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« Argument from Desire | Main | Black Friday-Cyber Monday »

November 22, 2011


This is my main beef with Christianity. And I don't think the explanation given works at all. But first, I think the objection is stated poorly. This is not just an internal conflict in Christianity. Coming from the outside, I say that this is wrong. Any innocent being that is punished for the sins of another is unjust. If its God or man or a God-man duality or combo, It doesn't matter. If one commits a crime, and another is going to punish him for it. Then, it is immoral for the lawgiver to punish someone else. And it would be immoral for the guilty party to accept such an atonement. This whole idea of a whipping-boy taking the punishment is an archaic idea of justice.

Putting God in as an answer doesn't help. Because God then goes easy on himself. He dies on the cross, (there are longer and harder deaths) and then goes to heaven. Everyone else who takes the full punishment of sin gets separated from God forever and hell. So, somehow God forgives Jesus (himself?) and doesn't make him suffer to badly for very long (in comparison!) but punishes anyone else who doesn't believe it really happened forever and ever?

I agree with Josh that the entire picture is confused, archaic, and just plain ridiculous. I don't think, however, that this is an objection to Christianity. It is an objection to a particular (though, I admit, currently popular) theory of the atonement. Josh, if you are interested in a response to this theory from profound lover of Jesus, I can recommend nothing more highly than George Macdonald's sermon "Justice". You can find it online here

" Any innocent being that is punished for the sins of another is unjust."
This presumes an objective standard of justice, and, therefore, an objective standard of morality. Can this claim be justified outside of a theistic worldview? Or is it just a statement regarding individual opinion?

If we rely on human opinion about justice and morality we see that it is a fact that justice can be and is often served by third party atonement.

If Today's Church would read the writings of the Early Church, since it can't seem to understand the Scriptures, it would know that Jesus gave himself as a ransom. According to the classical view of the atonement, the view generally believed by all Christians until the medieval Roman Catholic Archbishop of Canterbury, Anselm brought in a new view known as the satisfaction model based on Pagan Chivalry & nobility, Jesus made a heroic sacrifice & not a ritualistic one. Anyone who has read C.S. Lewis' "The Lion, The Witch, & the Wardrobe," has seen essentially an example of the classical model of the atonement - a heroic sacrifice.

Like his spiritual mentor, George MacDonald, Lewis probably understood that it is not justice to put the blame on someone else. Jesus didn't take our blame; He took our place, & as a kind of Trojan Horse, He could sack Hell & take captivity captive. Hell & the devil could not hold Him as they could us. A price was paid to ransom us; it wasn't that a price was paid to appease an angry God. God so loved us that He sent His Son. The fall does not teach that God would kill us Himself: it says that we shall surely die; it does not say that God will surely kill us.

In general, Evangelicals don't believe in the forgiveness of sin; instead, they believe that someone has to pay the price. Once that price is paid, then there are no more demands put upon us. The idea that the Father could freely forgive & could even reinstate our debt if we do not forgive others their debts against us would be nonsense. (Mat.18: 21 - 35)

Evangelicals don't believe in the forgiveness of sin; instead, they believe that someone has to pay the price.

Well, not exactly. We believe that if any sin is swept under the rug, that would violate God's justice and righteousness. So forgiveness could not come apart from justice, and we know that because of Romans 3:21-26. We were:

justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

In other words, God would not have been just if He had justified us without righteously expressing His wrath against the sin He was forgiving.

So, somehow God forgives Jesus (himself?) and doesn't make him suffer to badly for very long (in comparison!) but punishes anyone else who doesn't believe it really happened forever and ever?

Josh, you could check out this previous post for a response. Here's the most relevant part:

As he explains, the fact that our sins require an infinite punishment makes it necessary for Jesus to pay for those sins. A crime against an infinitely worthy being requires a punishment that a finite person will never finish paying; a punishment paid by an infinitely worthy being pays for that crime.


Goes back to our earlier discussion.

If God determines everything then nothing makes sense, everything is arbitrary, and the only One responsible for anything is God.

No atonement necessary.

