June 13, 2011 § Leave a Comment
How are we to interpret and understand Christ’s death? By itself, this question looms large in Christian philosophy and theology and also touches on and relates to many other fundamental issues of the faith including the Incarnation, Trinity, Resurrection, God’s Grace, Mercy, and Justice, Sin, Atonement, and Eshatological claims about the end of times. Perhaps all of these will be addressed in due time, but for my present purpose, I will focus solely on one of these – Atonement. In doing so, I hope to effectively deconstruct and examine Atonement’s individual and constitutive parts, address some of the more well known theories of this concept’s interpretation throughout the history of the Church, and relate its meaning to my purpose in life to know and Love God (see the prior Page “The Qualitative Meaning of Life).
Christ’s death is typically viewed as fulfillment of God’s requirement that we be reconciled to Him through Christ’s sacrifice. Due to Man’s Fall and the taint of Original Sin, I fall short of fulfilling God’s Will. Christ was fully human yet fully divine. As the former, he adequately represents humanity and its sufferings and temptations although sinless himself. As fully divine, Christ represented a worthy sacrifice for all of man’s sins. This outlines is an admittedly generalized summary of Atonement which I will try to flush out further as I proceed in this inquiry. But it is at least a basic start to which most would hopefully agree.
Of what then does Atonement specifically consist? In breaking down this complex topic, I see that it is comprised of Sin, God’s Mercy, Grace, and Justice, and Reconciliation. In this context, Sin can be understood as my turning away from God. It characterizes my thoughts and actions carried out with a self-centered and selfish perspective. My sinful perspective is adopted based on how people, places, and things affect, benefit, or relate to me as an individual instead of, properly considered, my relationship with God.
Intention is the key factor, for sin is not necessarily that which God abhors but, rather, the motive with which it is manifest. Quite possibly, a seemingly altruistic, benevolent, and selfless thought or action still may be denounced by God. For example, consider the good Samaritan who pulls over their vehicle on the roadside to assist a stranded fellow motorist. This apparent good deed is only worthy of God’s Praise by degree with which it was intended. Perhaps our Samaritan loathes the thought of spending any more time at work than is absolutely necessary and views the opportunity to be of service to another because of its potential to shorten his day in the office. Maybe he has a date accompanying him whom he would like to impress. He’s possibly a “gear-head” who prides himself on his knowledge of cars and dares to impress whomever he can whenever the opportunity arises. Perhaps he just feels good about being able to help others. In the first 3 of these examples, clearly our Samaritan’s actions would not garner praiseful acknowledgment in the eyes of God. But even in the last of these scenarios, the Samaritan has missed the mark. In it, as clearly in the case of the prior 3, he has turned away from God by self-centeredly and selfishly thinking and acting according to how his involvement with the stranded motorist stands to affect, benefit, or relate to himself as an individual rather than its impact on his relationship with God. The Samaritan has turned away from Him. He has approach his opportunity from the perspective of self. He has sinned.
Then what does a sinless response to this situation look like, exactly? Isn’t it enough that the Samaritan derives satisfaction from helping others? Might our criticism of him be a bit extreme and self-loathing? The example calls for a response from the Samaritan. If he responds from a viewpoint of self, he has fallen short. But how would the Samaritan’s response be characterized if he not only stopped to assist the motorist but did so out of a gratuitous and selfless Love for God and fulfillment of His Will? Could he be charged as manipulative, slothenly, or proud? Or would the Samaritan be viewed as sinless, the epitome of piety and righteousness? Admittedly, though the idea is simple, attaining the result is difficult.
What results from Sin? For the sinner, an ever widening and impassable gulf between himself, a contingent and imperfect being, and God, a Necessary and Perfect One. This spells an inability to fulfill my purpose in life to know and Love God and dilution of the effects of God’s Grace and Mercy in my life. For God, however, no effect follows. His Perfect Nature, regardless of any of my thoughts or actions, cannot be added to or taken from. Thus, God is not harmed by any Sin of mine. Nonetheless, depending on the seriousness of the Sin, the honor, reverence, and respect rightfully due God is at least mitigated, if not negated. But as He cannot be affected by this sleight, God’s potential response should not be viewed as consisting of anthropocentric feelings of offense, anger, and desire for justice. That Sin does not affect or offend God does not entail His being unaware of its existence, for He knows omnisciently my every thought and action. But aside from God’s knowledge of Sin due to His All-Knowingness, He is also aware of it based on the effect it has on my relationship with Him. It is not merely myself and God to consider when contemplating Sin. It is also necessary to account for my relationship with God; the relationship as distinct from myself and God individually. Thus it is not God affected by Sin but, rather, my relationship with Him. To put the matter succinctly, I Sin. This affects me and possibly other people as well. It also affects my relationship with God, but not God Himself. God’s response to Sin follows not from the Sin itself or my withholding of honor from Him but, rather, to its effect on my relationship with Him.
A legitimate objection need be dealt with at this point. If God takes no offense, is not roused to anger, and seeks no revenge despite my sinful ways, what of His Scriptural portrayal as vengeful, wrathful, and the punisher of Sin? What ultimately is Sin’s standing with God and how, in fact, does He respond to its effects on my relationship with Him? The answer lies in recalling God’s reason for having Created and its corollary of my purpose in life. God Created to be known and it is my life’s purpose to know Him. As is the case with all of God’s Actions, this context need be considered when evaluating His response to Sin’s effects on my relationship with Him. Further, when attempting to understand God’s Actions, His Attributes need be kept in mind, particularly in this case His Grace, Mercy, and Justice. Regarding God’s Grace, His response is constructive and provides us with opportunities to mend my sinful ways. His Mercy precludes retribution and punishment for punishment’s sake. God’s Justice, while potentially punishing, is only such with the end result of deterrence of future Sin in mind and is always tempered by His other Attributes. His Actions, combining the power of all of His involved Attributes, is corrective and attempts to realign my thoughts and actions with His Will so that I may fulfill my purpose in life whereby, in turn, His Reason for having Created may be realized.
