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Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Wisdom and Love - or 'cosmic child abuse'?

Richard's been reading Steve Chalke
Recently I saw a clip of Richard Dawkins in which he berated the Christian teaching that due to one man's sin (Adam) all humanity became sinners which then required God to sacrifice his Son to redeem us. (Dawkins has clearly been reading too much Steve Chalke, or is it the other way round?). What an immoral doctrine, he raved. Why couldn't God just forgive? Why did he have to put Jesus through such torment?

Immoral or loving and wise?
From the outside, from a position of ignorance, I guess the cross may look strange. But a little unpacking reveals wisdom. Consider the following:

(1) Isn't it unfair that we are 'blamed' for and infected by something the one man Adam did? (No, because we also benefit from what one Other Man did.)
Adam eats the fruit ('scrumping' in Dawkins' speak) and all mankind suffers. How come? Scripture explains that God deals with mankind on the 'federal head' principle. One person represents many others. It's not an unfamiliar system. One president or prime minister declares war and everyone in that country is at war.

Perhaps we object to such a representative system because we westerners are so individualistic. We forget that all mankind is entwined at many levels. This is not theory but simple fact: a rogue nation far away acquires nuclear weapons and every nation in the world feels fear; atrocities in one country evoke both anger and sympathy across the world. Whether we like it or not or agree with it or not, mankind is a connected entity.

But back to Adam, "Isn't it unfair that something he did back then affects us all today?" "Isn't the federal head principle unjust?" Well, the principal can work for us as much as against us. Suppose you are a Japanese citizen in WW2 fearful that your city is the next one to be nuked - Hiroshima and Nagasaki have already been destroyed. Your only hope is that your federal head, Emperor Hirohito and his generals sue for peace. You personally as an individual have no power or authority in the face of  such an enemy, but he does.You are very grateful for the 'federal head' principle.

In the same way, God employed the same principle to our great advantage when he sent his Son to rescue us from Adam's sin and our sin. One man suffered, many were saved. This now looks like wisdom rather than folly.

(2) But couldn't God just forgive our sins? (No, because he is just as well as loving.)
Why did he have to sacrifice his Son? Again, there are good reasons. God cannot just forgive sin; for he is a Just God as well as a loving and merciful one. Imagine every human court in history after every guilty verdict has been served saying to every criminal "you are forgiven, you are free." Human justice would be outraged, not to mention the righteous justice of the victims. Something even within us understands that evil should be punished. Yes this justice is sometimes mixed with unholy vengeance, but when you distill the vengeance out, a pure sense of justice remains. And this is rooted in an understanding of right and wrong and the ability of human beings to know the difference and an amount of free will to not murder, steal and destroy: a sense of justice is part of what it means to be human.

Ramped up a billion times, God, the Judge of the Universe cannot overlook evil. To do so would make him unjust, and that he cannot do. It's against his nature. To do so would make him a capricious God able to do just whatever, and God cannot do whatever, he has to be true to his nature: justice flows out of his character.

This is where love comes in. Since God has to serve justice, he could have served it in us, and then we would be doomed! But in his mercy and love he sent his Son - who willingly came out of love - to die in our place.

All of this makes eminent sense, but it is a wisdom from on high, which is probably foolishness to the world. Christians frankly cannot expect the world to understand or accept these things. They are foolishness to those without the Spirit of God, but the wisdom and power of God to those who believe.

"For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God" ( 1 Corinthians 1:18)

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