Sunday, May 23, 2021

The Commentariat Speaks (21)

A letter to Doug Wilson from an Australian named Ben poses a familiar question:

“Since I, like everyone else (except Adam and Eve), am born into this sinful state, how can God truly be just in judging me for committing sins I was destined to commit?

Our ‘free-will’ is not really free at all. I think our will is like a set of old-fashioned scales, then our scales are definitely not on the level. They are heavily weighed down towards the selfish side, causing most, if not all, of our choices to be made with a selfish heart; a heart I didn’t ask for or have any say in receiving. I was just dumped into this wretched state, into a wretched life, and then at the end destined to be judged by The Most High, for breaking laws I had no chance of keeping.”

Bound to get interesting, wouldn’t you say?

Ultimately and Epically

So then Doug replies:

“It is interesting to me that you raise exactly the same objection that the apostle Paul brings up in the mouth of an objector. ‘Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will?’ (Rom. 9:19). Paul’s reply, in the next verse, is to command the objector to simply accept it ‘under the sovereignty of the Most High.’ No injustice is done to us, and we are merely getting what we deserve.”

Wilson goes on to say, “I find the Calvinist answer here satisfying.”

Upon reading it, Bernie promptly emailed me to say, in effect, “I don’t.” (Actually, I believe he used the phrase “ultimately and epically unsatisfying”.) And I absolutely agree. I’m not sure I can do better, but after seeing the chaotic mess into which the public comments on this exchange degenerated (towards the end), it seems to me there is more to be said on the subject, even if all I manage to do is identify where both question and answer fall flat.

A Shared Assumption

First, there’s a shared — and, I believe, incorrect — assumption in both Ben’s original question and Doug’s answer, which is that God is to blame for the fallen condition of man. And yet that is not at all the thrust of the Genesis narrative. Both Eve and Adam made choices that affected their offspring in perpetuity — much the same way as my own parental choices have often left my children with disadvantages about which they had no say — but the parents of our race were both operating without, as Ben puts it, being “born into this sinful state”. The deck was not stacked against them the way it is stacked against us, and they are without excuse.

So then, before we jump straight to Romans 9, we need to take a hard look at Romans 5:

“Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.”

Here we have God’s perspective on the subject of my heavily-weighted selfish side, if I may borrow Ben’s phrase, which is that our current “wretched state” is a product of Adam’s ratification of Eve’s choice and my persistent reenactment of the pattern of rebellion he established. We can inquire whether maybe God should’ve stopped Adam from making the choice he made, or whether there was enough inherent reward to justify the risk in allowing mankind the freedom to experience temptation, or whether the penalty God set for one man’s disobedience was proportionate to the crime, but satisfying our curiosity would require information we simply do not have. Moreover, they are not the question being asked, which seems to be something like “Did God make me sin?”

And no, he didn’t. I can manage that just fine on my own, thank you. Romans 5 is a long, long way from saying, “Sin came into the world through the will of God.” If I am destined to be judged for breaking laws I had no chance of keeping, it is not God who got me into that jam.

Did God Will That I Sin?

But we are playing Monday morning quarterback here. Admittedly, we have no clue how an alternative scenario to the Fall might have played out. Only God knows that. What we can say with certainty is that in the one reality with which we are sadly all too familiar, the blame for my current state rests on (1) the original federal head of the human race, and (2) me, because in Adam’s shoes I would have done exactly what he did, and I’ve proved that over and over again during my time on earth.

You will search the scriptures from end to end to find a verse that tells us it is “God’s will” that I sinned and became subject to his righteous judgment. Peter asserts precisely the opposite in no uncertain terms, as do the prophets. Surely Romans 9 does not teach it, as I have made an effort to demonstrate in this post from a few years back. The “election” in view in that passage, it seems to me, is not to individual salvation or damnation but to a “strategic role in human history”, as another writer has well put it.

At very least a careful examination of context should cause us to question the common neo-Calvinistic assumption that the argument in Romans 9 has anything at all to do with the will of God imposing itself on individuals and causing them to sin.

The Myth of ‘No Choice’

Furthermore, when Ben says, “I really had no choice,” and Doug replies in essence, “That’s correct” (Heaven help us!), nobody is dealing with the elephant in the room, which is that whether or not God should have (in our humble and entirely ignorant opinions) overruled the choices of the original human pair, or not have subjected them to those choices in the first place, or changed the consequences of original sin to something more pleasing to me, the incontestable reality remains that God has done something about the matter of men and women being charged with breaking laws they had no chance of keeping, if that is the case. He has not stood idly by watching me drift into hell. He has not left us to “get what we deserve”.

No, instead, God has made the iniquity of us all to fall on him. Christ has borne the penalty for my sin once and for all. So regardless of how I got into this mess, and regardless what some claim God intended, the fact remains that I am graciously offered a way out of my situation. I am not condemned to get what I deserve. If I get what I deserve, it is because I have willingly chosen to bear the penalty for my sins myself by refusing the way of escape that God has provided for me.

The Justice of God

So then, how can God be just in judging me for committing sins I was destined to commit? Because in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ he has freely offered every single fallen, wretched child of Adam and Eve a way out from under the rightful penalty of their sins.

If you or I end up standing before him at the great white throne confronted with a colossal list of sins we were “destined to commit”, it will only be because we have willfully and consciously refused to take it.

If I die in my sins, it is because I insist on displaying my solidarity with Adam rather than Christ. It’s as simple and as complicated as that.

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