellum. In your case, pointing at me, or a Christian wondering what the "pathway" for the propositional moral calculus on a cosmic scale, and drawing the conclusion that no pathway exists because I'm unable to give you the detailed blueprints is a mistake. It's a "no-god-in -the-gaps" argument you have there, I think. (did I just coin a new term?)

Or, if what I'm taking as true *were* true, would you have a reasonable basis to expect a better explanation than this? Well, yes, I'm sure other Christians can responde more *articulately* than I have here, but style points aside, can you reasonably expect more knowledge from humans in this context, Christian or no?

I fail to see how such knowledge could be demanded.

Thanks for your time and effort in responding. Direct and to the point I consider charity!

-Touchstone

Jolene said...

I must interject among the litany of evaluations of "sacrifice" and "injustice", that I have not seen one mention of the one who became both sacrificed and sacrificer-- Virgin Mary. Where is the justice for one whose body becomes host to an invisible man's son, and then has that son taken from her, back up to heaven with the invisible father for a happily ever after?
And what of Joseph?

DagoodS said...

Touchstone,

Thanks, again for the response. And, we are starting to focus in on the problem. I ask how much God forfeited, and you respond, “There is no more un-knowable question I suggest.”

Exactly the problem I first anticipated. The “God is mysterious, God is unknown” defense which prevents any further inquiry. Worse, if it is unknown as to how much God forfeited, there is no possible way for us to quantify it as a “sacrifice.” Was this an inconvenience? A mere triffle? A momentary shrug? Was it an all-encompassing, cosmic downgrading of epic proportion? If we cannot know, the claim it was a sacrifice of any sort loses its teeth. Especially in light of the Christian who is biased toward a claim of sacrifice. If we don’t have a clue as to how much (or how little) God forfeited, why should we accept the Christian’s propensity to make it this grandiose thing?

Of course I use human or natural examples on my “axis of sacrifice.” You have just indicated the inability for us to know or extrapolate supernatural examples. What else can I use?

Interesting, though, that you indicated this was a sacrifice of “you” to “not-you.” Again, a problem I previously anticipated. When it is convenient to have Jesus be a human, Christians would have us ignore the fact he was God. Jesus did not become “God” to “not-God.” Jesus was God the entire time! He may have curtailed his power, but he was still God.

Using your cockroach analogy (better than my boat analogy, I grant you) we must remember that I would become a cockroach/human in order to make the analogy work. So I become a cockroach for a few moments (knowing I will turn back to a human) in order to gain a wanted desire. Would you consider that a sacrifice? Certainly not a very meaningful one.

Two thoughts strike me. (In an attempt to progress this conversation, rather than reside in the “Nu-uh” “Uh-Huh” realm.)

Mercy

If God can be lenient in his judgments, and clemency is available from his law—did he have to come at all or perform any act in order to save humans? If God has the ability to give the transgressor clemency, why do this claimed sacrifice in the first place?

It is a proverbial Catch-22. If Jesus could avoid his own law, as lawmaker, he never had to incarnate in the first place. If Jesus was bound by his law, then he is not merciful in providing this way out—he is simply following the law.

The Greatness of the sacrifice

You got me thinking in regards to the cockroach/college fund analogy. If I did become a cockroach, in order to provide a benefit for someone I loved, as human I would make certain they knew of it. Not for the accolades, but in order for them to gain the benefit. Otherwise my sacrifice is pretty pointless.

If Jesus sacrificed himself in order to save humanity, and it was this unexplainable, astronomical event, why hide it? Why provide it to so few?

I imagined trying to get my daughter a college fund. Something I realize she will never be able to do on her own. And I learn of a way, in which I perform some huge sacrifice, (say becoming a cockroach) and she is able to obtain this fund.

So I do it. And all she has to do is ask me for it, and she gets it. After performing this immense sacrifice, for the distinct purpose of providing what I want to give her—do I stay silent? Do I sit in my chair and hope and hope and hope that she asks me for a college fund?