A lot of misunderstanding is based on the false premise that to be free and responsible, humans have to possess some kind of autonomous status. Adam was not autonomous, even less his descendents because we all suffer from God's sanction when we all fell in Adam. When Christ ransomed His people, it was a transaction between the only Personal beings Who were able to engage in this kind of transaction. Mankind was not part of the process, mankind was bought and sold like chattel possessions which we should never forget. The purchase price paid by Christ gave Him the ownership to receive them back from their previous slavemaster, Satan who, in his own transaction, took possession by getting Adam to disobey.

Men should get it out of their head that they have that kind of freedom , it is a haughty thought, the same one that Adam entertained when he heard the words "you shall be as God". Men are not nor ever have been their own--if you think you are free to do what your desires offer, you are blind. All of our passions and desires are rooted in the sovereignty of God. We own them and embrace them and have no less responsibility for what we do because of the actions they produce, but no where in the biblical revelation does is reveal that men are not slaves. Quite the contrary.

Daron, I think that is a conversation for another time. One I am more than willing to have.

Amy, I'm still not seeing why the punishment should change depending on whose paying. The price for sin is the price that should be paid. If Jesus gets off easy then he is not paying the full price. How is that just?
Not to mention that he shouldn't be paying in the first place. The sinner is the one who needs to pay.

I have a question I would like answered in light of this. Can the goodness of God be falsified? And if so, how? What would you have to see in the works of God for you to be able to say he is immoral?


You're assuming that the goodness of God can be proven by some standard apart from God. What standard of measurement would you propose? (I'm asking this rhetorically, mind you, no need to grasp for one)

Furthermore, the question is a non sequitur. God's goodness is intrinsic to his nature, by definition. You may as well ask how you'd prove circles are not round, or water is not wet. His properties are tied up in his nature, not proven by comparison.

I think Josh's question is a good one.

It goes back once again to the question; Is all that happens down here on Earth conceived, planned and rendered certain by God, or do we have real agency that God has ceded to us?

The answer to that question also answers the question; "Is God Immoral?"

That's nice that you can just assign attributes with no need for proof. Suspiciously convenient even. If this is the case then why do Christians spend so much time trying to show what good things God has done? Shouldn't they just leave it at "things God has done."

This is silly. The goodness of God is no axiom. If your position in this case is unfalsifiable then it is weak.

Thanks Bennet, that is a great comment.

Josh, "in light this", would that be in light of Jesus' death for His enemies? His condesension from perfection in glory to humiliation? His suffering separation and denial from His Father and the just wrath delivered upon His person?

It is a good light to view Jesus and the Father in, He's certainly proved/demonstrated a selfless pure motive that to question it as immoral seems irrational.

Speaking of freedom, Jesus' words when He said:

"Whoever seeks to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it."
speaks to this.

He is describing the man who clings to his "right", clings to the notion that he's been ceded some level of "real agency", denies that he is somehow free from God in any way.

The maximum freedom a man can experience is when he's learned to consider his "real agency" as garbage--look where it's gotten him so far. He should lose that life and find the true life and freedom that is in Him.


"denies that he is somehow free from God in any way."
did not convey what I meant, sorry. It should have said this: clings to the notion that he is somehow free from God in any way.

"" Any innocent being that is punished for the sins of another is unjust.""

""That is a conversation for another time.""

Then at this time I declare this proposition, coming form the outside, to be false. It can only be assessed from within theism and God is never unjust.

Here's what that conversation looked like the last time I had it.

Daron, we obviously have different ethical systems. Why would I assume yours is the default ethical system and I should have to prove it wrong in order to proceed? Why should you assume mine is the default in order to proceed? In this discussion I have asked you to more or less humor me and accept a possible system tentatively. If you can't do that now then we will have to suspend the conversation. until later. My email is

I don't see it, Josh. I see your first paragraph full of declarations, assertions, really, about what is just and what is unjust, what is moral and what is immoral. You call it archaic for one to take another's punishment, and yet we allow for this all the time within our justice system. Other modern people groups allow for third parties to pay for another's crimes, including murder, with cash settlements or with innocent lives.
Why do you, by fiat, get to declare that this is unjust? By what standard have you determined this?
How do you transcend human culture in order to do this, and how do you determine, on your own, that what Christians call God's justice is not, in fact, justice?

