- Created on Monday, 24 November 2008 11:36
There is a central issue within Christianity today (at least in my own church!) that has generated multiple discussions in very recent books, sermons, journal publications and on-line conversations. The essence of the question is this: Does sin carry an inherent natural consequence, or does God need to impose an additional penalty? In other words, we would all agree that sin does carry inherent natural consequences. For example, an individual who becomes consumed by hatred toward his neighbor will (as a natural process) develop negative character traits as a result of this “sin”, just as consuming a liter of alcohol per day will result in negative natural consequences. But the real question being asked is, “does God also need to impose an additional penalty because of sin?”
Let me give several examples of the context in which this is being discussed today. But first, let me say that as I attempt to explain the “other side” of this issue, let me quickly add that many individuals that I know who disagree with me on this are some of the nicest and most genuine Christians one could meet. I sincerely do not mean to offend as I try to articulate their position. “Winning the argument” does no good if you have simultaneously caused offense! With that said, here we go….
- Created on Tuesday, 25 November 2008 11:36
Anytime we consider the subject of sin, it is important to trace its story back to the origin of the first sin. The larger “great controversy” view of a rebellion that began in heaven is critical to our understanding of the sin problem and also to what God is trying to do to “fix” the sin problem.
Sin began “de novo” in the mind of Lucifer, the “light bearer”. What was Lucifer’s sin? It did not begin as an outward action. The sin problem did not originate with a broken Sabbath, cigarette smoking, or an adulterous relationship between Lucifer and another angel. Sin originated as a rebellious attitude within the mind of Lucifer toward God. Lucifer began to cherish proud thoughts of power and exaltation of self as opposed to the principles of God’s kingdom – which are selfless love to God and others.
The story of Lucifer’s rebellion illustrates that sin ultimately resides in the mind. In fact “sinful actions” are only possible if we have first rebelled in our minds. Jesus would confirm this definition of sin when he said that sin is thinking lustful thoughts about a woman. The sinful action of adultery is not possible if the thought did not first occur in the mind. The outward action of committing adultery only reveals and confirms the sin problem in the mind.
- Created on Wednesday, 26 November 2008 11:36
In considering further the question of “does sin need to be punished?” the subject of the sacrificial system in the Old Testament is a natural progression in this discussion. To set the stage for this, let’s return to the perfection of Eden. God warned Adam and Eve, “You must not eat the fruit of that tree; if you do, you will die the same day.” (Genesis 2:17)
Why was there such a serious consequence associated with eating the fruit of that tree? “…you will die the same day.” How we answer this question reveals a great deal about whether we believe sin to result in natural consequences that lead to death, or imposed penalty that leads to death.
The death that God warned them about did not refer to the death of old age or pneumonia. God was warning them about the death that is the result of sin. If that is true, do we believe that God meant, “If you follow the path of Satan, you will die as a natural consequence of separation from Me – the source of life.” Or, do we believe that God meant, “If you eat the fruit, I will have to kill you because of your sin.”
- Created on Thursday, 27 November 2008 11:36
One of the more challenging Old Testament stories for me has always been God’s request to Abraham that he should sacrifice His son. Of course, God did not allow Abraham to go through with it, but the explanation frequently given for this story is that it was a test of Abraham’s faith, and that God wanted to give an illustration about the coming Savior. It is on this last point that I would like to explore in more detail.
One interpretation as a parallel to the Cross would be that Abraham represents the Father, while Isaac and the ram reveal the substitutionary-vicarious sacrifice for sin that would be made by Jesus. In other words, the ram was offered in place of Isaac just as Christ took our place and suffered our punishment at the hand of the Father. This view takes the position that sin must be punished by God but that Christ voluntarily took that punishment on our behalf.
I think that there is another way of looking at this story that unquestionably does direct our eyes to Calvary, but yet without pointing to a God who must punish sin.
- Created on Friday, 28 November 2008 11:36
This is the 5th article that asks the question, “Does God punish sin or does sin do its own punishing?” In other words, are all of the consequences of sin inherent or does God, for reasons of justice, need to inflict additional punishment?
I’m sure that some are thinking at this point, “But the Bible plainly says in some places that God punishes!” Here is a sampling:
“But if you will not listen to me and carry out all these commands, and if you reject my decrees and abhor my laws and fail to carry out all my commands and so violate my covenant, then I will do this to you: I will bring upon you sudden terror, wasting diseases and fever that will destroy your sight and drain away your life. You will plant seed in vain, because your enemies will eat it. I will set my face against you so that you will be defeated by your enemies; those who hate you will rule over you, and you will flee even when no one is pursuing you. If after all this you will not listen to me, I will punish you for your sins seven times over. I will break down your stubborn pride and make the sky above you like iron and the ground beneath you like bronze. Your strength will be spent in vain, because your soil will not yield its crops, nor will the trees of the land yield their fruit. If you remain hostile toward me and refuse to listen to me, I will multiply your afflictions seven times over, as your sins deserve. I will send wild animals against you, and they will rob you of your children, destroy your cattle and make you so few in number that your roads will be deserted.” (Leviticus 26:14-22)
- Created on Saturday, 29 November 2008 11:36
Last time, I quoted several passages where God Himself declares, “I will punish”. Parenthetically, it should be said that everyone would agree that there is a “punishment” that occurs as a form of discipline that any loving parent could identify with. For example, when your 13 year old is abusing the internet, a loving parent may “punish” by taking away internet privileges for a period of time, but this is not a retributive action or something done merely for the purpose of inflicting pain – it is rather for the purpose of healing.
The question we are really asking in this series of articles is whether or not God in any way, shape or form, punishes retributively. Does sin itself need to be punished or does sin carry an inherent punishment? Next time I will review multiple Old Testament stories in which God dramatically intervened and we will ask the question of each story, “Is God doing this to punish sin?” What are the motives for God’s actions in stories like the flood and Sodom and Gomorrah?