If Jesus’ sacrifice was this great and terrible thing—why would God make it so difficult to find? Why would God only provide to the select few that believe the exact correct way? Why have the death part so obvious, but the sacrifice part only available to a paltry number?

Touchstone said...

Hi DagoodS,

Thanks for the response. I think we've boxed up some stuff that we are generally agreed on, and set it aside to concentrate on the core differences/objections.

You are absolutely correct to say that we cannot *begin* to quantify the sacrifice of the Incarnation/execution/sacrifice. The reason I claim it is a big sacrifice is due to the testimony of Jesus and his disciples. According to the Bible, it *was* a big sacrifice. John 3 uses an analogy for us humans to use as a mnemonic; God loved the world so much that He sacrificed His only son... In other words, God's *ontological* sacrifice is being mapped to our human sacrificial axis. By analogy then, if we understand the sacrificing of one's own son as being "way out there" on the human axis, then God's sacrifice on the *ontological axis* was "way out there".

But that's purely testimonial. For me, that's plenty good. For you, not so much. ;-)

In any case, I won't pretend we have "units" for measuring that sacrifice, or even a meaningful vocabulary for making fine grained qualitative assessments. We are given a theme in scripture that points at the size and scope of this sacrifice as being large. Any assessment rests solely on the credibility of those claims in scripture.

God/not-God
I'm loathe to get waylaid by incarnational subtleties here, as I don't see them as essential to the points were wrestling with. You can request we go there if you like. For now, I'd simply offer two "views" on this. Ontologically, Jesus *was* fully God -- the old "ousia" idea, doncha know. Practically, though, Jesus represented something much more limited. It is this practical sense that I'm pointing at in the "not-God" distinctions. I'm fully "orthodox" with respect to the "ousia". This is a bit of frustrating complication in such conversations, I'll grant. Often, when Christians insist that Jesus was fully God, they are *right*, but conveying an assessment of the "ousia" as the qualifier for "fully". If we look at bare capabilities, you just need to ask a Christian if Jesus knew the hour of His own return. Whoops, then you get a different answer. A *functional* answer: no.

Just so I'm clear on our analogy, then, I'm saying that if you agree to become a cockroach, you *would* be, more precisely, a "cockroach-human"; in all physical ways you are ostensibly a cockroach, but your retain (at least part of) your human consciousness. You're still *you*, but you are a human-become-cockroach, with all the functional limitations that implies. Or most of them, anyway. A human can't commonly walk on water, or turn water into instant wine. So clearly, Jesus' being "fully human" cannot imply a complete set of human limitations.

You said:
So I become a cockroach for a few moments (knowing I will turn back to a human) in order to gain a wanted desire. Would you consider that a sacrifice? Certainly not a very meaningful one.
I do think it would be a more meaningful sacrifice than giving up my boat, which is why I offered that analogy. And again, we're talking about *meaningful* as a metric of some kind without a useful definition here. I realize that's a problem you're offering, in and of itself, but I'm at a loss to answer with any clarity, as *meaningful* is just an intractable quantity here.

Mercy
If Just is as Just does, as I've brought up before, then it proceeds from that that God *could* simply with a wave of his (metaphysical) hand, grant universal clemency, partial clemency, or make whatever adjudicative decisions He wanted without having to adopt the Jesus/incarnation plan. Else we would have to suppose that God was bound by a law *He* was subordinate to. That doesn't work, right? Christianity would deny that God was subordinate to anything.

Or would they? I believe that part of the Christian orthodox answer here would be that Law proceeds from God's nature. It's an intrinsic, immutable, attribute of His nature. If that's the case, then God *is* subordinated in a way -- to Himself, or to His own constitution. Harkening back to a previous comment, God's own nature is supposed to be a kind of "rock that even God can't lift".

Setting aside that bit of philosophical tail-chasing, though, it's manifestly reasonable to suppose that an omnipotent God might wish for any reified result He desired. Mercy for the pitiful humans that transgress, but regret it? Done! What's wrong with such an idea. In principle, nothing at all. In practice, scripture indicates that such bypassing of the law is either not possible (the God can't go against his nature idea), or simply not chosen. By not chosen, I'm thinking that it's quite plausible to suppose that while God *could* wave his (metaphysical) hand and have all the desired penalties just disappear, it's not an *attractive* choice. Why, because it's asymmetric, and a pure violation of the original law.