Said another way ... if I tentatively accept a possible system in which the Atonement is somehow declared to be unjust and immoral a priori what is the point of engaging in a discussion in which I try to show that it is not? How would that even work?

Daron, do you think it is just for innocent person to be punished for an other persons crime?

Also, it's not at all unreasonable to ask that terms be clarified, justified, and definitions be given when beginning a discussion. If it's too much to ask that a standard of justice be given and shown to be authoritative, then the discussion reduces to opinion which is pretty much a waste of time.

Brad and Daron,

I don't mind clarifying terms. But this is going to take a while and the format here just doesn't work for for week long+ conversations with multiple people. I was hoping we could just agree to disagree on the why for right now and at least except that certain things are wrong. Demanding we go back to square one although it is justified is not always the best way to go. I may be an atheist but I'm not asking that you guys lay out your reasons for God or a diatribe about why scripture is inerrant because those are things we can suspend for the sake of the conversation. Good grief, do we really have to hash out ethical theories right now? Is this really something we can't suspend for the sake of the conversation? Because if so, I think I might have to ask we move this to email.

I subscribe to as a good theory of ethics. That should be all you need to know to be able to speak to this issue.

Hi Josh,the starting point is crucial so to let it [the starting point] be assumed, while possible good conversation may result, it profits nothing because the force or complsion to change ones mind rests on persuasion, not necessary logical conclusion.

I think Darons point a few posts up speaks to this. The only reason we have to state objective standards of moral oughtness is from a necessary moral law giver. The Christian view is an unchangeable standard, the alternatives, like the utilitarian ethic is never stable in even one single instance nevermind over time.

Hi Josh,
I don't mean to derail whatever discussion you were intending to have that did not entail the a priori injustice of third-party punishment (possibly just a chat about how much God suffered?) but this issue seems like the real one to me - or at least its starting point.
I don't fault you and couldn't care less if you don't want to discuss it at this point. I think my point is good and will stand whether you choose to or not. And I think it deserves to be out there that your entire first paragraph is under contention.

Do I personally think it is just to punish a third party for the crimes of another? Well, this is why we need to know what we are talking about. On one hand, yes, absolutely I do. Did you follow my discussion with RonH at all as I linked to above?
Our justice system is perfectly fine with people paying for another's crimes. RonH tried to pretend that monetary payment was not punishment in order that he could avoid this point. Modern human societies even extend this to having people punished by going into to lifelong debt to pay for another's crimes. Some claim it is just to kill an innocent member of a family or tribe as punishment for a murder.
How do we step beyond these societies to deem their actions unjust and immoral? How are you going to do that if you are going to be coming at it from outside Christianity?
If you can't, you are merely stating your opinion (it is unjust) against the opinion of all those who say it is just.
Then, taking this personal opinion as a principle you think you can use it to declare against God, the ultimate source of justice and morality. So again, you have stated nothing but an opinion and, really, what was the point? You guys might as well just stamp your bottom line on every post ( in your case "I don't believe in God") and then go about your business.

"Daron, do you think it is just for innocent person to be punished for an other persons crime?"

No it is not just, it is merciful, when a party willingly accepts the punishment of the guilty.

If my three three year old writes with crayon on my wall, I paint over it at cost to myself. I do it willingly. It is not just. My three year old can't paint over the crayon (competently), nor afford to buy the paint.

Daron, I don't know where to start here. I feel like we are not understanding each other at all. I'll try and give a better response later but I'm not motivated right now. I just wish we were talking in person and not in blog comments.

Please understand, I am not just some angry atheist out to Christian bash. I also understand very well that my personal opinions are NOT going to fly on their own. You have asked a lot from me just in clarifying my terms which I have not even begun to set about doing. Don't nail me on something I haven't started yet please.

I am trying to be honest inquirer who is setting out some thought experiments before people who disagree with him about the nature of reality. I'm not setting up some "Gotcha scenario." I'm not trying to throw crap around a Christian blog. I'm not even trying to evangelize. I'm not RonH and whoever else you have on here. Take it easy and lets just try to understand each other.