Tghe deconstruction of Sin into its individual component parts now allows Christ’s death to be addressed. For it was as a result of man’s sins that he acted as sacrifice. Alongside this need be continually kept in mind God’s reason for having Created to be known and humanity’s purpose in life to know Him. In these contexts, Christ’s death seems most accurately described according to the Moral Development Theory of Atonement. In essence, this theory states that Christ’s death served as an inspirational example for man to follow in rightly and justly honoring God, abstaining from sin, and ultimately fulfilling humanity’s purpose in life. Contrary to the Satisfaction Theory of Atonement, Christ did not die as sacrifice for the honor due God as a result of our past and future sins. And similarly, in opposition to the Penal Substitution Theory of Atonement, Christ did not die as sacrifice for the punishment of these sins. Rather, for us the sinless Christ portrays the epitome of honoring God and fulfills the ultimate example of doing so by willingly dying on the Cross. My Salvation through Christ is accomplished by my faith in, love for, and emulation of him. His salvific action is profound, shocking, and garners my admiration which, in turn, compels me to live a pious and upright life in the eyes of God. Such a drastic voluntary action on Christ’s part is certainly attention-getting and inspires me to take a hard look at my thoughts and actions and whether they are in line with my purpose in life and God’s reason for having Created.
The Moral Development Theory also satisfactorily explains Christ’s resurrection. Continuing his example of the epitome of a sinless life worthy of man’s imitation, Christ’s raising from the dead provides humanity with a glimpse of the reward to which we are to attain for our efforts. In the event that his life and death don’t compel me to avoid sin, a difficult notion to comprehend, his resurrection at least provides me with future hope and a pragmatic goal towards which to strive. In this sense, moral Development’s explanatory power with respect to Christ’s resurrection is more effective than that of the Satisfaction or Penal Substitution Theories. But regarding these, all things considered, persuasive arguments can admittedly be made in their support, particularly in the case of the latter as evidenced Scripturally through God’s Punishment of sin.
The Moral Development Theory also relates effectively to another popular understanding of Atonement – the Christus Victor model. Christus Victor states that through Christ’s death our sins were defeated and overcome. Although not identical to, it is related to yet another theory, the Ransom Model. The latter argues that through Christ’s death God effectively paid a ransom to Satan who had his grip on fallen man due to the stain of Original Sin. Ransom is problematic in its portrayal of God paying anything, let alone a ransom to Satan. But we are capable of drawing some useful parallels between its Christus Victor spin-off and the version of Moral Development which I am proposing. Christus Victor’s defeat and overcoming of man’s sins corresponds effectively with Moral Development’s example of Christ as one worthy of humanity’s emulation and imitation to attain Salvation.
Because of Moral Development’s strengths, as hopefully demonstrated above, it seems to be the preferable theory of explanation. But there doesn’t seem to be any reason that an understanding of Atonement be limited to just one theory. All agree that the fundamental importance of the doctrine is that Christ’s death was salvific in its effect on man, regardless of whether the reason be due its rightly honoring God, vicariously suffering the punishment for humanity’s sins, or acting as an inspirational example of a sinless life. In this sense, a hybrid view of sorts seems justified in which the explanations of the proposed version of Moral Development acts primary to those offered by the Satisfaction and Penal Substitution theories.
To summarize then, and hopefully clarify: 1.) Sin occurs when I turn away from God in thought or action. 2.) Because of Sin, my ability to know God is compromised 3.) and the effects of His Grace and Mercy are diluted in my life. 3.) God is not affected by Sin in itself and thus is not offended or angered nor does He desire Justice for it. 4.) But He is aware of Sin as a result of His Omniscience as well as 4.) its impact on our relationship with Him. 5.) God responds to Sin’s impact on our relationship, not to Sin itself.
June 7, 2011 § Leave a Comment
“If an action be undertaken for an end other than Love of God, it be an end for nothing other than than Love of self; there is no alternative.” This rather pessimistic nugget seems inspired by someone down on humanity and exapserated with the limitations and imperfections of our human nature. But it was I who penned it; merely an hour ago as I attempted to sort out what I am naturally capable of my own accord and effort in seeking to fulfill my purpose in life to know and Love God. Its context revolved around a very different conception of God’s Grace than has been addressed in many of this Blog’s prior Posts. And this is the reason why I haven’t added any new Posts for a while now. I’ve been too caught up in my once promised goal of placing faith in the driver’s seat in lieu of reason. To that end, I’ve immersed myself in what faith has to say about attaining my life’s purpose and have, consequently, been focusing on Grace not as a description of Principles of Creation (or God’s Actions; see the prior Page “The Qualitative Theory of Truth”) but, rather, God’s purely gratuitous supernatural gift to me based on the merits of Christ which He offers for my Salvation. In this sense, Grace no longer merely entails an Attribute of God but now can be understood to consist also of a Power that He Bestows upon me.
Now, back to the stated quotation. While acts of self are obviously self-centered and undertaken to benefit me individually, it must be admitted that they are also capable of indirectly benefiting others as well. Thus, a paradox, in that selfish actions may positively effect someone other than myself. For example, consider a charitable act towards another person. It undoubtedly benefits them in some way. And I too am benefited. My pity towards them subsides; I feel an obligation has been met; I am praised by others. Regardless of the benefit which is realized, I in some way feel better about myself and perhaps the world. In this sense, my charity seems cheapened; insincere; inauthentic. But I cannot be faulted, for my motives arise merely as a consequence of my sinful nature and fallen state.