By choosing the sacrifical path of Incarnation/execution/resurrection, God is demonstrating that books *must* be balanced, and that He is willing to grant mercy, but only by paying for the transgressions -- balancing the books -- Himself. I don't know if the "bookkeeping" analogy works for you, but it's quite useful in envisioning the moral calculus here.

Greatness of Sacrifice
You said:
If Jesus sacrificed himself in order to save humanity, and it was this unexplainable, astronomical event, why hide it? Why provide it to so few?

The only available response here is pure contradiction: God *didn't* hide it! He's made the story known to all men through the witness of His disciples and His revelation through scripture. And it's available to *all* men, everywhere, any time. I'm sure you're aware of both the Bible and Christians proclaiming the Gospel, though, so I can only infer that you are wondering why it's not something overwhelmingly apparent to any empirical analysis. God certainly has the power to make Himself and His love and His sacrifice known -- undeniably known -- to all men. Christian believe that ultimately, that is exactly what will happen. But in this life, the transcendant truth is not a deductive production. It's a bit of a risky induction.

Why? I don't know, and all I can do is offer conjecture. Thinking of myself, if I were to think of being a God and Creator of my own hypothetical world, I'd be fantastically bored to "hardcode" my presence and role in that universe in such a way that anything with a post-reptilian brain stem would clearly and unfailingly identify my authority and sovereignty over that world. On the other end, I think it would be fantastically uninteresting to fashion my universe in such a way that no path to even getting a glimpse of me would exist -- I was the transparent infra-deistic God. But in the middle there somewhere, I believe I would be interested in hosting a cosmic "game" of sorts, a set of trials and challenges, a set of gates to be navigated, to see which creatures could and would find me, given the set up.

Is this a cruel vision of God, especially if I say that the "losers" were to be condemned to eternal suffering if they were unwilling/unable to find me? I'd say that's a badly formed question. I'm the God of that imaginary world, and Just is as Just does in that universe, simply because it's one *I* created. So, when I run this idea by someone and they object on moral/intuitive grounds, I quickly invoke the "Just is as Just does" clause -- they've just tried to impose an over-arching moral/ethical framework on God. As you said yourself, that's a non-starter. God is not subordinate to any moral calculus, except possibly His own.

Are we simply cockroaches, navigating a maze to see if we might get a glimpse of the "owner" watching us through the whole in our enclosing cardboard box? That's the big question, ain't it. I don't offer the "let's see who finds Me?" filter as a proof, or as a self-evident configuration. Rather, I simply point to it as the hypothesis that recommends itself to me abductively. You're wondering why God might set things up like that as a test to determine whether God even exists. I'm coming at it from the precisely opposite direction. If God exists, as I believe He does for *other* reasons, what would be the rationale that best accounts for the fact that His truth isn't intuitively and overwhelmingly obvious?

Given that we are coming at the question from different poles, we are destined to come to different conclusions. It's the whole "no-god-of-the-gaps" thing, redux, right?

Thanks for an interesting discussion.

-Touchstone

Glenn Dixon said...

Fletcher wrote About all of you ex-Christians, ex-Pastors, etc. I wonder if you really ever had true, deep, solid faith in Christ as Lord in the first place?

I'd say at least half of us did, just my own observation.

Salvation by definition is infinite, but by having deconverted you have made it finite, thereby debunking the notion that you were ever saved by grace through faith in Christ in the first place.

So if one does all that is required for salvation, and can live amidst Christians as one of them for 30+ years, and sincerely believes in his heart that he is saved, with no outward evidence to the contrary, yet be unsaved as you suggest, pray tell -- how can any Christian ever be assured of his own salvation?

I am going out on a limb by suggesting that you never really believed down to the core of your being, that your doubts always chewed away at you, like a little voice inside of you saying “you don’t really believe this nonsense do you?” and you never really got past that.

