Ethics and the Third Person -- we the unjust, beloved by God

[Note: the contents page for this series can be found here. The previous entry, starting Chapter 46, can be found here.]

[This entry concludes Chapter 46, "The Children of the First Sinners".]

[I ended the previous entry asking, "Why is it that other people suffer thanks to my sin? Why does God not negate the harmful, baneful results of my own actions, sparing those who find themselves standing in the paths of effect?"]

The first answer I reach is: I do not know that God does let every possible baneful consequence from my actions affect other people. On the contrary: I know I find myself thanking Him, that by providential circumstance other people have been spared from suffering which might have followed from some sin of mine.

This does not, by itself, provide a solution to my question, for if even one minor suffering of a victim resulted from a whole history of (otherwise silent) human sinning, then the question of why God would allow such an effect would remain viable. Yet I do find it to be of some comfort to recognize, from my own experience, that other people are sometimes (or even often) spared from the results of my sins.

I next notice, that such consequential suffering depends not only on God's permission, but also on the characteristics of Nature. You and I live together within an essentially neutral playing-field; indeed, I concluded many chapters ago that such a field is in fact necessary, given your and my existences as people. Nature, as it is, exists by the will and power of God; and God retains the capability of introducing effects into Nature.

But I also concluded that there would need to be some self-limitation on God's part, to how far He would act within Nature. If God manipulates me totally, then I am only a sort of sock-puppet, and not a true creature. If God does not let Nature be Nature, then by tautology Nature is not Nature. Yet Nature (not necessarily this Nature, perhaps, but some Nature) is necessary for you and I to be as we are. God can only introduce effects 'into' Nature by usually letting Nature be itself. And as a creation of God, self-consistent to its own derivative degree, Nature exhibits cause-and-effect relationships. These can be modified by God, up to and including the annihilation of Nature to any extent; but so long as God intends Nature to be Nature and to serve His purposes (including the purposes related to you and I as derivative individual people), then God will, by His own choice, only modify Nature's behavior to some degree.

I repeat: by itself this conclusion does not solve the problem I am now considering. It could only do that if I knew (which I do not) that God's negation of any external effects from my sinful choices would require such a massive uprooting of Nature on His part, that Nature effectively (or usefully) would cease to exist. For what it is worth, I do think it likely that given today's situation--the situation of human intransigence that has existed for all our recorded history--God would be unable to stop all pernicious results of all our sins without simultaneously unraveling the portion of space-time our species currently inhabits.

But in the case of the original sinners, who almost certainly had to be few in number (very likely as few as two individuals), I do not see that such a danger to Nature (localized or not) would have been forthcoming. I think God could have allowed their children to be what their parents no longer were. Indeed, if God grew us organically through the mediation of a biological process, then He would already have acted at least once in such a fashion, when He created the first sentient humans. And if God raised our first progenitors directly from the clay, or somesuch similar action, then He would have already accomplished the same type of reorganization even more dramatically!

Either way (or along any variation of two such extremes of subtlety and outright power), for God to do so again within the seed and/or womb of the first fallen humans would have been no more dangerous to Nature's existence as Nature, than the creation of the first humans themselves (and probably no more dangerous to Nature's viability than any other intentive act God can take within the natural system).

So, there must have been further reasons why God, in the case of the original human sinners, did not spare their children the fate of being born as 'fallens'.

Still, the general principle involved here is worth remembering: in order to preserve the character of Nature as Nature, God allows Nature to react naturally to actions introduced into the natural system.

If God allows Nature to retain its character, then what about my character--or the character of my distant forebears? We are derivative actors; we are people who are people, and who have our own personal character. If God second-guesses and immediately abrogates everything I do which happens to displease Him, then would He be treating me as a responsible person?

Here, I arrive at a frightening and humbling realization.

God's love and justice are never set aside, even for sinners.

I am a sinner. God loves me and does justice to me, sinner though I am. If He only let results He personally preferred to follow from my choices, then He would not be showing love to me, nor would He be acting justly to me, myself. It would be worse than my being a mere sock-puppet who only seems to be a real person: I would be a real person under slavery to a tyrant Who grants me only a useless legal fiction of freedom!

Yet unless He enslaved me in this way, then sooner or later someone might suffer for something I do, that they had not done.