"The only reason we have to state objective standards of moral oughtness is from a necessary moral law giver."

Brad, I know you think this. I used to think this. I used to argue this hardcore at one time in my life. I don't think this anymore but, I'm not asking you to prove it right now.

Here's my theory on the Atonement.

Last year I received some devastating news about something that had happened in my family years ago and which I had never known about. I was crushed and my world was turned upside down. Everything I thought about my life and childhood wasn't actually true. And it was horrible, impacted by the vilest of sins.
Not only was I emotionally thrown but I awoke one day crushed by the thought that I might be in some way responsible for this thing. Did I somehow sin in such a way that I caused this evil? Have I suppressed or downplayed something I had done?
I wept for hours.

And then there was the Cross.

Although It is much bigger, in one sense this is exactly what the Atonement is about. These are the terrible evils that Jesus dealt with and defeated. These are the sins He payed for. Did I sin in this way? Was I somehow a cause? I don't know. But these are the sins that Jesus has forgiven. They are nailed to the Cross, they are off the record, and I am at peace with God. Jesus bore their consequences. He took the shame and pain of those evils upon Himself.
This is the redemption He has brought in bringing us out of captivity. He works all things for the good of those who love Him. And I love Him. I am forgiven and my past is redeemed. This means that even the ugly turns are good in God's plan.
Saying "I am saved" means that I will have life after death. But it means more. I am saved. Now. Rescued, freed and at peace.
My debt is paid, I am bought back from evil and death, I am free to respond to evil with love, free to forgive. When the tidal wave washed away the world as I thought I knew it I was left, as the cliche says, clinging to the Rock; the one solid and the only true Reality. The illusions were gone and the Truth left.

This is certainly mercy. Is that justice? If Justice Himself says it is, then it is.

Complaining that God somehow received less punishment on the Cross than his created beings will warrant for their sins both assumes facts not in evidence and entirely misses the point.
As C.S. Lewis says, of course it is easier in some sense for God than for man. That is the entire point; for man it is impossible. He can never pay back or atone for his dishonouring God. He can not measure up and he never will. That's the very reason God entered history as our representative, mediated between Divine and creature, and did the job for us.
Lewis' analogy is that to a man drowning in a river, and then declaring "no fair!" to the man rescuing him who keeps one foot on the bank - as though his rescuer ought to give up the advantage and throw himself into the river to drown as well. It is the very foot on the bank that allows the drowner to be saved - if he chooses to be.

But Hank Hanegraaff makes the point that Jesus took on all the suffering of everyone who He saves. Every evil, every sin, every pain. As N.T. Wright puts it, He was at the centre of all the evil the universe had to unleash, political, personal, and cosmic. He took it all and it is spent. He met the evil and violence with love and that is what defeats it (not more evil). And He suffered more in doing so than anyone will ever suffer even though they reject His great gift.

I take your words to heart about not being an angry atheist here to bash Christianity and appreciate them. In fact, I have been very saddened to see that the greatest bashers on this site call themselves Christians. I hate to say it, my friend, but my Christian brothers (and likely I myself) actually do often make atheists look better in comparison.

But you have stated that this issue is your main beef with Christianity. This one is numero uno! And it looks to me that it is on a terribly false-footing. How tremendous if I could point out the weak grounding of your main beef right out of the blocks like this. I think it would be great if this stumbling block could be removed and you could be given the opportunity to recognize and accept God's Kingship.

RE: Ethical Framework

If Utilitarianism is the ethical system we're going to use, then we're not even talking about the same system of 'morals' at all--the goalposts are mobile, if you will. Certainly you could put the 'immoral' label on God, if you just change what you mean by morality. I've noted before that, under Objectivism, Jesus was at least as 'evil' than Hitler.

But you're right, God's goodness cannot be falsified because it is axiomatic. He is not a thing in this world, to be dissected or dealt with. When you talk about the definition of God, it isn't some historical party whose actions can be analyzed effectively (in fact, being eternal, he can and almost certainly does put into play actions which both begin and terminate well after any individual or group is around to witness their scope. What would a gadfly think of human morality, if they were only around to see a child being spanked after misbehaving, and then died?)