Many such as myself completely debunk your suggestion. Nice try though. I for one not only never doubted but avidly defended the faith for at least a few decades.

DagoodS said...

Touchstone,

A momentary side note. I find the concept of differentiating “God” from “God’s nature” to be useless scapegoating. I am intimately familiar with the use of the term “God’s nature” from debating Euthyphro’s Dilemma on-line. It is common to exempt the Christian God from the horns by creating this term “God’s nature.”

Or “God’s Character” or “God’s being” or “God’s essence” or “God’s persona” or whatever term you can choose to use. The question I constantly ask, and have yet to receive an answer—what is the difference between “God” and “God’s nature.” What items fall within “God” and do NOT fall within “God’s nature.” And, vice versa, what items fall within “God’s nature” but do not fall within “God.”

What can God do that would NOT be part of God’s nature?

And now back to our regularly scheduled program…

I am a little surprised you went with John 3 in talking about God’s sacrifice. First of all, numerous mothers and fathers have given their children who sacrifice their lives in service to their country. Sadly, it is happening right now in Iraq. Extremely tragic, and very sacrificial, but it places God doing so as one parent among millions. Worse, God knew he was getting his son back, after a momentary relapse, whereas these parents have lost their children forever.

If God was attempting to portray the sacrifice along human terms, he chose a rotten analogy. Parents who have lost children understand exactly what I am talking about. I would argue they have sacrificed far more.

Further, John 3 emphasizes that the reason God performed this sacrifice was out of love for the world. “…but that the world through Him might be saved.” John 3:17. Which brings me right back to the problem—If God himself says he performed this sacrifice out of love, in an attempt to save the world—why not make it more well-known?

If you continue to read John 3, the condemnation comes not from lack of knowledge, but rather the desire to perform evil deeds. Yet we are discussing lack of knowledge here, not what one desires to do or not do.

If God provides the world with information, God is claiming that the world will still contain people that reject him for desire of performing immoral acts. Leaving the question—then why not inform the world?

Since you gave conjecture from yourself, I will provide conjecture from my standpoint. If I was God, I would do everything possible, probably, plausible and practical to prevent those I loved (humans) from losing the benefit of this sacrifice. This is no “game” of tiddley-winks where the loser gets up and walks away. We are talking of a “game” in which pain, and suffering and immeasurable harm happens. My “boredom” would be a far distant second.

And yes, I have the distinct ability to call this God depiction of yours “cruel.” You are quite correct that we approach it from two different aspects. I do not have an inherent bias to give God every “good” term, and avoid the “bad” terms when viewing the actions of the God.

I see a God condoning genocide—I call it evil. A Christian must dance and wend their way around it, somehow framing it into a moral act. Look at the terms Christians gladly ascribe to their God—“Love,” “Mercy,” “Sacrifice” “Justice”—terms we all understand within their context because of human interactions. Yet when we equally see acts of God, that equally would receive human terms, such as “Cruel,” “Evil,” “Illogical” I am told I cannot use those terms with God. Why not? What gives the Christian the “right” to use human terms to describe God’s actions to communicate a concept, but the non-believer is denied that “right”?

I have moaned on this before—God always gets everything in the “good” pile, and humans get everything in the “bad” pile, yet there is never any explanation for why this must be true.

“Just is as Just does” renders a God that is completely not accountable. If the only thing limiting him is “God’s nature” and as there is no difference between himself and his nature, then God is only limited by God’s imagination. God can do anything, anytime, anywhere. Which makes any claim about him superfluous.

Touchstone: If God exists, as I believe He does for *other* reasons, what would be the rationale that best accounts for the fact that His truth isn't intuitively and overwhelmingly obvious?

Obviously, I would have to know what those *other* reasons are, but if there was a deistic God, this would conform. Or if God died. Or if God can lie. Or if God is pouting.

“Boredom” seems to be quite a stretch. But I don’t know your “other” reasons, either.

(Another side note. I am still enjoying our conversation, as I anticipated in my first comment.)

Touchstone said...

