Ethics and the Third Person -- the death of sin, and other deaths

[Note: the contents page for this series can be found here. The previous entry, starting Chapter 42, can be found here.]

[This entry concludes Chapter 42, "Death". Incidentally, this would be another good time to read that disclaimer over there to the right, about how not every journal entry necessarily reflects the beliefs of every Cadre member. Some of us may now, or in the future, be annihilationists, and are free to post defenses of that insofar as they can see to do so (or may have done so already). Links to annihilation defenses are also welcome in the comments below. One popular internet-accessible defense of annihilationism can be found here in a chapter from Dr. Samuele Bacchiocchi's Immortality or Resurrection? While I could engage in a exegetical analysis of the topic, too, my series is designed to proceed along a different route.]

Part 2 of 2
(Incidentally, this would be another good time to read that disclaimer over there to the right, about how not every journal entry necessarily reflects the beliefs of every Cadre member. Some of us may now, or in the future, be annihilationists, and are free to post defenses of that insofar as they can see to do so (or may have done so already). Links to annihilation defenses are also welcome in the comments below. One popular internet-accessible defense of annihilationism can be found here in a chapter from Dr. Samuele Bacchiocchi's Immortality or Resurrection? While I could engage in a exegetical analysis of the topic, too, my series is designed to proceed along a different route.)

I suppose it is technically possible that God might choose to let me utterly 'win' as a sinner; not merely to win a battle here and there (although a Pyrrhic victory it would certainly be!), but to win the war I instigate against Him. I push myself away, or even clamor to be over against, the source of my life; and God could possibly say, "Fine, if that is what you wish, you may have your wish"--at which point I would cease to exist, for I am not the Independent, and it is intrinsically contradictory for there to be more than one Independent, and therefore even if He wanted to, God could not grant me that scope for my wish. Much less could I ever attain that scope in any other fashion.

But I do not think He would ever choose to allow me to reap annihilation, either. That would be the final renouncement of any possible fair-togetherness between me and any other entity (including God). So God, in even allowing such a thing to happen (much moreso in actively annihilating the person), God Himself would be acting to complete non-togetherness between persons: God Himself would be acting against His own intrinsic eternal action of self-existence! It would be God, then, Who was being non-righteous! This couldn’t even be justice; not the justice of any kind of true, Godly righteousness (if trinitarian theism is true.)

It certainly couldn’t be love. God Himself, Who is love in His own trinitarian fundamental existence, could act to delay the fulfillment of love to me until a later time (since all natural times are present to God, and so the eventual fulfillment of love would be present to God the eternal--Who might even prophecy about this ‘ahead of time’ from our temporal perspective.) But act to deny (not merely delay) the fulfillment of love to me?--to actually, even if sovereignly, choose intentionally against such a fulfillment ever happening? What worse contradiction of theology could be imagined?! I might as well deny the reality of the orthodox Trinity at once and convert to Islam, or perhaps to Christian Arianism, and be done with it! [See an extended footnote below on Arianism in the first comment.]

Much less would matters be theologically improved if God was outright defeated by some other entity, whether by me the sinner or whoever, resulting in my annihilation. Such a position does not even rise to being supernaturalistic theism!

Or: would God, being essentially love, be respecting my derivative personhood in gracious love, to allow me to freely choose to utterly destroy my personhood (and thus also to utterly destroy my freedom, not incidentally)? The question practically answers itself: of course not.

If I stop existing, then it will be impossible for God to act in such a way that His love toward me should be fulfilled; nor could His love toward me be fulfilled, without my becoming a true and good person--a true and good son.

No: I conclude that God would choose to refuse any such wish from me. I might intend to cut myself from His apron-strings, so to speak--or rather from my dependence on God’s life-support!--but it would be contradictory to think that God would let me fully succeed. It would not be consistent, in all of several ways, with a fulfillment of His love; and God shall, God will, be self-consistent.

Moreover, I can test this experimentally, if I dare--or rather, I can draw conclusions from past experience that I can treat as ‘experiments’.