Other examples could further express the point. But what of my Love for others? My mother, father, sister, dear friend; or perhaps most profoundly, my children? Does explanation of an act of Love towards them and my Loving them in general entail some selfish motive? I sincerely hope not. But can I be sure? I would without doubt and unhesitatingly offer my life to spare theirs. However, can I state with certainty that this would be undertaken with a purely selfless perspective? Might my seemingly meritorious act be performed not out of selfless Love for them but, instead, some less praiseworthy motive? A duty, responsibility, or obligation, perhaps? Their and others Love and praise in return? The harrowing thought of a future knowledge and consequent feeling of guilt that their life could have been prolonged on my accord but wasn’t?
An explanation does present itself. Taking the cue from my purpose in life to know and Love God, this emotion, at least in its noblest unadulterated form, exists as a possibility within me, leading to fulfillment of that purpose. It is selfless; harbored for the object in itself and not as a means to some further end and dually acts as precursor and grounds to ultimately Love God in the same qualitative way. For as it is said, “God doesn’t make terms too hard for those who seek Him.” In this sense, I am groomed by my earthly Love of others for a possible future Heavenly and Eternal Love of Him. Thus, I serve and give to those I Love. I am accepting, compassionate, forgiving, and understanding of them. And God’s Providence prevails. Through a Love of others I position myself for knowing and Loving Him, thus fulfilling my purpose in life.
But how to make the leap from Love of others to a Love of God? In the prior Post, “Love – Material, Immaterial, and Divine”, I attempted to handle the question. While an answer was had, it now proves to be unsatisfactory in its ability to account for all but a relatively few fortunate peoples’ attaining to a genuine Love of God. It was proposed that the only way for this to be affected is through mystical experience or some type of direct and rationally discernible contact with God Himself. However, there must be a more accessible way. Enter God’s Grace. It bestows upon us innumerable gifts, perhaps the most profound and influential of which is an ability to make the leap from earthly Love to the Love of Him; from Material to Immaterial Love pursuant to the terms employed in the above mentioned Post, although I now acknowledge that these, like the demeanor of Immaterial Love itself, are too mechanical. Notwithstanding this, through Grace, the abyss is narrowed; the gulf closes; the chasm is filled; the distance is covered. I cannot attain this movement towards or arrive at a Love of God naturally as a result of my own efforts. Rather, this development is pure gift; God’s Beneficient Grace acting within me, compelling, inclining, and moving me towards a Love of Him for which I was Created.
April 20, 2011 § Leave a Comment
We’ve covered much ground thus far in this Blog and a recap is in due order. After having 1.) established what types of knowledge exist, our general approach has been to 2.) establish certain of God’s Attributes. This knowledge has then been parlayed into 3.) how we are to properly respond to these in thought and action; attitudes and perspectives and duties, obligations, and responsibilities. Most importantly, 4.) this framework allows for determining our purpose in life to know God.
Qualitative Theory of Truth – There are two types of knowledge which comprise this; Quantitative and Qualitative. The former concerns ontological facts regarding a subject’s Who, What, When, and Where questions and answers. Qualitative knowledge, on the other hand, deals with teleological Why and How questions and answers which identify a subject’s purpose and how it is fulfilled. The Qualitative possesses more explanatory power than the Quantitative and, when applied to our human condition, allows for identification and development of a practical manner of living consistent with God’s Will.
Knowledge of God – Like other subjects of knowledge, God has Quantitative and Qualitative aspects. The Quantitative refers to His a priori metaphysical Attributes such as Goodness, Omnipotence, Omniscience, and Omnipresence. The Qualitative concern a posteriori ontological attributes, known as Principles of Creation. These are established by God’s Creative Act and Power as manifested in the world. With this Act and Power, God infused into Creation His Attributes of Goodness, Grace, Mercy, and Justice. Qualitative knowledge of God, as derived from Principles of Creation, provides us with identification of a practical manner of living consistent with God’s Will.
Qualitative Meaning of Life – Reasoning from God’s Perfection, a Quantitative attribute, and the contingency and non-necessity of the world, a Principle of Creation, our purpose in life is to know Him. As a perfect Being, he lacks and, therefore, desires nothing. Thus, Creation cannot be thought of as benefitting God in any way. Therefore, the world exists and is sustained by Him for our sole benefit. With Creation, a duality of existence occurred; God as Eternal, Immutable, and Perfect and the world as rooted in time and space, subject to change, and contingent. To fulfill a meaningful life, our thoughts and actions need be aligned with the most fundamental reality in existence which is God.
Social Justice – God’s Qualitative Attributes, discerned from His Quantitative ones coupled with certain Principles of Creation, establish His Goodness, Grace, Mercy, and Justice. From this, multiple attitudes and perspectives and duties, obligations, and responsibilities follow for us. These include the following:
* Acceptance of perceived hardship and suffering and perspective concerning them as opportunity
* Inherent goodness of Creation
* Trust in God and His Will
* Giving and service to others
* Sanctity of life (anti-abortion, euthanasia, and capital punishment)
* Social Justice
* Animal rights
* Environmental protection
* Authentically and urgently responding to God’s Will and our purpose in life to know him
* Loving values of acceptance, compassion, forgiveness, and understanding towards others
* Equality of persons
* Criminal Justice; rehabilitation of the criminal
God’s Will & Material, Immaterial, & Divine Love – Fulfillment of our purpose in life to know God can be had in sowing Immaterial Love and experiencing Divine Love. As a contrast to these types of Love, Material Love need be explained. It is an irrational, subjective, and spontaneous relationship experienced as a feeling between us and material things of the world; people, places, and things. Material Love is defined by our selfish and self-centered perspectives of how the objects of our Love affect, benefit, and relate to us.