Hi DagoodS,

Thanks for you continued efforts. In reading my last response, I got the sense I was starting to be repetitive and drive this in circles. I think your response here breaks us out of that a bit.

Side note
I'll confess it's not clear what your referring to specifically with "God's nature" vs. "God" in terms of my comments, but in any case I'm happy to stipulate that attributing something to God in now way "gets Him off the hook", if we are attributing this or that to his "nature". Truly, He is where the "buck" ultimately stops. I don't suppose saying something is just God's "nature" either excuses or diminishes God's status, as distinct from His nature. He's just... God. Or not-God, if that's your take on the metaphysics. ;-)

Just for clarity: I affirm that there is nothing that God can do that would not be part of his nature. Any thing He does is de facto a part of Him/his nature. I'm happy to dispense with oblique language of "nature", if that helps trim this discussion up.

The sacrifice of one's child
I understand from your words that you take it axiomatic that humans sacrifice *more* than God did, simply because God got his son *back*. That's a fair and important point. But If you were trying to convey to humans the most significant sacrifice possible, what would you use by analogy that's better than the sacrifice of one's one child? My wife and I lost a baby on the day of her birth last year, and that loss was *totally* unvoluntary. Going through that gives me an appreciation -- vague and faint though it may be -- of the kind of loss and pain that the *sacrifice* of one's one child must involve. (And please do not take this example of mine as a play for sympathy. I'd be grateful to just say I anticipate all the proper sympathies, and thank you in advance, that we can move the discussion along!)

But, if my goal is to communicate sacrifice in the most significant terms, I think the voluntary loss of a child is about as drastic as you could name, at least such that humans would commonly identify with it. So you can tell me that God's sacrifice is rightly seen as *inferior* according to you understanding, but I suggest the point of the analogy is to tell you (and me) that if we understand -- even if vicariously and then only partially -- the significance of sacrificing a son, we are being given as good a mnemonic as can be had for appreciating God's sacrifice.

Conjecture
I understand your conjecture, and share it. If I were God, it would not occur to me do things they way they've (apparently) been done, either. From a very young age, I was the kid asking "Hey, why didn't Jesus just spell it all out for them? For us? It's not like he couldn't have said: Look you numbskulls, I'm God. See that mountain? *Poof*! Vaporized! Wanna see it again? Anyone here think there safe from the wrath of God, and wants to prove it?"

There *must* be a rationale for the ambiguity, but I say that as an inference. I do *not* see this rationale as a necessary proof for God's reality or existence.

Let me say, though, that I'm not comfortable just spouting my conjecture, as if it more than notional. I offered it because I feel it was asked for; why did God do that? I don't know, but here's what I see as a plausible hypothesis.... That makes my conjecture simply a conjecture, a hypothesis offered to explain other facts.

A Cruel God
I think I must be a lousy *opponent* for you on this issue, as well. By my own instinctual, human morals, I can definitely understand the characterization of God as "cruel". Vicious even. And for me, I can go farther than just pointing to the destruction Amalekites -- every last one, woman, kids, infants. On the face of it, man is in a cruel position from birth, by orthodox Christian measurements. He has sin imputed to him even at birth, and it hardly matters because sin is so fine-grained in the Christian view that the child has no hope of avoiding transgression at *some* point. For this, an inevitability, each man is condemned. And condemned to what must rank as the single most horrifying picture of suffering ever articulated in the history of mankind. Eternally, "the worm dieth not".

So to save ourselves from this inevitable damnation we are offered mercy and grace, if we believe in the One who saves and follow Him. Does that make sense on a human level? In our legal system, that kind of setup wouldn't fly, I don't think.

But this isn't the American legal system we are talking about.

All of this devolves right down to the phrase I invoked above, which vexes Christian and atheist alike: Just is as Just does. That sounds like a trite slogan, but it's more than that; it's a profound existential axiom.

Asking whether God is just by this or that action is just a badly formed question, if one supposes that God is, in fact, a reality and plenipotent sovereign. So I can nod and agree, and point out tragic miscarriages of justice, justice as *we* define it -- us cockroaches -- but that's just entertaining a completely unwarranted axiom, according to Christianity. We have no "yardstick" of justice -- none -- by which we might judge God. The law is not symmetric in that regard.

