Tuesday, August 28, 2007

[THO] Ray make me UnComfortable (3)

So, once you have gone through the "good person test," and after having been berated with the 10 Commandments, it's finally time to hear the "good news" according to Ray Comfort. What exactly is that "good news?" I'll let Living Waters speak fo themselves.

"Does the fact that you have sinned against God scare you? It should. You have actually angered Him by your sin. The Bible says His wrath abaides on you, that you are an 'enemy of God in your mind through wicked works.'

-"Gospel" Tract "Are You Good Enough to go to Heaven?"


"To make clear what an incredible thing He has done for you in the Gospel, let's look again to civil law: You are standing in front of a judge, guilty of some very serious crimes. All the evidence has been presented and there is no doubt about your guilt. The fine for your crime is $250,000 or imprisonment, but you haven't two pennies to rub together. The judge is about to pass sentence...he lifts his gavel, when someone you don't even know steps in and pays the fine for you. The moment you accept that payment, you are free to go. Justice has been served, the law has been satisfied, and what's more, the stranger who paid your fine showed how much he cares for you. His payment was evidence of his love.
That's what God did for you, in the person of Jesus Christ. You are guilty, He paid the fine 2,000 years ago. It is that simple."

"Gospel" tract "Are You Good Enough to go to Heaven?"

How exactly did Jesus pay this fine? I'll let Living Waters Canada answer that.

"If you've admitted to breaking one commandment you are falling towards God's judgement and will end up in hell when you die. God doesn't want that to happen to you! He provided a way for you to be saved when Jesus Christ took the punishment for your sin upon Himself."

"Gospel" tract "CN Tower Collectible" Living Waters Canada.

Did Jesus Christ our Lord pay the price for our sins? Did He satisfy the the letter of the Law and take upon Himself our punishment? Was Christ punished for our sins, in our place? The Ray Comfort movement certainly thinks so. The way I see it though, there are two things wrong with these two propositions. The first proposition simply isn't true, and neither is the second. I'll attempt to deal with them one at a time. I wish to acknowledge my indebtedness to two authors whose work over the years has proved very helpful in the study of moral and philosophical issues and or pitfalls involved in researching the Atonement. One is the 19th centruy revivalist Charles Grandison Finney, the other is Frank J. Sheed.

Did Our Lord Jesus pay the fine? In other words, did He in His atonement actually satisfy the Divine retributive justuce? Did He pay exactly the penalty of the Law in order for us to be released form our debt? Remember the $250,000 payment mentioned above? The simple answer is no, He did not. HE DID NOT!!! Why?????? Because it would be naturally impossible. It would require that satisfaction be made to "retributive justice." It would require that Jesus pay exactly the requirement of the Law. Paying exactly what every sinner ultimately deserves and will recieve. This type of justice can never be satisfied, NEVER BE SATISFIED. Legally you could justly punish a sinner as long as he or she remained guilty. Unfortunately that is forever! Once we break the Law, we are forever guilty. There would never come a time when we would cease to be guilty and become innocent once again. Divine retributive justice will indeed be everlasting. Those who are ultimately lost will be lost forever and forever and forever. Everlasting separation from God and His Glory. So, in order to satisfy the letter of the Law and "pay the fine" as Ray Comfort would have us believe, Jesus Christ would have had to suffer eternal separation from God His Father multiplied bythe number of people who have ever lived, are living, and will live. That, quite obviously is impossible, and did not happen.

There are two difficulties associated with this "payment of the fine" idea of the Atonement. There are many difficulties of course but I wish to highlight only these two here.

1. It should be noted that Universalism, (the teaching that because Jesus has paid the price for the sins of humanity and satisfied the requirements of the Law, then all men will be saved) stakes it's claim right here. It, Universalism, insists that it would be unjust then to condemn sinners to hell.

2. Closely linked to the first and of course the natural outflow of it's thought, is how, if Jesus paid the penalty of the Law for sinners, could God then repunish them in the end if their price has already been paid? Why would God punish Christ, and then still on top of it punish sinners, if Jesus had paid the fine?

I should also mention here that in general the idea that Our Lord 'paid the fine' for us is usually married to the idea that He also obeyed the Law for us as a covenant of works with the Father. It goes something like this, since we cannot obey the Law, Jesus obeyed it for us. Then, he 'paid the fine' for our disobedience on the cross, and His righteousness is then imputed to us. (It goes without saying I take serious issue with this teaching). The problem again should be obvious. If He, Jesus, obeyed for us, why then should He also suffer for us? This arrangement represents God as requiring:

1. The obedience of our substitute.
2. His suffering and death as though no obedience had been rendered.
3. Our subsequent repentance.
4. Our return to personal obedience.

On top of that, it would ascribe the whole thing to grace! Strange grace this is. Does God require the fine to be paid several times over before it is forgiven?