Conversely, Immaterial Love is rational, objective, and deliberate. It is defined by seeking to know God through identification and fulfillment of His Will as dictated by His Qualitative Attributes and our emulation and imitation of them. This action entails a Loving quality on account of its attempt to seek fulfillment of a purpose; realize an end; accomplish a goal. In place of Material Love’s emphasis on self, Immaterial Love’s concern is with God and our relationship with Him.
Divine Love occurs when a person undergoes a full or partial union with God as in the case of mystical experience. Typically pure gift to and consciously unattainable by those who have them, these experiences may in rare cases be spawned by disciplined and rigorous prayer and meditation. They are paradoxically characterized as consisting of feelings of ineffable noetic oneness with God and the world. As a result of these experiences, a person commonly undergoes a profound shift of perspective relative to themselves, God, the world, and their relationship with the latter 2. So powerful are these experiences that they have the capability to obfuscate the distinction between Material and Immaterial Love wherein all things, material and spiritual alike, are Loved equally and effortlessly for the Love of God, the Creator of all.
April 14, 2011 § Leave a Comment
In the prior Post, “God’s Justice”, this attribute of His was established. Having done so, we can now consider what it entails for us; certain attitudes and perspectives and duties, obligations, and responsibilities. As has been the case with God’s Goodness, Grace, and Mercy, much is required.
Before addressing the perspectives and duties which God’s Justice requires from us, its relationship to His other Attributes need be addressed. Effectively understanding God’s Justice requires we recognize the necessity that it be tempered by His other Attributes. In a general sense, this is true of all of God’s Attributes; for it is logically inconsistent to suppose that the manifestation of any of these occur at the expense of or act in opposition to any other. No single attribute is qualitatively superior to any of its counterparts. Rather, they exist and act concurrently, seamlessly, and in cooperation with each other. Thus, God’s Goodness manifests to the extent allowable by His Grace, Mercy, and Justice; His Grace is bestowed to a level consistent with His Goodness, Mercy, and Justice; and so on. This need be pointed out as, in the case of God’s Justice, certain outcomes may follow which, depending upon a person’s perspective, don’t appear or are perceived to be good in themselves. The effects of Justice in some cases result in hardship and suffering to both the agent responsible for the actions which precluded them as well as faultless bystanders in the event that the former acts contrary to God’s Will.
What this spells for us in seeking to emulate and imitate God’s Justice is that it be considered and administered with an eye towards all of His other Attributes as well. From this follows certain attitudes and duties for us concerning how we relate to others and the world. Undoubtedly, an entirely separate Blog itself could be devoted to identifying and detailing the specifics of these requirements. Generally speaking, the perspectives and obligations garnered concern our relationships with others as well as greater society as a whole in terms of the establishing and functioning of effective frameworks and structures to govern and order our co-existence with one another. More specifically, this includes business dealings, money matters, and legislative social policy. However, these have already been dealt with at least in a broad sense in prior Posts (see other “Responding to…..” Posts). What will be addressed in detail in the present Post is the concept of Criminal Justice.
Typically, a system of Criminal Justiceis considered and implemented to address worldly matters. Laws are adopted and policies instituted to assist with the peaceful ordering of society and interaction of its members. In this sense, Criminal Justice has taken on a purely material flavor. That which the system calls for in this pursuit is usually construed as the aim to protect law abiding citizens from the transgressions of the criminal. As corollaries to this aim, Criminal Justice assumes a four-fold approach: 1.) Incarceration of the criminal and their sequestering from the rest of society, 2.) punishment of the criminal for their misdeeeds, 3.) deterrence of crime for the criminally-minded, and 4.) sometimes rehabilitation of the criminal so as to prevent their potential future wreaking of havoc in society.
Recalling our purpose in life to know God (see the prior Page, “The Qualitative Purpose of Life”), while also considering the need to temper our imparting of justice with the commands of God’s other Attributes such as Goodness, Grace, and Mercy, it becomes apparent that our system of Criminal Justice is lacking a key consideration. This deficiency involves the absence of incorporating these other Attributes; particularly Grace and Mercy. The effectiveness, or lack thereof, of our present Criminal Justice system, will not be addressed here. Rather, the point is that it is inherently misguided in its main pre-occupation with the material and worldly at the expense of the spiritual and the purpose of life for those affected.
Admittedly, the criminal’s incarceration and sequestering, sometimes at least, removes the obstacles posed to the latter’s safe functioning and ability of its members to peacefully and effectively pursue their purpose in life to know God. This is not only reasonable, but a good thing. But what of the criminal’s purpose? Pursuant to God’s Grace, we have the duty to give and be of service to them; and His Mercy obligates us to accept them as equals in pursuit of our commong purpose despite their shortcomings; feel and express compassion for them and their circumstances; forgive their errant and misguided deeds; and attempt to understand their ideas and viewpoints (see the prior Posts “Responding to God’s Goodness” and “…..Mercy”). Whatever we might conclude regarding the necessity and effectiveness of the sequestering component of our Criminal Justice system, what of its consideration, or lack thereof, of these other considerations? What other aspects of the system, such as punishment, deterrence, and rehabilitation, are being employed exactly and what purpose do they serve? Granted, I am no more than a layman concerning what exactly the criminal’s incarceration consists of. However, I know enough to say with confidence that this does not adequately consider our requirement to give and be of service to them and feel and act towards them with acceptance, compassion, forgiveness, and understanding.