The basic Christian doctrine of God doesn't declare, but rather *requires* that he is eternal, has all possible power and knowledge, and is not only benevolent, he is *benevolence*. Belief in God isn't required for right action, but God himself is. So can God be immoral? No, it's a logical contradiction.

Now, you could argue whether certain actions attributed to God are being rightly considered, or whether a given entity is consistent with Godliness, or even whether the world as it stands is consistent with the existence of such a deity. But what you can't do is change the definition of God. If you argue that there is no omnipotent, omnibenevolent, etc etc, being, then you aren't arguing against God's morality, you're arguing in favor of Atheism.

So no, it cannot be disproven, and that doesn't make it weak, because God is the metric and source of morality, not someone or something to be put on a scale. You couldn't prove that a kilometer is a kilometer long, if you weren't allowed to use the SI system to measure it. You couldn't disprove that a bachelor is unmarried. You're in epistemics ("How do we know that God is good?") but the real issue is in ontology ("What is good; and what is God?")

But, again, if you subscribe to a manmade system of ethics (which is the philosophical equivalent of a flying spaghetti monster--sure, you could say it's no more or less reasonable than a deity-inspired one, if you're in an atheistic frame, but it's still absurd) then obviously you can say that God's system and your system don't line up--so at least one of you is immoral. Then we get into the issue of who's correct?

I suppose that for proof on that one, we'll just have to wait until we're in the dirt. If we wake up after that, we'll get the crib sheet. If we don't, then we know the secularists were right. Granted, we won't know anything at all, since we'll just be decomposing carbon-based goop, but we won't really be in a position to care either, so it's a win for nihilism all around.

Josh wrote: "Because God then goes easy on himself. He dies on the cross, (there are longer and harder deaths) and then goes to heaven."

I don't know if it's possible for a human being to fully understand what Jesus went through. Having the skin ripped off one's back by flogging, losing all that blood, dying of thirst, being nailed to a cross, having one's lungs fill up with fluid and literally being drowned in it, trying to shove one's body up to catch a breath -- I don't know if there are harder ways to die. It sounds hard enough to me!

It was certainly the worst way to die in that era and not simply because of the physical suffering, but because it was reserved for the most heinous of crimes and the most perverse of criminals. It was the most offensive manner of death to the Jews.

And what would it be like to be innocent (I haven't seen a definition of innocence here, but I'm defining it as being free of sin) to have all the sins of the world laid on him? I watch the news and I see some awful things on it that make me sick. Imagine the sins of every person who ever lived in the history of the world, past and present in your mind -- every act of degradation and evil! It makes me shudder just to think of it.

And worst of all, Jesus, who had, up until then, been in constant communion with God was separated him by the sins of humanity that he took upon himself. Personally, I LOVE being in the presence of God and I have only had a taste of it. To have been totally immersed in God as part of a Triune Godhead forever and then have to be cut off from him would be so awful that you and I cannot even imagine its emotional effect.

And he chose that of his own free will. He did not have to do it, but he did it out of love for sinners who, quite frankly, aren't deserving of it. You say it isn't just. I agree! It isn't just that the innocent suffer for the wicked, but that's what makes it so absolutely wonderful, marvelous and, most importantly, loving! Because God IS love and he proved it at the cross.

Josh wrote: "Everyone else who takes the full punishment of sin gets separated from God forever and hell. So, somehow God forgives Jesus (himself?) and doesn't make him suffer to badly for very long (in comparison!) but punishes anyone else who doesn't believe it really happened forever and ever?"

But that's the point -- NOBODY has to be separated from God forever (that's what hell is, separation from God). People who end up eternally apart from God have chosen that. If an atheist chooses to have nothing to do with God in this life, then God honours that choice in his next life. Why do athiests get so upset about that? God gives them what they want. They should be happy!

God is holy and cannot have sin in his presence. No human being is without sin. We cannot make ourselves sin-free. Therefore, we could never enter God's presence. We would all die in our sins and be separated from him forever. A human had to die to atone for our sins, but, as God established, the sacrifice HAD to be free of sin to provide that atonement (remember the unblemished lambs in the Old Testament?). As I said, no human being is sin-free. That is why Christ came because, as both God and man, he was free of sin and that's why he and he alone could atone for our sins.