I have sinned.

Yet, here I am.

Yet I must and shall die; it is a necessary consequence of cutting myself off from Life.

But then again, I have not (nor apparently ever can, nor ever shall) cut myself off totally from Life. So the death I shall face is not of that sort. And this is a grace of God; for how could 'I' benefit from achieving non-existence!?

What sort of death remains?

It must be a partial death--to some degree, perhaps even to an extreme degree, but no further. And it must be a shadow of something that God Himself can, or does, accomplish.

So, what sorts of divine 'death' have I covered so far?

If I start from where I am, and work backward through creation to God, the first divine action of death I find (although not the most basic) is the death God willingly undertakes in order to create from Himself not-God entities--such as Nature and myself. (This notion was inferred and more extensively covered back in Section Three.)

Here, God willingly but partially kills Himself, making that which proceeds from this action to be something without His full divine characteristics--making indeed a ‘portion’ at all, a not-God creation distinct from begetting (or proceeding). This creation does retain some shadow of His characteristics--existence for example! But derivative not independent existence; the characteristics of creation, unlike the characteristics of God, are literally “attributed” to creation and so are “attributes”. The creation retains partial characteristics of God, which to the creation (so far as it is rational) seem to be positive characteristics (and relatively they are, insofar as they are functionally distinctive attributes); but compared to their Origin they must be negative attributes, for they are less--and result in less--than God.

When God created me, He would have created me (in absence of other factors--and I will discuss this later) in as perfect a union with Himself as I could be, while yet still being distinctly a 'me'. I would have attributes proper to God's intentions for me; perhaps not immediately all the attributes He intends for me, especially if I have some processes of growth to undergo, but still as much as possible for my condition at any given moment. And because I am an intentive (although derivative) creature, some of those aspects would be linked to the state of my intentions.

So, if I choose to shatter my relationship with God in any fashion, then there would occur by necessity (and the necessities would already be fully known to God, and certainly planned as such, 'in advance' from my perspective, in case I did choose this) certain consequences contingent on that partial severance which I (unlike the Persons of the single Unity of God) have rebelliously enacted.

Although I don't know whether I can establish this deductively, I suspect the consequential state would involve a partial loss of the infusion of divine Life into me, as well as some sort of loss of my effective ability to do sentient activities: basically, my ability to love and to think would be crippled. The actual results might be any number of things in particular; but I notice, in point of fact, that my ability to think rationally and to interact personally with you my neighbor, and the emotions related to these events, are very often at the (non-)mercy of mere physical reactions.

Furthermore, it seems to me that more often than not, people who continually choose to abuse their relationship to reality--whether or not they 'know' God--end up hampering whatever abilities they would otherwise 'naturally' have in this regard.

A person who, for instance, insists on drinking harmful amounts of alcohol into her body for pleasure, shall sooner or later face frightful physical consequences, including emotional instability, interpersonal incompetency, and rational ineffectiveness.

A person who insists on treating other persons as mere tools for his or her own sexual pleasure, shall sooner or later become psychologically and even physically addicted to the thrills involved--leading again to increased emotional instability, interpersonal incompetency, and rational ineffectiveness.

A person who insists on cheating to get his way, sooner or later ends up unable to effectively discern what is true and what is false; unable to build effective relations between himself and other people; and unable to control the increasing paranoia of his emotional life.

These are merely some examples to illustrate the principle. I presume that you, my reader, once you understand the principle, will be able to discern your own examples in your life around you.

(Assuming, of course, that you have not already poisoned yourself physically and psychologically until you yourself can no longer reliably discern reality with some effective rationality and empathy.)

There might be, as I have said, other consequent effects involved for me in this kind of 'death'. God does not exactly suffer this kind of death (although He could--as a fatal consequence for Himself and all subordinate reality if He did!); for His creative death is willingly enacted for the sake of the creation itself. Thus He retains full effective authority as well as active effectiveness within the results of that death. His is a death to-and-for life; except the resultant created life is only a shadow of God’s ultimate Life, as is only proper and indeed as is only possible. The horrible results of this shadow of death in me, come from my intransigence--and from the intransigence of others, although I will defer that issue until a little later.

