Ethics and the Third Person -- sin and death

[Note: the contents page for this series can be found here. The previous entry, concluding Chapter 41, can be found here.]

[This entry starts Chapter 42, "Death".]

I ended my previous chapter by noting once more what the logic of my position leads to:

I not only deserve to die, I shall die.

Perhaps you think I am being rather hard on myself. And perhaps you are right. Then again, perhaps I deserve to be rather hard on myself!

But then again (again!), it is worth considering the question of what it means to die.

What happens when I sin? I essentially set myself up in opposition to the principles of interpersonal relationships--not merely in this or that form (about which I may be mistaken concerning their accuracy at reflecting the ultimate principles), but I set myself intentively against them in principle.

I think it is also possible to sin by willfully resolving to delude myself as to the state of reality--again, whether my perceptions of reality are themselves particularly accurate makes no difference. If I resolve myself to believe something that isn't true, then it might be an honest accident; if I resolve myself to insist on believing that what I think to be true is not true, then I am rebelling against the truth (regardless of whether I happen to be correct about what I think to be true), putting myself up over against it--and so I am acting rebellion against God Himself.

I do not mean the legal form of rebellion. That sort of rebellion might be 'good' or 'evil' depending on its object. If Satan is the prince of this world, then to rebel against the greatest of rebels may well be to seek to become a servant of God! Or, to 'rebel' against the 'greatest rebel' might mean only to set myself up as the greatest rebel instead!

But again, it is not the mere form of rebellion that I am talking of--as if God is only a king, merely Someone Who has massive power, against Whom it would be (consequently) merely dangerously imprudent to rebel.

The rebellion I am speaking of, is an intent to go against however much I can discern of what reality is.

And ultimately, at the top and bottom of things, God is reality.

To insist on embracing what I perceive to be inconsistencies, for the sake of my own wishes, is to set my face against reality, to go against it insofar as I possibly can.
And this will be true, whether I am pagan, pantheist, atheist, agnostic; Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim--or Christian.

There is nowhere I can safely be a traitor to reality.

So, if I treat you, my reader, as if you are not a person--as if you do not have your own qualities intrinsic to being 'a person', the same qualities I recognize myself having as a person--while nevertheless realizing (or even seriously suspecting!) that you have those qualities; then I would be resolving to set myself against however much of the principles of interpersonal conduct I am capable of recognizing.

To put it simply, I would be refusing to love you as I love myself.

But the simplicity of that saying, especially in times and places when terms such as 'love' and even 'person' have become so malleable as to be useless, obscures the depth of the breach that my willed intent involves.

If I set myself against you in this fashion, then I set myself against the foundational principles of reality itself--for reality itself proceeds according to the necessary principles of a Personal relationship, the relationship of the self-existently begetting and begotten God, Who in His Unity is the Independent Fact grounding all reality, including Himself.

The relationship of God to His creation is utterly self-consistent; and so for me to actively intend evil against you, my reader, entails ultimately that I am sinning against God--trying to break away from Him, trying to be what I am not: for I am not self-sufficient, nor do I have any right or even power to be the determinant of what is 'right' (either ethically or 'merely' factually).

I may discover, perhaps, what is true and good; or at least I may resolve to discover, if I can, what is true and good. There is no ultimate harm to me in this; for one way or another it is the path of seeking the Father (even if the path seems to lead away from Him at first).

But to intend to command what shall be or what should be?

That would be to push myself away in rejection from that which is--or more accurately, from He Who Is.

Let us say as another example, that I have an intuition within me (however it came to be there) that no matter how hard I try, in the long run I shall always lose money to the casino. Perhaps I decide, "Very well: it is my money, it is entertaining to experience the ups and downs, I understand the limitations: I will play anyway." This is not necessarily a sin, at least taken by itself. (It would be a sin if, for instance, I was using money that I knew should be used for something else!)

Or perhaps I decide that I will test and learn and understand the mechanics better, to see if my intuition is correct regarding the futility of playing against the house edges. This is certainly not a sin, by itself: it is seeking better knowledge, and more light than what I have.

But let us say I discover I was correct in my first intuition; or, let us say I never bother to work for the verifying knowledge, so that either way I am back where I started: I have an intuition within me that in the long run I can only lose money at the casino. And let us say I resolve within myself this intent: I do not care what I feel, or what I think, or what anyone may possibly say--I am going to play that casino, and I am going to beat it.

What am I doing?