You may not like the way God chose to do things, but that's just tough! Get over it! I don't mean to be unkind, but atheists put themselves above God and insist they know better than he does. And that hubris is their downfall, plain and simple.

Once again, fine comment Bennett.

Daron, thanks for your openness. btw, you said:

"Saying "I am saved" means that I will have life after death."

I say: you already have it :) Thanks be to God!

Josh, you wrote:

"Brad, I know you think this. I used to think this. I used to argue this hardcore at one time in my life. I don't think this anymore but, I'm not asking you to prove it right now."

It isn't a matter of who thinks what and when, it really is a matter of what is true, what is reality.

You want to do a thought experiment, try this: Imagine as best you can that God Is, and that He's revealed Himself in the Bible and that everything in it is necessarily true because it is from Him. Now, for all of the supposed difficulties of authentication, regard them as solved[since every objection that has ever been raised has a reasonable answer--I'm serious about this, history, prophecy, contradictions, etc...]

Now with that foundation, construct a worldview that has no epistemic challenges to overcome when accouting for knowledge or morality, who is man, what is his problem, what is his solution. Enjoy a worldview that is 100% coherent with life as we experience it.

Now for the thought experiment portion, consider; isn't it just a little bit remarkable that a collection of writings from multiple authors most of whom did not know each other spanning thousands of years have had their writings assembled in a single volumn that gives mankind the answers to the most important questions? Answers that are not merely based on a[ny] mans opinion, and are logically sound? These writing from camel jockeys, simple men, ancient men, uneducated men and yet their work makes the phd look foolish--how can this be?


I was moved by the story about your family. I'm sorry you had to experience what sounds like a very painful time. I wish you well and I don't intend to impede your comfort by disagreeing with you on this topic.

Junior gets a speeding ticket.

Sometimes Daddy pays and, for his own reasons, does not pass the fine's deterrent on to Junior.

But look, we do not establish fines for speeding in order to create opportunities for 3rd party atonement in our justice system.

Rather we accept a certain amount of this kind of thing because tickets are a cheap way to reduce (deter) speeding.

Similarly, when compensation is paid to victims by 3rd parties that compensation may still buy peace. But that is in spite of the fact that the guilty party is not paying.

And, that peace may well be adequate justification to accept that the 3rd party pays rather than the guilty party.


Bennett, Mary Lou and Brad B.,
Excellent trio of comments.

Hi RonH,
Thanks for your sentiments.

And regardless, in each case justice is served.


Don't overanalyse the analogy. The problem with analogies is (as the fallacy of "reasoning by analogy" would show) that they are a literary (not literal) device used to highlight a point. The two objects are not, in fact, sufficiently alike that they can be used for a 1:1 understand. Yes, someone else paying wergild for my crimes is *like* the atonement, but it's not the same thing.

When people sin, it's a negative action. Think more akin to the law of karma in Eastern thought. Bad action generates bad news, to greatly oversimplify it. The counteractive good news is that God isn't going to make us eat the full penalty. Talk about 'atonement' or 'substitutionary sacrifice' actually misses the point, because it implies that God is some sort of cosmic warden, meting out judicial punishment.

Instead, I'd propose that God judges us the way you or I would judge the cut and clarity of a diamond, or the weight of a turkey. He isn't trying to play a gotcha game, or 'punishing' us, he's simply calling us like we are. If you're covered in sin, he isn't going to tell you that you're a pretty little snowflake. People had a lot less trouble with this before the self-esteem movement in schools, I think, but it's still not an easy one to wrap a brain around, and I'd say Christians are as apt to misapprehend it as anyone else.

The talk about God as a 'judge' or 'king' and so on are, again, analogies. He is not literally holding any sort of court, royal, judicial, or otherwise. He is all good and all knowing, and thus literally cannot help but to fully and accurately evaluate us--along with everything else. Our judgement is unique in that humans have a moral dimension, but God passes judgement on all of creation in some way or another. He can't *not* do so.