Setting aside the necessary sequestering component of our system of Criminal Justice, what of the other three: punishment, deterrence, and rehabilitation? In light of above, we see that the first, punishment, is entirely misguided and unecessary. If we are to adhere to the responsibility imposed upon us from God’s Goodness and Mercy, we see that there exists no room for punishment whatsoever. That the criminal engages in behavior contrary to fulfillment of his purpose in life to know God, whether he is aware of it or otherwise, is punishment enough; for their actions drive a wedge between the criminal and God which further widens the impassable gulf that exists between He and them save for His Grace and Mercy. Our seeking to enact punishment upon the criminal is duplicative, superfluous, and unecessary for he is already punished through his shortcomings and transgressions in themselves. The criminal’s way of life, whether he realizes it or not, is sadly wretched. Although his hope is to commit his crimes undetected in hopes of attaining whatever material advantage sought, whether he is found out and incarcerated as punishment for his actions is of no consequence in the context of his life’s purpose. Whether caught and punished or remaining free, the criminal’s failure to act in accordance with his purpose in life spawns punishment upon him regardless. There exists no greater failure and unfortunateness than to act contrary to God’s Will and no worldly punishment, therefore, serves any meaningful purpose.
The remaining two components of our Criminal Justice system, deterrence and rehabilitation, although typically treated separately, prove reconcilable into one in light of God’s Goodness and Mercy. Our consideration of punishment employed a negative approach in that it was removed from the system entirely. Addressing detterence and rehabilitation, on the other hand, will incorporate a positive one in which they are striven for. As it will be shown, deterrence proves to be duplicative and superfluous once rehabilitation is accomplished.
The criminal’s transgressions, knowingly or otherwise, are not the root cause of his troubles. Rather, they represent merely a symptom of a much larger issue; his spiritual malady. The criminal is not aware of his purpose in life to know God; or if he is, does not act to fulfill it. Lacking an adequate spiritual foundation from which to tackle life, the criminal’s attitudes and perspectives are rooted in self-centeredness and selfishness. His view of others and the world is based on how these affect, benefit, and relate to him instead of his relationship with God. Thus, naked self interest is what guides the criminal in his oftentimes errant thought and action. He appeals to no greater context for his behavior than how it affects him instead of his standing with God. The criminal sees in his circumstance no opportunity to develop a loving spiritual relationship with Him; only the need to further seek material ends regardless of what means must be employed.
The criminal’s situation is unfortunate; for not only is he failing to fulfill his purpose in life to know God but he also makes it difficult in some cases for others to do so as well. This need be made clear to him; and ironically, it can be accomplished by approaching him from a familiar perspective; the individual criminal’s self interested perspective itself. Appeals to the common good of society as a whole and peace on earth are not likely to make any inroads with the him; for these greater ideals have likely failed the criminal in the past. Perhaps society in some way has wronged the him. The criminal has possibly been a victim as well. Thus, the approach need paradoxically revolve around the criminal himself in order for others to benefit from his rehabilitation. If he can be pursuaded to recognize his purpose in life, his former misguided disposition and energies towards crime can be rechanneled in accordance with God’s Will. With this new attitude, the criminal can begin on his path toward true fulfillment of self which no longer self-centeredly concerns how he is affected by others and the world but, rather, how his relationship with these affect his relationship with God. Here the ironic and paradoxical manifests itself; for by focusing on self and the purpose of his life, the criminal will eventually develop unselfish attitudes and perspectives compatible with the good of others and society in general. His actions will no longer be detrimental to himself and others; and not only will the criminal’s behavior cease being menacing, it will mirror the complement of his prior misguided life as his relationship with God develops and strengthens. No longer selfish, he is selfless; instead of taking, he will give; not demanding, he serves.
Having addressed the rehabilitative component of Criminal Justice, it becomes evident how deterrence ceases to be a concern any longer. If properly rehabilitated and educated regarding his purpose in life, the criminal is sufficiently deterred. While he may no longer want to run the risk of further incarceration in the future by continuing with his errant behavior, the criminal’s primary concern will be with how his actions affect his relationship with God. There can exist no better deterrent than this. The criminal’s concern is no longer getting away with crime but, rather, avoiding it altogether. Fulfillment of his purpose in life does not depend on whether the criminal is found out, arrested, convicted, and jailed as a result of his actions; for God knows either way and it is how the criminal is viewed in God’s eyes, not society’s, that matters. No longer is he solely concerned with maintaining his freedom while exploiting others. Rather, the criminal occupies himself with identifying and fulfilling God’s Will which, in turn, allows him to remain free. The material and worldly benefits he now enjoys are not the ends he seeks, but instead represent the fruits of the criminal’s relationship with God. These may be deservedly and rightly enjoyed and even further utilized to others’ benefit as the criminal’s relationship with God continues to develop and grow. However, the real intrinsic value in his life is not the fruits themselves but, rather, the effect of these; the criminal’s relationship with God.
Rehabilitation and deterrence follow from God’s Justice, but our consideration of it nicely complements other of His Attributes as well. It provides a good example of how God’s Attributes dont act alone in their manifestation of worldly Goodness but, instead, in concert with the rest. The criminal makes poor choices detrimental to his purpose in life to know God. He is unhappy and perhaps apprehended, tried, convicted, and jailed for his crimes. God’s Justice prevails. If successfully rehabilitated and educated to realize and fulfill his purpose, the criminal mends his errant ways and develops a loving spiritual relationship with God. Again, God’s Justice prevails. Based on his perspective, the criminal gives and acts in service to others. He and society benefit and the criminal’s relationship with God strengthens. Yet again, God’s Justice prevails. As a result of his selflessness and devotion to God through others, the criminal inspires others to seek a similar path. Once again, God’s Justice prevails.