I totally realize you deny this God, and thus you deny the axiom. I'm not endorsing that view, but I accept you are operating from that position here. My point here is that for Christianity to even be nominally internally consistent, to avoid not practical absurdities, but *logical* absurdities, the presupposition that we might judge God in a moral sense must be jettisoned.

What you and I are really struggling with here is an epistemic vacuum. You are standing there, pointing to all of these things, and asking me: how do we explain this? What's the rationale? I see where you're pointing and nod; there's no *self-evident* rationale to be had. You're searching for it in vain. If God is a brute fact (my belief, not yours), and these are the circumstances and phenomena we see: creation, law, transgression, damnation, sacrifice, redemption, sanctification, salvation, etc. What hypothesis can explain this?

One hypothesis is to reject the whole thing; all of this is a fiction, an indulgence of our over-active imaginations. That *does* account for all the conundra; they're not conundra because there *is* no God, no law, do condemnation, no sacrifice. But for many, this hypothesis wars against too much other evidence -- it's simply too neat and clean to fit the experiential facts. So other hypotheses are formulated as to how this whole propositional calculus might work out.

And to be sure, there are plenty of "gaps" to point at, with a frustrated, exasperated expression. Who can law out the "first principles" of justice, the ones that God Himself must conform to? If you really suppose I might be that guy, you've seriously over-estimated me. Instead I'm working from a set of axioms that don't require, or even *allow* such syllogisms to be epistemically meaningful. It simply declares the question of epistemic clarity in this area a non-starter.

I'm an avid amateur physicist, and I run into this kind of epistemic vacuum all the time in quantum physics. We can observe what we think *happens*, and model it very closely. But there are large epistemic holes that we encounter that aren't just "undiscovered territory" but "territory unknowable in principle". And it's easy to point to Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle to start with, but that's actually not a super strong metaphor for my point, but the uncertainties go much deeper than that.

The bottom line is that *knowing* isn't just a platonic abstraction, even and especially in quantum physics, but also (I believe) in "quantum metaphysics" to coin a term I can't believe I have never heard before. Knowledge represents an ontological change -- merely by looking at a thing, or knowing another, you change what's actually happening. In metaphysics, there are "knowables" that are knowable as a result of changing the underlying reality.

Bottom line: in these situations, demanding *full* rationales may keep you from understanding what rationales are to be had, what understandings of which we *can* avail ourselves.

Trying to keep this short and succinct. Obviously I've not fully succeeded!~

-Touchstone

DBULL said...

What sacrifice in the universe can you find that's greater than giving oneself?

Rich said...

I may have missed this somewhere in here but you are only talking about part of Jesus' sacrifice, or his death on the cross. He also suffered in the garden for the sins of the world, every one who had lived or was going to live. Every single sin commited by a person on this earth has had the proce paid for by his attoning sacrifice. This is a huge part of the greatness of his sacrifice because there was literally noone else that could have performed this feat. This was such an immense feat that Christ himself asked that, if it were possible, God the father find another way to have the sins attoned for knowing that there was no other way. while his death was also a great innocent sacrifice and also necessary to overcome mortal death by being the first to be resurected. I just thought it would be important to add to the greatness of his sacrifice by including the entire sacrifice.

Anonymous said...

I have thought quite a bit about what you have said and have at least one idea that answers it. It seems to me that if sin is so real and horrible to God it cannot be dealt with in some big swath, as one big 'thing' but rather individually. So one way I can see that christ really did suffer is if as he died he experienced each and every sin committed or to be committed. Since he was fully man this would be a horrible experience. Just a thought.

Anonymous said...

Is there a chance that since jesus bore the sins of the world he had to go to hell.. and could it be that even 1 minute in hell is actually an eternity? Perhaps as a man jesus did not really know for sure that he WOULD ressurect. Maybe there was a chance he would spend eternity in hell by taking the sins of the world on himself.
plenty of room for dichotomies in the story...