Consequently, God can't ignore sin. He is incapable of being unaware of it. He's also, being all-just, incapable of just 'letting it slide'. He's like a physician who's under oath not to let disease persist when he could do something to help--for anyone who asks. You've always got the option of denying God's appraisal of you, and rejecting his offer of help. You'll face the consequences, but it's no more compulsory than ignoring that it's cold outside and having to face the consequences of going out without a coat.

The penalties of sin wouldn't vanish if God didn't 'judge' us--that's the great misunderstanding. If God didn't call you a glutton, you'd still get diabetes from gorging on cake. If he didn't call you lustful, you'd be no less a slave to carnal urges. If God didn't call you a murderer, is the family any less aggrieved? Is your soul any less damaged, for having murdered?

If you can't sing worth a lick, Simon Cowell's doing you a favor by pointing it out. It's only the arrogant and deluded who squeal and protest when he calls it like it is. Why should God be any different? People act like he's playing a game. We're the ones who try to game the system. He's just keeping the score.

Hi Daron, I thought of you when I saw this. It is a audio link of CS Lewis and I dont know if you ever heard him before, I haven't but I think you are more familiar to his work than I am. Anyway, the link should take yo to the post "Audio of CS Lewis on God, Time, and Christian Living" by Lydia McGrew at the What's Wrong With the World blog.

In case anyone else has read Bennetts post where he used the word "wergild", and like me, have no idea of its meaning, here's the definition from an online dictionary.

"wer·geld (wûrgld) also wer·gild or were·gild (-gld)
In Anglo-Saxon and Germanic law, a price set upon a person's life on the basis of rank and paid as compensation by the family of a slayer to the kindred or lord of a slain person to free the culprit of further punishment or obligation and to prevent a blood feud.[bold mine]

It's a good word to know in the context of this discussion.


"It goes back once again to the question; Is all that happens down here on Earth conceived, planned and rendered certain by God, or do we have real agency that God has ceded to us?"

Both are true. We have real agency and all that happens is rendered certain. Understanding this hinges on understanding compatibilist and libertarian free will distinctions and how they play out in God's plan.

Thanks Brad!

It's actually really handy to read that, and consider how--like so many things in the Gospel--there's an inversion of our expectations. After all, wergild was paid to the lord, by the family, on behalf of the slayer. In Christ, it's the lord who pays the family, on behalf of the slain.

There's folks who say that Christianity is a joke, and they're right, but they still don't get the punch line at all. Or at least, there's a divine comedy going on (and to think how long it took me to 'get' Dante's title)

Thanks, Brad.
I have read lots of C.S. Lewis but this might be the first I've heard his voice. For some reason, after listening to Narnia and the Screwtape Letters, though, I feel like I know the voice.


"Both are true. We have real agency and all that happens is rendered certain."

How can this be? It would seem that they are mutually exclusive. If God is omnicausal how can their be agent causation by anyone else?


I know many of the commenters here have jumped on the inadequacy of Utilitarianism as a system of ethics.

I believe that this is a case of Utilitarians being their own worst enemy. J.S. Mill did a pretty good job presenting a plausible doctrine in his little pamphlet of the same name, and I think it's been downhill from there. Mill's account is immune to many of the typical attacks people make on Utilitarianism. Not so much for Mill's successors. It's as if some of them worked overtime to import weaknesses into the doctrine that Mill was obviously studious in avoiding.

But it does seem to me that, if you are going to be a Utilitarian, then all attacks on God's morality are instantly ruled out.

The reason for this is God's Omniscience and Reason. Unlike humans, God sees and understands all the ends of all actions. As such, if He orders something apparently evil, you can be assured that, so long as God cares about the utility of all, what God commands is utility maximizing. And, as utility maximizing, it is, according to Utilitarianism, not evil at all but morally praiseworthy.

And the same thing goes for anything He does. It might seem evil, but so long as we assume that God desires to maximize the utility of all, it is anything but.

But how do we know that God desires the happiness of all?

What if He desires as much misery as possible? Wouldn't all the considerations just mentioned serve to show that God is ultimately evil?