It is because God loves me, a sinner, that the innocent suffer for my transgressions.

Thank God, I have reason to believe that God does spare some creatures, to some degree, from the evil I choose to do. Yet the underlying principle remains in effect--because God loves me, He lets some of my evil actions produce results imprinted by the character I have given to those actions.

Should you be angry at God for allowing people to suffer for my wrongs? Or should you instead be angrier at me for taking advantage of the love God shows to me?

And dare I suggest you remember that God shows you the same love, by letting your actions also have consequential effects--even if those effects are ones God would have preferred not to happen?

Persons who have not done a particular evil action, nevertheless suffer the results of that action--because God loves the sinner, too.

The innocent suffer for the sake of sinners such as I.

There is a further terrible purpose in such consequences for my sake--the results stand as a reminder to me, if I will only open my eyes, that what I am doing is wrong! It is love and justice to me, that I should be given such opportunities, despite my willful intransigence.

Is it love and justice to those who suffer? No; but that is my fault--not God's.

I therefore find no intrinsic inconsistency in the conclusion that God has allowed other creatures to suffer by the sin of the original sinners. It is certainly terrible, and even horrible--I think it is something every person needs to contemplate for herself, so that the full cost of our actions may be understood more clearly; for we sinners are all still contributing, even today, to the sin of Adam.

Yet when we are speaking of the first children of the original sinners, then still a mystery remains. If Adam and Eve should somehow suffer for the sake of Satan, that is one thing. But for God to allow the first human sinners to beget victims of their sin, who are then born as victims from birth--that is something else again. Where is the justice in this?!

A moment ago, I noticed that those who suffer from our sins serve as living examples to us that sin has consequences. A woman who sins in her pride may, in her pride, still find it easy to discount or disbelieve the damage done to her own soul (or even to her body) in consequence of her actions. But it can only be harder to deny responsibility for our actions, when the results of those actions are staring us in the face. The sins of the fathers may be made manifest in the next generation, for the sake of the fathers' understanding of sin and its results.

Even so, this purpose would be served only by the first children of the first sinners--not by further generations, who can only make the point redundantly. So, if the effects of the first sinners on themselves are passed in some measure to their children, why not stop the effect at the second generation?

(As I write this, I think of babies born with deformities and addictions, thanks to the abuse of the bodies (and souls) of their mothers and fathers. How can any man or woman see this, and not resolve to render justice and charity to each other and to their own bodies!? How?--by refusing love and justice when these seem to be leveled against themselves...)

Whatever natural consequences followed in the wake of the shifting of the synthetic shape, those natural consequences still could have been halted by God at that point without (probably) undue risk of abrogating Nature itself. Yet, God let it continue.

And, I admit: even the allowance of one subsequently twisted generation seems rather suspicious. Would the sinners not have been better off being saved by God from sin first, before breeding later?

I think there is a double-answer involved: two answers, which turn out to be connected. If God should let a fallen Adam and Eve have children--if more than this He outright commands it--then humanity as a group must have a task God expected them to try to perform, even in their fallen state. Yet common sense tells us that the fallen state of Man must be more inefficient than our original unfallen state. It makes more sense for God to restart the species in an unfallen state, as soon as feasible, than to allow it to continue in such a state.

Yet, here we are. Adam and Eve may have needed a salvation that did not consist of God sheerly 'fixing' the problem, but their children could still have been started correctly themselves, to fall or not to fall later upon their own choices as responsible entities.

The point is this: whatever genetic damage resulted from the twisting of the synthetic natural/supernatural 'shape' of the original sentient humans--whatever natural consequences resulted, to the fundamental units of their bodies, from the Fall of Adam and Eve--God must have had the power to fix it for the next generation; and a contemplation of God's love and justice indicates that He really ought to have done so.

Since He evidently did not--and since I am already convinced on other, prior grounds that God exists and has certain characteristics--what shall I conclude?

There must have been--there must still be--something else involved in the problem.

Something not merely reactive, like Nature.

Something making its own choices to affect our offspring.

Something actively sentient and with intricate power over Nature.

Something able, and willing, to rebel against God.

Something--or, rather, someone--other than the original human sinners.

And that is who I will discuss in the next chapter.

[Next up: the sinners before the first sinners! (And the end of Section Four.)]


Jason Pratt said…
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