As for the second point, the idea that Christ was punished by the Almighty Father, again I say no! NO! A THOUSAND TIMES NO!!! How could Our Lord have been punished in any way whatsoever? Punishment implies guilt. In the case of Jesus Christ however, the Hebrew Prophets, (Isaiah 53), the Apostles ( 1 Peter 2:22), Our Lord Himself, (St. John 8:46) and even the world, (St. Matthew 27:54) are unanimous that Christ is without sin. An innocent being cannot, CANNOT be punished. It is a natural impossibility. Now an innocent being could suffer unjustly, as in the case of someone wrongly found guilty of a crime. However, they are not properly being "punished." They are victims of injustice. If the Father "punished" Christ in the Atonement, then He commited an injustice. He, God willed a moral evil. This should cause us concern. If God is capable of such things with His own Son, what might He do to us? Is this really and truly the Gospel of the Blessed God!? Ray Comfort's "good news" is not good news at all. It is the bad news of the arbitrary, capricious, and even dangerous God.

So, if Our Lord didn't obey for us, and He didn't 'pay the fine' for us and was not punished by His Father, then what did He do? What He did, is far more glorious than any of the absurdities proposed above.

The Atonement of Christ Jesus was intended as a satisfaction not to retributive justice, but rather to public justice. The Law of God is not arbitrary. It does not origininate in His will as a "My way or the Highway" command. It is founded rather in His self-existence and unchanging nature. God cannot change His Law. To the letter of the Law there may be exceptions. The the spirit and heart of the Law, never! Therefore, God could not set aside the execution of the penalty of the Law against sinners, (which was what He desired), without something being done to satisfy the spirit and heart of the Law. Listen to the words of St. Paul,:

"...they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies him who has faith in Jesus." (St. Paul to the Romans 3:24-26 (RSV CE).

In this passage St. Paul defines the grand design of the Atonement to have been to justify God in pardon of sin. Or, in God remaining true to His character nonetheless in setting aside the execution of the Law against sinners. The Atonement is about God. It vindicates His character and reveals His heart. It reveals in our God His merciful disposition. It was because God desired to pardon and forgive sinners that He consented to give His only-begotten Son. His motive?, and this is key, is what we have been discussing all the way through these notes. JOHN 3:16-17!!! "For God SO LOVED the world..." It does not say, IT DOES NOT SAY that" God was so poised to judge the world and to pour out His wrath upon sinners that He gave His Only-Begotten Son to be punished instead." The Atonement is not about the law of the angry God! It proclaims in glory that God IS LOVE!!!, and that in His imeasurable LOVE HE GAVE HIS SON, NOT TO CONDEMN THE WORLD, NOT TO CONDEMN THE WORLD!!!!!, but rather to save it!

It is the suffering and death of Our Lord that constitutes His Atonement. God does not punish Him. He lays down His life freely. Nobody took it from Him, He gave it! Our Lord offers Himself to the Father through the Spirit in sacrifice for our sins in the place of the execution of the Law. ( see Isaiah 53). The substitution is not God punishing Christ instead of us, it is God the Father accepting the suffering and death of Christ as an offering for sins instead of, INSTEAD OF the punishment. The letter of the Law is not satisfied directly. The spirit and heart of the Law IS! It is the relationship of Christ our Lord to the universe as Creator and God that makes His voluntary suffering and death to be of infinite value. God could have written off humanity and consigned everyone, every last one of us to hell, and been completely justified in so doing. But then, where would His mercy be? He could have forgiven the sins of our race without an atonement through a sovereign act of the Divine. But then, where would His justice be? He did neither. He chose rather that sin committed in human nature should be expiated in human nature. In Christ, the Word of God made flesh, humanity, in Him, gave it's all back to God, holding nothing back. There was total obedience, total self-surrender and the sacrifice of the Last Adam over against the self-assertion and sin of the First Adam. Because He was truly human, His sacrifice was human, so it could be set against the sin of the human race. Because He is God, His sacrifice is of infinite value and so compensated and outweighed not only all of the sins committed by humanity collectively, but all possible sin as well. Again, He could not suffer and be punished as a guilty member of our race having never sinned, and therefore He also could not have endured remorse since He was not guilty of any crime. He did however take the weight of our sins, and experienced the anguish and sorrow for our sins which we, sadly,...for the most part....do not.

The sin of our race afforded God the opportunity for the exercise of His highest virtues. Forebearance, mercy, self-denial for enemies, suffering for them even though they were always in His hand and He could have destroyed them. Suffering for them, for us, when there was no conceivable way for us to pay Him back...

Up next, Part 4: Counting the Cost of True Evangelism.


One of Freedom said...

Mike's third installment takes a bit of time to get going, but it is really good towards the end. I think the issue with the Comfortians isn't that they are intentionally misrepresenting the gospel, but rather they haven't taken the time to really think it through.

I think there is a whole lot more we could get into from here such as the passability of God, but I'll let the conversation direct itself. I think Mike brushes off universalism too quickly - I'll have to point him to some of the excellent talks over at Chris Tilling's blog.

looking forward to the comments.

Paul W said...

Hi Frank,

I've enjoyed this series. Ray Comfort is an ex-pat New Zealander and I used to go to a church he founded in Christchurch, NZ. In the late 70s and early 80s he became famous in NZ for a book about heroin addiction called _My Friends Are Dying_. Then around 1982, he became famous for the "theology" which he is now famous for. From this series of posts, it seems he hasn't changed his tune in 25 years!