Thursday, February 11, 2016

[BTT016] "How can a Just God..."

Previous: [BTT015] "If the Death and Resurrection of Jesus..."

Question 4. “How can a just God punish people for sins that occurred in a timeline which no longer exists?”

In a certain sense, individual sins are committed at discrete points in Time. God does not hold us responsible for sins we do not commit. Although the strict Calvinists among us may say that God has predestined "vessels of wrath fitted unto destruction," (Rom. 9:22) and the less strict may say that God's foreknowledge allows Him know our sins before we do, I know of no theological system that claims God will punish us for sins that we at no point actually commit.

So then, if Time is recreated without sin, doesn't this mean that all humans would suddenly become sinless? God may justly condemn humans for sins they have not yet committed, but can He condemn us for sins that were un-committed?

For example, let's say God goes back in Time and makes Genghis Khan be born as a sinless human being This means that he would not have killed and raped his way across Asia and Europe. This in turn would mean that all of the humans he killed would have lived (longer), the women he raped would not have become pregnant (with his children), and a substantial percentage of the human race would not be related to him.

In this scenario, is Genghis Khan responsible for the sins he would have committed in the original timeline? All evidence of his crimes has disappeared, all his victims are spared, no sin can be laid on his account.

Once again, this question betrays Marty McFly-style thinking. From the in-time perspective, changing history changes what sins are committed, but the eternal perspective gives us a different picture.

Moreover, this question also assumes that God the worst part of sin is the harm that it does to others. Murder is wrong because it ends the life of a fellow human being. Stealing is wrong because you deprive someone else of what belongs to them. Our common assumption is that the worst part of sin is that it harms others.

Of course, looking at the Scriptures, we see something quite different.

Christ tells us that it is not the consequences of physical acting out of a sin that matters most. If you murder in your heart, you are just as guilty as if you had stuck a knife into a person's heart. On the other hand, the law of Moses provided cities for refuge for those who accidentally took human life. What matters most is not the physical act of ending a human life, but the state of the heart in relation to the act.

This is not to say that physical acts do not matter - in the New Testament faith without works is dead, in the Old Testament accidentally coming into contact with an unclean object still defiled a person. But the heart from which the act flows is still given precedence over the consequences of the action.

If I intend to toss a ball to my friend, but it hits him in the head, killing him, I have taken human life, but I have not committed murder. If I toss a ball to my enemy, hoping that it will kill him, but he instead catches it, I have not taken human life, but I have committed murder.

In this way, we see that it is not the temporal consequences of our actions that matter most to God, but their eternal consequences. Matthew 10:28 tells us "And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell." It is more terrible to commit a sin and be thrown into hell than to be sinned against. A murder does temporal damage to his victim, but eternal damage to himself.

I think part of the answer to the Problem of Pain is that death and other temporal pains are not the worst thing that can happen to us. The worst part of murder is not the end of a human life (it would end one day anyway), but the staining of an eternal human soul. The worst part of theft is not that a person loses some money (that will turn to dust), but that a soul has lost innocence.

It is not that the ending of a human life is not serious thing (or else it would not be a sin). Intentionally desecrating the image of God present in all humans is a grave offense, but we can say that one thing is more important than the other without lessening the importance of the second.

In weighing the relative importance of keeping my children clothed and keeping them fed, I say that both are essential. I would sacrifice my own comfort to secure either one. But when it comes down to it, if I could choose only one, I would choose to keep them clothed above keeping them fed.

Go back and read the last sentence.

Did that make any sense to you? Did you ask "who in their right mind would let their children starve to keep them clothed? It must be a typo. There is no way on Earth anyone's priorities could be so skewed!"

And that's my point. No one in their right mind would let their children starve in order to keep them clothed. While both scenarios are horrible to consider, one is clearly worse than the other.

Just as our minds and hearts revolt against letting our children starve to keep them clothed, so God objects to prioritizing a person's temporal life over their eternal life. And just as a good human seeks to clothe their children in addition to feeding them, so God seeks both our temporal and eternal good. He wants both our internal hearts and our external actions to be holy, but He starts with the heart.

And it does start with the heart. In the Old Testament, the prophets condemn sacrifices offered with unclean hearts and unwashed hands. In the New Testament, Jesus and Paul both condemn outward shows of prayer and offerings done with sinful motives. Even a divinely sanctioned action such as prayer to the One True God is sinful if done with a sinful intent. This is why Titus 1:15 tells us that "To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. "

So if the heart is what matters most, and the worst part of sin is the stain it leaves on the heart of the one who commits it, does it still seem unusual that God would judge us based on the state of our souls instead of our actions in Time? If sin has an eternal effect on an eternal soul, is it so strange that the effect would remain even if Time is destroyed?

And if you remain unconvinced, consider the rebel angels. Whatever relationship angels have to time, scripture indicates very strongly that they were present before the creation of our world. If angels are not creatures of Space/Time, by what means can we say that sin requires Time or temporal effects? If Hades was prepared for the rebel angels, surely God can justly punish sinners for sins which occurred outside of the Space/Time in which humans live.

Sin can only be erased by the blood of Christ, not by the destruction of Time. The destruction of the current, fallen timeline would in no way dilute the seriousness of sin. To the contrary, only the redemption of Time can satisfy the holiness of the Eternal God. Christ came to destroy the temporal effects of sin (death, disease, suffering), but His most important mission was to overthrow the eternal power of sin (separation from God, eternal death).

Next: [BTT017] Further Objections

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