What can be drawn from this concerning God’s other Attributes? Consider His Grace and Mercy; for these clearly are at work alongside the sowing of Justice. The criminal’s poor choices create consequences which are perceived to entail hardship and suffering for both himself and others. But out of these circumstances graciously and mercifully emerge an opportunity for the criminal to finally fulfill his purpose in life to know God. Thus, the effects of God’s Justice are tempered by His Grace and Mercy as would be the case with of any of His other Attributes relative to the rest. Justice’s perceived hardship and suffering is retributive only to the extent that grace and mercy allow. Conversely, the latter unfolds lovingly with acceptance, compassion, forgiveness, and understanding in as much as justice allows.
April 2, 2011 § Leave a Comment
In this Blog’s prior Posts, God’s Attributes of Goodness, Grace, and Mercy were addressed. From these, certain attitudes and perspectives and duties, obligations, and responsibilities followed for us. If adhered to, these assist us to fulfill our purpose in life to know Him. In the present Post, God’s Justice will be considered and established. In turn, the next Post will detail the responsibilities which originate from it.
Three concepts serve as the context in which God’s Justice will be considered. These are cause and effect, man’s free will, and God’s Goodness. Harkening back to the prior Page, “The Qualitative Theory of Truth”, the former two of these are examples of Principles of Creation while the last is a Qualitative Attribute of God. Cause and effect and free will are significant metaphysical and philosophical issues outside of our intended scope and will perhaps be addressed more fully in a future Post. Suffice it to say for now that they exist. Regarding cause and effect, Creation as God’s Creative Power and Act should provide sufficient evidence of this. With Creation, God as efficient, final, primary, and ultimate cause, spawned the existence of all subsequent effects in the world. Similarly, He continues to act as Cause in the sustenance of Creation. Some of the effects which God manifests, in turn, act as causes in their own right as well. However, it should not be construed that these, as secondary causes, exist and act to the same qualitative degree as His Creative and Sustaining Powers and Actions. For God Created all ex-nihilo, out of nothing, and is responsible for the existence of all in the world. Secondary causes, on the other hand, assert their powers and actions upon other created things which have similarly been created by Him. What cause and effect implies relative to our understanding of God’s Justice is that given an action, or cause, certain things, or effects, follow from it.
Also, while we may think of secondary causes as being themselves responsible for the effects that they generate, it need be noted that they only do so in accordance with God’s Will, Providence, and Plan. Thus, secondary causes, although having power over and acting upon their effects, are only able to do so because of the actualities, potentialities, and qualities imparted to them by Him.
With respect to man’s free will, only two things will briefly be mentioned. First, that it exists should be obvious enough from the simple fact that not everyone, unfortunately, chooses to pursue their purpose in life to know God. In the prior Page, “The Qualitative Purpose of Life”, it was demonstrated that He Created to be known and that our purpose in life is to know Him. Is it reasonable to believe that God would not intend for all to know Him in light of it being the reason for Him having Created to begin with? No, God’s intent is that all will identify their purpose in life and choose to fulfill it. However, clearly we see that it is not the case that all choose this. Inexplicably, not everyone seeks to identify the meaning of their life. And perhaps even more so, those that do sometimes choose not to attempt to fulfill it or do so only half-heartedly (see the prior Post “Responding to God’s Grace”). What can be gathered from this, therefore, is that man’s will is free as evidenced by some people’s choices which are contrary to His Will.
The second matter in need of clarification concerning man’s free will deals with God’s Omniscence. While this attribute of All-Knowingness has not yet been addressed in this Blog, it is one unanimously agreed upon by those who assent to belief in His Theistic Conception. Some argue that free will is not consistent with God’s Omniscence. They question how we can truly be considered free to act if God already knows how we will do so. This is a legitimate question but clarification of these concepts’ consistency can be had when considering His Foreknowledge. Just because God knows how we will act does not presuppose that He has caused us to act. Rather, and because of His Eternal and Infinite Being, He is not subject to the constraints of our spatio-temporal existence in the world. God is aware of our thoughts and actions prior to, respectively, our actually having and carrying them out; but He does not cause them. God’s Being, as more aptly summarized by St. Augustine, exists in the Eternal Now in which past, present, and future coalesce as one.
Shifting our focus now to God’s Goodness, it too factors into His Attribute of Justice. As identified in the prior Post, “God’s Goodness, Grace, & Mercy”, and “Responding to God’s Goodness”, all is good that is manifested by Him through His Creative Power and Act of Creation. The effects which originate with God as Cause are inherently good.
Having deconstructed and analyzed cause and effect and man’s free will as Principles of Creation and His Goodness as a Qualitative Attribute of God, the three components of His Justice, we are now prepared to reassemble them in an effort to understand the responsibilities for us that follow. Starting with secondary causes and effects, although typically considered as forces, powers, or qualities, they also include us as human beings endowed with free will. In this sense, through free will we are the secondary cause of certain effects imparted into the world. More on point, our thoughts, as secondary cause, result in our taking certain actions, or effects, which in turn, manifest as concurrent subsequent secondary causes to certain consequences, outcomes, and repercussions, yet further effects. Perhaps this is belaboring the already obvious, but the key here is to underscore that our actions as means result in certain outcomes as ends. This relationship, like all else in the world, exists as a result of God’s Will, Providence, and Plan.