TLS said...

I am not sure the problem is with the size of Jesus' sacrifice but rather with the very notion of sacrifice itself.

Traditional theologies of atonement which posit that Jesus had to die to atone (make up) for human sin are untenable within the context of a faith that begins with the apriori assumption that God is all good.

How can a benevolent God tortures and murders God's own child?

Christianity has to give up on the antiquated atonement theologies born out of a medieval paradigm.

Raja said...

Christ's own words explain your misunderstanding of his sacrifice. He is the way, the truth and the life. Without him, there is no truth, and without a belief in him, you cannot grasp a concept that is beyond human comprehension. You speak of this sacrifice as if it were nothing because of the human concepts of time frame and precognition of outcome, etc. What you don't consider is the magnitude of the step which Christ took, which is unfathomable to us as humans. What can we compare this to? Would you lay your life on the line and sacrifice all that you are to become a blow fly? Or how about a single celled organism like an amoeba? You wouldn't be giving up anywhere near what Christ gave up to complete his sacrifice if you did. Your life is already forfeit, thanks to the free will and choice of Adam and Eve. God did not create automatons to do his exact bidding like animatronics at Disney world. God created us to have a relationship with him. When was the last time you tried to have a relationship with a VCR or a Refrigerator? Does it react to your inputs uniquely? Does it respond to you and love you? No, of course not. As Genesis tells us, God created us in His image. Christ, who is fully God, not some procreated offspring from a heavenly union, cast off this infinite mantle to assume an impossible to understand weakened state in which he was fully vulnerable to human temptation, weakness of the flesh, frailty, sickness, and even death. For Him to complete His mission he had to achieve his life goal to remain sinless, take on the weight of not just the sin of men at the time, but of the sin of all mankind for all of time remaining, and ultimately be rejected for the weight of this sin by his own Heavenly self and abandoned to the grave for three days until his victory could be claimed and he was raised from the dead and restored to his Glorified position in Heaven. Many who feel the burden of just their own sin cannot take it and commit suicide, or go insane, or become ill and incapacitated. What if you bore the weight and conviction of every sin ever committed and that would ever be committed, with a human mind, a human body, and a human frailty to bear it with. Would you pray as Christ did to let this cup pass, but if it be your will, then so be it, or would it crush you like an ink spot to the ground with a fraction of its weight. Would you have faith to believe in the promises of God, knowing who he is because he is a part of you, or would you doubt for an instant and fail in your mission and lose it all? Of course, you can't comprehend what this sacrifice must have been like, and neither can I. As a believer, and one who is fully vested in Christ's kingdom, I at least have the sense and wisdom to respect and hold that sacrifice in the highest esteem. Even demons, who care not for you other than that you continue your foolish beliefs and decieve others, tremble at the mention of His name and weep at the thought of their fate. As for God "creating evil" therefore it denies his existence, it is an easily defeatable argument. God did not create evil. He created creatures in His image. He gave us his capacity for free thought, interactivity, creativity, and the choice to obey or to disobey. In the New Testament, it is said that how does Christ know we love Him, by keeping his commandments, or obeying him. God gave us a utopian world that was free of death, hurt, hunger, pain. A world where we could freely commune with him as sinless, blameless creatures for all eternity, not the few short hours you seem to highlight, but we chose to disobey. Adam and Eve chose to ignore the only rule that was forbidden them and throw away the ultimate Deal or No Deal in the Universe for the taste of forbidden fruit and forbidden knowledge. Why? Because of the lie that Satan perpetuated that they could then become like God. In foolishly downplaying God's ultimate sacrifice for us, much more important than the creation of the entire universe and all that is in it, you seek to become more like God yourself by belittling his contribution. Here you bite the Apple again, and sadly condemn yourself and those who agree with you to an eternity of separation from the God who loved you so much, He sacrificed himself to save you. No greater love hath any man that he lay down his life for another. How much infinitely more so then, if it is God himself laying down his infinite self to provide a rescue for the trampled relationship that we through away on purpose so long ago.

Saved