It doesn't matter that I might technically be correct; perhaps there is a way, in some circumstances, to beat the casino. But I have no real grounds (in this scenario) for believing this; I merely want, and insist on being able, to beat the casino, despite what my reason and/or even my feelings are telling me.

Furthermore, let us say that as I begin to fulfill this intentive resolve, I run up against observations or otherwise reliable testimony, which I recognize to be reliable in principle, and which go against my intentive resolve. And I say to myself, "I am not going to listen to this. It shall be the way I want it to be!" And so I continue on.

Now what am I doing?

I am going against what little light I have, and I am not honestly trying to seek more light; neither for proper verification nor for correction.

I am not merely refusing to accept the reality I recognize--such a refusal, by itself, might lead to a proper discovery of more accurate knowledge about reality: a better recognition. No, I am actively enforcing a resolve to selectively interpret any data I get or to ignore it if I cannot interpret it 'favorably' to my wish. I am setting myself up over against reality, in principle.

But I am a derivative creature. If I do this, what shall happen to me?

I shall (metaphorically speaking) bump my head against something that has the full mighty force of reality in its favor: in this case the house edge of the casino, combined with anything else the casino is doing to thwart me.

I shall hurt myself, and badly, and more badly in (probable) proportion to how far I insist on deluding myself.

This is a minor example, of course. But even in this case, I would be resolving myself to go against whatever reality happens to actually be--not to discover and then work with what reality happens to be.

It is the same as if I had decided to trample underfoot the relationship you and I have, as person to person.

The attitude I have just described involves, ultimately, a breach on my part against God--for God is reality, and even if I did not know Him to be reality, I at least believed something about reality that I insisted on nevertheless redefining according to my own mere willful preferences.

God may not expect me (on a case-by-case basis) to treat Him as God, if I do not know Him as God: He, being altogether and ultimately fair, would not expect me to do what I am currently incapable of doing (although He will want me to learn eventually to know Him).

But I had still better treat reality a particular way: I had better not set myself in principle against whatever reality happens to be! There ought to be a small, still voice inside me saying: "this looks to be a contradiction, and you should not accept contradictions."

I may check whether what I perceive is a contradiction or not--there is no harm in that.

But to resolve in advance to weigh the scales of my judgment so that I will learn to treat as 'reality' whatever I merely wish to be true--maybe even what I think I know to be false?

That is a blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.

But I do not want to emphasize, at the moment, the personal rejection God has of such an attitude of mine that I am describing. You, my reader, may still be thinking in terms of mere 'king' imagery: as if God was only a 'king', who might only be peeved that I am not obeying him.

God is not that way. I am talking of the ultimate fact of reality; and I am talking of the sorts of actions I could take to set myself in opposition to reality. It is true that God, being personal, will have a personal displeasure in my doing these things; but I will suppose that my sceptical reader may not yet have a grasp of just how deeply God roots reality.

So, if you wish to have a mental image of my intransigence, perhaps you should think in terms of what shall happen to me if I insist on holding my breath. If I hold it long enough (perhaps in a fit of pique, perhaps out of pride), then naturally speaking I shall lose consciousness and then my autonomic reflexes shall take over and I shall begin to breathe again (circumstances permitting).

But to willfully set myself in principle against whatever the truth may be, is to hold my breath against God, so to speak. God is the source of my life and existence.

If I push myself away from life, what shall happen to me?

I shall die.

But the imagery I am using here is still faulty; there is nowhere I can push myself to, so that God is 'further away' than before. It is not as though I refuse the air and dive deep into the black water, seeking the cold and the fire of the rock below, stifling and suffocating myself in my pride. There is no 'cold water' into which I can push myself, where the 'air' does not exist.

Hell is not a place or condition entirely separate from the omnipresence of God; although the greatest of rebels, as the greatest rebel, would certainly wish (and wish for us) to think that!--thus to deny God’s omnipresence and so to deny God’s existence as the fundamental and sole Independent Fact of reality: allowing the rebel room to promote himself as being equal or superior to God.

So to 'die' as a result of my sin does not mean I would actually succeed in reaching somewhere or some state of existence 'free from' God. To claim otherwise would be to deny the omnipresence of God; and I have learned that God is omnipresent. (Ironically, then, to insist on such a separation happening, whether for myself or for someone else, even though I know and affirm the omnipresence of God, will be to... what?)

However, such a death could mean that I would blink out of existence altogether in some way (at least as a person, perhaps even as a corporate physical entity).

Perhaps; but that could only happen by God's permission--I cannot 'force' Him to do that.

But would God let me do that?

[Next up: the death of sin, and other deaths]


Jason Pratt said…
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