The answer, once again, is found in God's Omniscience.

If God is omniscient then He knows the suffering of all those who suffer and the joys of all those who rejoice. If He did not, then there would be something He did not know. God, because of His omniscience, is in perfect sympathy with all created beings. He suffers what they suffer, He enjoys what they enjoy.

So the assumption that God desires the happiness of all is, therefore, a logical consequence of the fact that He is Omniscient and He desires to maximize His own happiness. But the latter claim is simply the claim that God has minimal practical reason.

So, based on God's reason and knowledge, we can completely rule out all temptation to attribute evil to God on the assumption that Utilitarianism is true.

Predestination most certainly and infallibly takes effect; yet it does not impose any necessity, so that, namely, its effect should take place from necessity. For it was said above (Article 1), that predestination is a part of providence. But not all things subject to providence are necessary; some things happening from contingency, according to the nature of the proximate causes, which divine providence has ordained for such effects. Yet the order of providence is infallible, as was shown above (Question 22, Article 4). So also the order of predestination is certain; yet free-will is not destroyed; whence the effect of predestination has its contingency. Moreover all that has been said about the divine knowledge and will (14, 13; 19, 4) must also be taken into consideration; since they do not destroy contingency in things, although they themselves are most certain and infallible.
We must say, however, that all things are subject to divine providence, not only in general, but even in their own individual selves. This is made evident thus. For since every agent acts for an end, the ordering of effects towards that end extends as far as the causality of the first agent extends. Whence it happens that in the effects of an agent something takes place which has no reference towards the end, because the effect comes from a cause other than, and outside the intention of the agent. But the causality of God, Who is the first agent, extends to all being, not only as to constituent principles of species, but also as to the individualizing principles; not only of things incorruptible, but also of things corruptible. ... But since the very act of free will is traced to God as to a cause, it necessarily follows that everything happening from the exercise of free will must be subject to divine providence. For human providence is included under the providence of God, as a particular under a universal cause. God, however, extends His providence over the just in a certain more excellent way than over the wicked; inasmuch as He prevents anything happening which would impede their final salvation. For "to them that love God, all things work together unto good" (Romans 8:28). ...

God's immediate provision over everything does not exclude the action of secondary causes; which are the executors of His order, as was said above (19, 5, 8).

Daron and Louis,

Word salad gibberish aside,

If God is omnicausal, the idea that I participate in agent causation is an illusion.

Perhaps you could state you case in plan, modern English?

Saint Thomas, among the top handful of philosophers states the case here. If he is given to gibberish then how much more prone would I be?

Perhaps it is at least instructive to note that this Catholic theologian, centuries before any Calvinist darkened the door of history, read from his Bible that everything is under God's sovereign rule, and that man is a morally culpable agent.
On top of that, master logician and champion of reason that he was, Aquinas (like Saint Paul and Saint Augustine) saw neither contradiction nor illusion in this proposition.

But Cog sees right through it to their error and, contra Luther, elevates his ability to reason not only above theirs, but above Scripture.

" a wonderful and inconceivable manner [God] regulates all the movements of men, so that they still have the exercise of their Will. ... man, though acted upon be God, also acts.""" ... Providence covers all events, all of man’s choices, but Calvin did not argue from this to deny the reality of human choice. .... ""Though, by the eternal providence of God, man was formed for the calamity under which he lies, he took the matter of it from himself, not from God, since the only cause of his destruction was his degeneration from the purity of his creation into a state of vice and impurity.63

""Calvin was also most emphatic that the Fall was voluntary.""

Adam fell, though not without God’s knowledge and ordination ... Yet


this neither mitigates his guilt nor involves God in any blame. For we must always remember that he voluntarily (sponte) deprived himself of the rectitude that he had received from God, voluntarily (sponte) gave himself up to the service of sin and Satan, and voluntarily (sponte) precipitated himself into destruction. One excuse is suggested,
that he could not evade what God had decreed. But his voluntary (voluntaria) transgression is enough and more than enough to establish his guilt. For the proper and genuine cause of sin is not God’s hidden counsel but the evident will of man.""64

On Calvin.

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