The Extent of Punishment and Belief, Part IV: The Optimal Life

At the end of Part III, we were left with a rather bleak view of our ultimate destination. We had arrived at the conclusion that we are all sinners because we had all fallen short of the commandments that God has given us. As such, we found ourselves in a situation where we owed a debt to God that we had no capital to pay and we were looking at the probability that we were about to spend eternity trapped in a celestial debtors’ prison forever owing a debt that we could not repay.

Before continuing, an e-mailer told me that he didn’t think I had explained very well why it was that we could not pay for our sins. Let me try to be clearer. First, let’s start with the assumption that God is good. The Bible teaches that He is good (e.g. Psalm 34:8) and He does not take pleasure in evil. (Psalm 5:4) Thus, until we have reason to believe otherwise, let’s start with the belief that the Bible accurately describes Him as good. Starting with this presupposition, we can further conclude that if God has set forth in his role as the ultimate benevolence certain commandments for us to follow, those are also both good in and of themselves, and for our own good, too.

During the exodus from Egypt, the Bible reports that God gave Moses the Ten Commandments. (Exodus 20) These commandments have generally been divided into two groupings: our obligations towards God (you shall have no other gods before God, you shall not make graven images, you shall not misuse the name of God, and remember the Sabbath), and our obligations towards each other (honor your mother and father, don’t murder, commit adultery, steal, swear false witness or covet). This is why it was so easy for the Commandments to be boiled down to the two commandments endorsed by Jesus (loving the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and loving your neighbor as yourself). These laws were given to us not because of some tyrannical desire of God to suppress who we are, but because they are good for us. (Deut. 6:1-3)

Now a lot of people assume that God is some sort of megalomaniac because He says “You shall have no other Gods before me.” They say things like “Is God so insecure that He will damn us to hell because we don’t worship Him?” While I am somewhat sympathetic to this position, it really is a question that arises in ignorance because the questioner greatly misunderstands the point of this commandment. If God is the ultimate good, then putting anything before God is putting something less good (evil, even) before ultimate good. At best, it is taking something that, at best, may be good (we don’t have the ability to see the full ramifications of everything we do so we cannot say for certain, as God can, what is good and what is evil) and placing it ahead of God, and making it more important than God in your life.

If you were going to have brain surgery, you wouldn’t ask a plumber to do it for you, would you? Of course not. Even if the plumber was a very good plumber and a really nice guy, you wouldn’t want anything but the best to make sure that you are have the greatest chance for living a long and healthy life. The same is true here: if you are going to try to live the optimal life, then why would you settle for the moral rules set by imperfect people (including yourself) to live by? Why wouldn’t you follow the rules of the ultimate perfect good, i.e., God?

Now, God has set forth these rules as commands. I don’t think He did so because He wanted to trap us – that would contradict the presupposition that He is good. No, He did so for two reasons: first, He wanted to make it clear that following His rules and His precepts are not optional if you want to live the optimal life. Second, because of His character, it takes someone who perfectly lives the optimal life to get into heaven. If you sin – just once – you have “missed the mark” making you unclean and unworthy of entry into God’s presence.

What does this mean in light of the question? It means that God’s laws are good and anything that is contrary to or less than God’s law is, at minimum, not as good. It may even be downright evil even if the actor does not see how it could be evil. God has commanded us (as the minimum requirement to enter heaven) to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Anytime you do less than that, you are failing to keep God’s law and therefore “missing the mark” or sinning. When you do follow those commands, you are keeping God’s law which is the minimum requirement to enter His presence upon death.

So, what does this mean for earning capital to pay off the sin debt? It means that if you do anything less than love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength or if you do anything less than love your neighbor as much as yourself, you are already sinning. If you do both of those things fully, then you are only doing what God already requires as a minimum to get into heaven. What more can you do to earn “credit” with God that will pay off the debt? Nothing. Not a thing. You are already required to give God your all -- all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and all your strength. Anything less than all is not following the command, and you cannot give more than all.

Hopefully, I have made my case a little bit clearer. Next time I will return to answering the question of how God gets us out of debtors’ prison.

Part I: What is Sin?
Part II: Against Whom do we Sin?
Part III: Sin, Debt and the Hopeless Situation

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