CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

In my most recent discussions on Christianity with skeptics, I have come across a number of people who acknowledge that while moral crimes, i.e. sin, ought to be punished, God, as our maker, has no right to punish us for the sins that he has left us capable of committing. Let me backtrack.

One of the tactics I use when discussing Christianity with people is one that I learned through Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason. In our of his lectures, he talks about speaking to a Jewish prosecutor about the reason that we need to believe in Jesus to be saved. Greg asked (paraphrasing): "Do you believe that people who commit moral crimes ought to be punished?" The prosecutor replied "Since I am a prosecutor, yes." Greg responded, "So do I." He then asked, "Have you committed any moral crimes?" The prosecutor then admitted to having done so and Greg again replied, "So have I. Do you know what I call that? Bad news. We have both just agreed that moral crimes ought to be punished and that we both have committed moral crimes. Do you want to hear about mercy?"

I have personally found this line of discussion to be fruitful in my experience. Most people, when asked, will admit that people who commit crimes ought to be punished. Usually the problem is in getting them to admit that they have committed moral crimes. (Given that they deny the existence of God, they don't see the actions that they have taken in violation of God's law as either inherently wrong or they don't see them as "bad enough" to require punishment.) That usually requires discussions of the Ten Commandments and pointing out how many of them they have probably broken today.

But here is the new counter-tactic I have been discovering (and I am wondering which atheist thought this one up for all of the "freethinkers" to parrot): They acknowledge that moral crimes ought to be punished, but they do not believe that God has the right to punish them for doing so. Why not? Because God made them susceptible to committing the moral crime in the first place. They reason that if God had only made them better, they wouldn't have committed the moral crime (i.e., the sin) and therefore it is God who is responsible for their failure. To use an analogy, they view people as if they are no more than a rock which God set on a hill which will ultimately be pulled down by physical forces. How can you blame the rock for doing what it does as the result of the natural forces acting on it when it was placed on the hill by God. It is God's fault for placing the rock on the hillside in such a way that it is bound to fall down. Similarly, if God made us in such a way that we cannot help but sin, then that is God's fault for having made us that way in the first place.

I don't find this view terribly convincing. My reason is plain and simple: if God made people incapable of going through life without sin, then how could Jesus (who was fully man) be sinless? Jesus went through a fully human life from birth to death without once committing any moral crimes. If he could do it, then it is possible that we could do it as well.

However, let me clarify one point: while it is possible that we can live a sinless life, I have serious doubts that anyone other than Jesus has ever done so. Why? Well, the Bible points out that all men have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. In other words, while we have been created with the capacity to live a sinless life, very, very, very few of us (if anyone other than Jesus) have actually achieved it. And part of the problem is that we don't see exactly how dirty we are. St. Thomas Aquinas, one of the greatest of all Christian theologians, after having a profound religious experience stopped writing because he saw that in comparison to the actual glory of God, all of his works (great though they are by human standards) are "like straw." We fall far short of His glory, and it is only when we see this that we can truly begin to live a sinless life.

I think that most people know that we are more than rocks. We do have the ability to act independently. We do have the ability to choose between good and evil. We are not rocks balancing on the hillside which move depending upon physical forces. We are independent beings who have a part in whether we roll down the hillside. But here's the trick: we can't stay on the hillside by ourselves. God needs to hold us there. We only need to ask.

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Note: This is a republishing of the very first post ever on this blog. I simply wanted to republish this because at this time of year, it is important to look back as well as forward. Also, at the time this post was originally published, I expect that this blog had exactly one reader: me. Also, I think that the point of the post is still true.

9 comments:

Part of the problem with this issue is people's general inability to consider *multiple* causes. Normally, we say "Is A or B responsible?" when it could be A *and* B.

So, what about the option that both God *and* people are responsible for the sins that people commit? I did not make myself capable of sinning, clearly that is God's doing, as he (presumably) created people. But, when I sin, clearly *I* am sinning, not God. This adds up to *multiple* responsibility. He gave us the capability, we take the next step and take advantage of the capability. In fact, we cannot *help* but sin, as the Bible says.

The only problem is, this muddies the water considerably. All those clear cut, black and white conclusions people love to draw aren't so easy anymore. But the situation that Christians describe (God created us, and we sin) demands that we draw that conclusion.

Newsflash: Humans aren't rocks! More on this amazing development at 11.

Goliath,

Cool, we finally agree on something.

Anonymous,

I like your response a lot. Could you please leave some type of name in future comments? I like to know who is commenting. Thanks.

BK, call me "irresponsible." I'll try to remember to use that moniker in the future.

Thanks for the compliment.

KOUKL
We have both just agreed that moral crimes ought to be punished and that we both have committed moral crimes. Do you want to hear about mercy?"

CARR
If moral crimes ought to be punished, then why is God under a moral obligation to punish people for moral crimes?

Surely it is not just for this alleged god to forgive people who 'ought' to be punished.


I 'ought' to act morally, just as God 'ought' to punish moral crimes.


Unless the fact that we 'ought' to do something by no means that we have to do it.

CARR
If moral crimes ought to be punished, then why is God under a moral obligation to punish people for moral crimes?


I suppose you meant to say "why isn't God under a moral obligation", right? As stated, your question is nonsensical.

Surely it is not just for this alleged god to forgive people who 'ought' to be punished.

I don't know any alleged god. But to answer your question: You are right in the sense that forgiving people isn't "just" because God is not giving us justice -- He is giving us mercy.

I 'ought' to act morally, just as God 'ought' to punish moral crimes. Unless the fact that we 'ought' to do something by no means that we have to do it.

Really, Steven, you should proofread your stuff before posting. Your viewpoint is already confusing enough without multiplying the difficulty. I honestly have no idea what you are trying to say.

You are claiming that God 'ought' to do something and praising him for not doing what he 'ought' to do.

As you point out it is 'nonsensical' to say God is 'under a moral obligation' to punish moral crimes, although Koukl claims this is what God ought to do.

So why does 'ought' not produce a moral obligation?

Koukl claims his alleged god 'ought' to punish moral crimes.

And then claims his alleged god will not do what it 'ought' to do.

So if we 'ought' to do something and 'ought' to be punished for not so doing, yet Koukl claims God 'ought' to punish moral crimes, then clearly there is nothing wrong with not doing what 'ought' to be done.

Becuase Koukl claims his god will NOT do what 'ought' to be done.

Koukl's apologetics is as confused as ever.....

Steven,

It would be nice if you would actually make a comment without misrepresenting what I say. Nowhere did I say that it was "'nonsensical' to say God is 'under a moral obligation' to punish moral crimes."

Try again. And if you cannot comment without misrepresenting what I am saying, please don't bother.

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