Contrary to what was previously argued concerning man’s free will, this seems to excuse us from responsibility for our actions; for if they were caused by God, how are they really attributable to us? Have we not already agreed that the effects generated from secondary causes are in reality His doing? Responding to this requires that we take a close look at the relationship between cause and effect and free will. The latter is certainly one of God’s many effects and also exists as secondary cause as well. A part of God’s Creation, and no insignificant one at that, is our ability to choose freely. Also, depending upon how free will is used, we are responsible for its results. Thus, free will is both an effect and a secondary cause. However, although both effect and secondary cause like countless other aspects of Creation, it proves to be far different than its counterparts. Perhaps all other effects of secondary causes with the exception of free will are directly spawned and manifested by God; but not necessarily so with the effects which follow from the latter as secondary cause. To put it obviously and succinctly, our choices of free will trigger certain outcomes. The choices are not controlled by God but the outcomes are. Here is the key to understanding the relationship between cause and effect and free will. We are free to act, but not able to influence the results that follow. Free will, as secondary cause, acts independent of God; but the outcomes, after a momentary and rare instance of God relinquishing control to us, are then manifested by Him. With free will’s choice, an interruption to the normal chain of cause and effect occurs after which the chain is reconnected. Cause and effect then again ensues.
For example, a person seeking fulfillment of their purpose in life to know God gives unconditionally in service to others. They are eventually rewarded for their efforts by fulfilling their purpose. The giving and service represent the act of free will and interruption to the chain; fulfillment of their life’s purpose is the result of the chain’s resumption. They control the free choice; God the outcome.
Having incorporated the relationship between cause and effect and man’s free will into our account of God’s Justice, we now turn our attention to His Goodness. It accounts for the inherent good of Creation and all that He manifests in the world. We have already demonstrated that cause and effect results from God’s Creative Power and Act of Creation. Likewise, we have concluded that free will represents an interruption to cause and effect’s chain. It has also been shown that upon reconnection of the chain after a free act of will, the effects which follow man’s choice are controlled by Him. And further, in accordance with God’s Goodness, that which is controlled by Him is inherently good. Our reassembly of the components of God’s Justice is now complete: God manifests cause and effect; it is momentarily interrupted by choices of free will which exists in lieu of a secondary cause controlled by Him; cause and effect then resumes with God’s control of outcomes related to the free choice; normal cause and effect then continues until again interrupted by another choice of free will.
But where exactly does God’s Justice appear in the chain of cause and effect, its interruption, and resumption? This takes shape following cause and effect’s interruption upon its resuming. The resumption represents God’s Justice. Following a choice of free will, He again assumes the reigns and manifests outcomes, results, and repercussions. It is the effect of free will’s choice that is represented by God’s Justice. Depending on who is subject to the effect, it may be experienced as hardship or suffering; but the effect is always good although its benefits may not be apparent immediately and only after some time.
As another example, consider the thief who covets and steals that which does not belong to him. Prior to having had the thought to steal and, unfortunately, following through on it, normal cause and effect as controlled by God was running its course. With the thief’s selfish thought and act of free will, however, an interruption to cause and effect occurred. After the thought and act, cause and effect again runs its course as controlled by God. Hopefully, the thief is apprehended by police and tried and convicted in a court of law. “Justice is served”, as it is said. If not, the thief’s similar behavior repeated in the future will hopefully result in him receiving his due. But again, if not, at a minimum we can confidently assert that the thief will ultimately not succeed in fulfilling his purpose in life to know God. If not eventually caught, he may believe that he has benefitted from his errant choices, but his feeling of content is misunderstood for he will never experience true fulfillment by acting as such in light of the obstacles posed by his behavior to fulfill his purpose in life to know God.
As briefly mentioned at the outset of this Post, now that God’s Justice has been established, our attention will now turn to the attitudes and perspectives and duties, obligations, and responsibilities that follow for us. These will be taken up in the next Post.
March 23, 2011 § 35 Comments
In this Blog’s prior Post, “Responding to God’s Goodness”, certain attitudes and perspectives and duties, obligations, and responsibilities for us were identified based upon that attribute of His. The same approach will be applied in the present Post concerning God’s Grace. Doing so reveals much overlap regarding what this attribute requires of us if we are to fulfill our purpose in life to know Him. These include unconditional giving and being of service to others. However, additional requirements follow as well.
Perhaps the most important thing to be said regarding any of God’s Attributes is that His Grace, if rightly responded to, evokes from us profound gratitude. As previously discussed in the prior Post, “God’s Goodness, Grace, & Mercy”, God derived no benefit from Creation. As All-Perfect, Simple, Singular, and Unlimited Being, He lacks and, therefore, desires nothing. Thus, God’s Creative Power and Act serves to benefit us solely. His selfless and unconditional gift, likewise, bounds us to give and be of service to others (see, “Responding to God’s Goodness”). But even more fundamentally, the gift garners our sincerest thanks and shapes our attitude and perspective towards God and, as a result, the world in general. In this sense, understanding His Grace paves the way for our further grasping of all of His other Attributes and our obligations that follow from them. In fact, it is because we have come to terms with God’s Grace that we seek fulfillment of our purpose in life to know Him to begin with. It is the foundation and starting point of our spiritual quest to sow and develop a loving relationship with our Creator. If unable to understand the meaning of God’s Grace and follow through on the responsibilities which it entails, we will inevitably fail to recognize our purpose in life. Or in the case that we coincidentally assent to belief in that purpose but don’t grasp the context of His Grace from which it originates, we will be unable to respond authentically or effectively towards it. In this case, regretfully, the importance of properly responding will be missed.
To not realize and, thus, fail to fulfill our purpose in life to know God is obviously unfortunate; for this results in the wasting of our lives. Regardless of our material accomplishments, if these are not pursued and realized as a furthering of our relationship with Him, they prove meaningless as not having been carried out in accordance with our purpose. To those also unfamiliar with their purpose, a materially accomplished life may seen enviable, fulfilling, and successful. But to accomplish lesser material things in absence of doing so within the context of our fundamental purpose in life amounts to nothing more than a missed opportunity distractingly clothed in meaning.