- Created on Sunday, 30 November 2008 11:36
Last time I described the important concept that the Bible frequently describes God as doing what he instead allows to occur. But yet, there are times when God has actively intervened and in rather dramatic fashion. I've noticed though that we have a tendency to associate these desperate interventions, such as the flood or Sodom and Gomorrah and to say, “God is punishing them. God is punishing sin.” I think that we need to be very clear that God’s sad but necessary interventions are never for the purpose of punishment, but only for the greater good of healing the restoration and I will try to show several examples of this. In addition, we cannot accuse God of using the methods of “the ends justifies the means” since God will resurrect all of these people, each with the same train of thought, same character, and same “possibility” of responding to a God of gentleness and humility.
First, let’s briefly discuss the flood. And again, our question is “is this a punishment sent by God?” Let’s just look very briefly at a few details from this story.
- Created on Monday, 01 December 2008 11:36
One of the main areas that have led many to believe that God must punish sin is the subject of “God’s justice”. It is said, “God must punish sin to satisfy justice”, but is justice a person that is above God? Do you agree with these words?
“Every sin must meet its punishment…and if God should remit the punishment of sin, He would not be a God of truth and justice.” (GC, 761)
But yet, contained within the " …" of this sentence are 2 critical words!
“Every sin must meet its punishment, urged Satan; and if God should remit the punishment of sin, He would not be a God of truth and justice.”
Of course, some would say that on the Cross Jesus took that punishment directly from God which is what allows God to forgive and to still be a God of truth and justice – the Cross will be the subject of the next article.
- Created on Tuesday, 02 December 2008 11:36
So now, we come to the Cross - the classic example for many that sin must be punished directly by the hand of God.
One of the problems with how the Cross is described at times is that Jesus can easily sound like someone who is less than God. It is sometimes suggested that Jesus came to reconcile the Father back to us, but does it sound right to say that one member of the Trinity did something to reconcile another member of the Trinity? And, in fact, nowhere does the Bible suggest that Jesus reconciled the Father back to us. Rather, Jesus is God and God came in human form to reconcile us back to God not the other way around. Jesus came to reveal God, not to change God. Jesus also came to expose and to defeat Satan and to reveal the inherent horrible consequences of separation from God. Jesus came to re-establish a trusting relationship with his chidren. He came to offer God's hand in marriage. Jesus came to heal and to restore his trusting children back into harmony with God and with each other. He came to restore His character within His people and to establish a kingdom that is based on the principle of other-centered love.
I like this expression of Paul Heubach: "God does not demand sacrifice. God is the sacrifice." The question is, how do we interpret why the sacrifice was necessary: was it for us or for God?
- Created on Thursday, 04 December 2008 11:36
Last time I listed a number of questions that challenge a certain understanding of what happened at the Cross. This article attempts to explore some of the answers. It should be said though that the depth of meaning of the Cross and what was accomplished at the Cross will be the "science of the ages". In other words, we should always have an attitude of humility and never take the position that we have mastered the subject entirely. First, a few quotes on the subject that I have appreciated:
"While the Cross was a violent episode, we are not witnessing God's violence; the atonement is non-penal. Good Friday was not the outpouring of God's violence upon Christ to assuage his own wrath. That day was God's "No!" to wrath and "Yes!" to love and forgiveness in the face of our violence and wrath....We stand in a place of mystery that requires humility. We ought not violate the very love that Christ demonstrated by firing cannon balls over Golgotha at one another. We do well to present our proposals with genuine meekness, with generosity for our rival theorists, renouncing contempt wherever it lurks. Let us not tread, through lack of charity, upon the very Cross we proclaim." (Brad Jersak)
- Created on Friday, 05 December 2008 11:36
This time the subject of God's wrath, and once again our question is this: "Does God's wrath describe an active agression or punishment from God toward his sinful children, or is this describing the natural consequences that are the result of separation from God?" Early on in Jesus' ministry, he was handed the scroll of Isaiah during synagogue and asked to read:
“Jesus went back to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and as usual he went to the meeting place on the Sabbath. When he stood up to read from the Scriptures, he was given the book of Isaiah the prophet. He opened it and read, ‘The Lord’s Spirit has come to me, because he has chosen me to tell the good news to the poor. The Lord has sent me to announce freedom for prisoners, to give sight to the blind, to free everyone who suffers, and to say, ‘This is the year the Lord has chosen.’ Jesus closed the book, then handed it back to the man in charge and sat down. Everyone in the meeting place looked straight at Jesus. Then Jesus said to them, ‘What you have just heard me read has come true today.’ All the people started talking about Jesus and were amazed at the wonderful things he said. They kept on asking, ‘Isn’t he Joseph’s son?’”(Luke 4:16-22)
- Created on Saturday, 06 December 2008 11:36
The last point on this subject will be "the end of sin and sinners". Our question is this: Does God end the great controversy by terminating the lives of his rebellious children, or in this event do we have further confirmation that "sin pays the wage - death?"
The last article on God's wrath (part 11) ties in very much to this topic since Jesus' death revealed the natural consequences of separation from God (the essence of what God's wrath is).
But yet, the end of the Bible also describes fire and a lake of fire that is involved in the death of the wicked. To understand what is going on here, I think that it is vitally important that we always read the Bible as a whole and never base our understanding of such an important subject as "fire" on one verse only (or even on one book only!). Rather, we should ask what the entire Bible has to say about the subject of fire. What does it mean that "Our God is a consuming fire"? What did Jesus mean when he said, "I have come to set fire to the earth! And how I wish it were already kindled!" (Luke 12:49)?