Yet even if I was not somehow required to 'put up with' the results of other rebellious self-deaths which affect me (results which might even take place 'within' me), I would still probably be in much the same position once I had enacted my own rebellious self-death.

But I am not interested at the moment (and will never be primarily interested) in assigning portions of blame to persons other than myself. I am trying to keep my discussion as simple as possible: for I know that I am a sinner.

If I continue in this rebellion, what shall happen to me?

Inference from natural experience shows me quite well, if formal logic did not already suggest it: the death shall continue to increase in me.

It is a tautology: the more I choose to hamper my ability to interact with reality, the more hampered I shall be!

I mean that this shall happen if God chooses that my actions shall have a real bearing on the outcome of my history (and thus, within my own degree of effectiveness, on the outcome of the history of the natural system in which I live). I do not know the extent to which God negates the harmful results of my willful mistakes; but I do know that He chooses not to rescind the dignity He has given to me and to every other rationally active creature (including you)--the dignity of causality. The things I do, make real differences; they may not matter as much as I (in my pride or desperation) want them to matter, but they still do matter.

And one of those consequences is that if I continue to kill myself sinfully, I shall continue to cut myself further and further away from the source of life, and thus I shall continue to die, not to more life, but to more horrible death in me.

Let me point out that what we can describe as my 'physical' death may be part of this consequence, but it is not the final extent of the consequences. If that death ever ended the existence of 'me', then once again God would be allowing something to happen for which there was no hope of His ever fulfilling His love in me.

Yet, obviously physical deaths, including of rational sentients such as myself, do happen. I expect to die physically.

But, I do not expect to die spiritually.

What may possibly happen to me after my physical death is not something I have discussed or inferred yet; all I say at the moment is that whatever it is, it must not violate God's love nor His justice in His relationship to me--and my non-existence after my physical death would, I think, violate at least His love and justice, permanently non-fulfilling them. So I can rule that out, at least.

What we normally call 'death', then, is not the end.

But, it might perhaps mean that in a particular way, I shall have finished dying!

On the other hand, perhaps I will choose to continue that sort of dying after my physical death occurs.

If I can and do choose this, then the horrible results shall continue as well; and I expect (as here in this Nature) those results would increase in intensity against me.

But--is there perhaps another sort of death I might choose also, or instead?--a death that might even properly guide a sacrificial death of mine for the sake of other creations? And might I perhaps even now begin to choose that death instead of rebellion?--might I even now begin to choose that higher death, the holy death, and so submit to Life as well?

For there is another level of the divine death, that I have not yet discussed in relation to this topic. But it shall require another chapter.

[Next up: the highest death]


Jason Pratt said…
I thought this footnote was too long to be represented in the main text, so I am porting it down here to the first comment slot.

.......[footnote begins here]

Arianism, in its various forms, named after its most famous exponent the Christian deacon Arius, was a belief held formally by many Christians starting from around the late 3rd century (and perhaps much earlier informally) throughout the Dark Ages, especially at Imperial levels and in the military, including in the new feudalistic society that replaced the fall of Rome. Its theology denied the substantial unity of the Trinity, though affirming the real distinction of the Persons and also affirming a single-Independent Fact supernaturalistic theism (over against cosmological dualism, etc., which Arians were as hot to deny as the trinitarians--and which they thought trinitarians were professing.)

The Son was understood to be pre-existent and supernatural to the system of Nature (in the more refined versions such as held by Arius himself--in more popular versions the Son was simply a divinized human hero) but was considered to be a creation of God instead of God Himself, even if the most powerful and important creation. In this regard the Son would be similar (in more philosophical Arianisms) to a benevolent Platonic demiurge. Ditto the Holy Spirit.

Arianism survives today in some minority branches dissenting from ‘orthodox’ Christianity. It should be noted that my complaint in the main text is given in favor of ‘orthodox’ trinitarian theology, over against something like Arianism.

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