As to authentically responding to our purpose in life to know God, for those who recognize it, the most meaningful thing that can be said is the sense of urgency it entails. While those are unfortunate who do not understand their purpose, perhaps even more tragic are those who have identified it but, inexplicably, either don’t respond at all or do so only half-heartedly. Among these are also those who, feeling that time is on their side, profess to plan on responding at some time in the future.
To incorporate a material analogy for this spiritual malady, consider the naturally athletically gifted potential baseball superstar who, does not give his craft the respect it deserves. He is lazy, seldom practicing to refine his talent. When he finally musters the will and energy to do so, he acts begrudgingly and without maximum effort. He is aware of his potential, for others are outwardly envious of his skill. Perhaps he reads the newspaper articles which tout him as the second coming of Mickey Mantle; maybe he overhears his teammates’ and fans’ praise. But his response to his opportunity is lethargic. So far, he has excelled based on his natural ability alone; and he is only 23 years old. Baseball players, he rationalizes, sometimes play into their 40s; and their “prime” is commonly not reached until their late 20s or early 30s. Further, he has other interests aside from baseball; partying with women and friends, fast cars, and travel in the off-season to exotic locales. Thus, there is no sense of urgency to his calling as a potential perennial All-Star.
Eventually, the ball player’s lack of respect for his skill and the game in general catch up with him and becomes apparent to others. Regretfully, his potential is never realized. He is despised as ungrateful, arrogant, and lazy. He is characterized as “wasted talent”. Some adopt a more forgiving perspective and describe his case as “unfortunate”. They point out that talent such as his, coupled with his fans’ and the media’s adoration early in his career, exposed him to the dangers of an inflated sense of importance and feeling he has already accomplished enough. Regardless of the perspective from which his disparaging originates, the ball player’s case is truly unfortunate; more so than the career minor leaguer who loved, respected, and revered the game but was never quite good enough to break into the Big Leagues, let alone attain superstardom.
What can be gathered from the above analogy and how does it relate to our more important spiritual subject matter? Our example’s failure to fulfill his purpose as a ball-player is attributable to his lack of gratitude for the opportunity with which he was presented. This manifested a sense of entitlement which prevented him from acting to take the necessary steps to fully realize his potential and fulfill his purpose.
A lack of gratitude, even in the case that we understand that we exist to know God, results in our inability to do so. It prevents that which is required; an authentic and urgent response. Thus, we see the importance of fully understanding God’s Grace. To fail to is erroneous in itself, which is unfortunate, but what this failure leads to is even more so; an inability to respond to God’s gift which, in turn, culminates in our failure to fulfill our purpose in life. With this defective attitude and perspective, the foundation and primacy of God’s Grace to our ability to effectively know Him is absent. While we may coincidentally grasp other of God’s Attributes, such as Goodness (again, see “Responding to God’s Goodness”), and therefore are equipped with the necessary guidance for right day-to-day thought and action, Grace inspires us to seek to do so at all. As a backdrop, it shapes our attitudes and perspectives towards thought and action thereby ensuring that these are carried out authentically. Short of coming to terms with God’s Grace, we cannot fully identify our purpose in life or effectively follow through on the quality of the response which it requires. Absent this understanding, we cannot start on our path to fulfillment of our purpose; and once started, without it we are unable to continue successfully.
More regarding God’s Grace can be drawn from our above analogy of the ungrateful, underachieving, and unfulfilled ball player. He is insulting to all those whom he relates relative to his purpose; all of his teammates, other less, equal, and more skilled players, his fans, and most importantly, the game itself. The last of these insults, as spiritual analogy, is akin to a slap in the face of God. But for God’s gift of Creation, we would not exist, have a purpose in life to know Him, or have the ability to fulfill that purpose. Thus is accentuated the urgency of our response to God’s gift. Not doing so immediately and with a quality that incorporates all of our heart, mind, and soul, is an insult to Him. Thoughts had and actions carried out knowingly incompatible with our purpose in life represent ingratitude which, if we don’t admit, at least exhibit. Each wandering thought, a lack of thanks; every shortcoming of action, an ungrateful gesture; given the gift, on it we spit. Would we not seek to respond appropriately to a person who holds open for us a door by expressing thanks as we quickly walk inside? To act otherwise would imply disrespect and solicit the ire of those present. Yet what triviality is this compared to our purpose in life. God exists. He Created to be known. Our purpose in life is to know Him. He stands at the door which He has opened. What is our response? Through it with gratitude will we we hurry? Or shall we turn a blind eye and assume a cold shoulder while instead seeking another door at which to knock?
I sincerely hope that my tone in this Post hasn’t taken on an heir of condescension or spiritual arrogance and grandiosity. This was not my intent. Let it be known then that while written for all to consider, it was directed at none other than myself. For 35 years I existed as the unfortunate example who did not know his life’s purpose to know God. While now I know, I presently live as the even more tragic one who does not always respond as authentically to my purpose as I should. As for the baseball analogy, while grateful for the talent required to have played a long time and at a relatively high level, I did not have the potential to be a superstar (couldn’t hit the slider).
In the next Post, God’s Mercy will be addressed. As we will see, it aligns more with His Attribute of Goodness with respect to its spawning of our duties, obligations, and responsibilities of day-to-day life versus the present Post’s handling of Grace that, as was hopefully demonstrated, evokes from us more of an attitude of thanks and perspective of gratitude which, in turn, acts as the basic foundation for our spiritual quest.