Tuesday, June 23, 2009

There is no “Justice”

Fr. Stephen has pointed out that justice, as thought of in the West, does not exist. That’s to say, if justice means rendering equality, such that each person is repaid the moral equivalent of the good or the evil he has done, and recompensed for the evil he has suffered, that simply does not exist. It doesn’t exist in human systems of jurisprudence, and it doesn’t exist in the divine order, either.

Let’s begin with the latter, with theology. In classical Catholic and in Protestant thought (Protestants having inherited it), we have varying forms of what has come to be called the Penal Substitutionary Theory of Atonement. This theory states that the reason Jesus died was to bear the punishment for our sins which God the Father would otherwise have had to inflict upon us – and/or that He died to repay God the Father the debt we owed Him on account of our sins. This theory assumes that justice means rendering to each person what he deserves. Yet, ironically, the theory is devised precisely in order to avoid doing that!

In the “Pen-Sub” theory of what the atonement means, the first thing that happens is that the wrong Person is punished. The Righteous One is punished while the sinful many, provided they repent, get away scot-free. How is that any kind of justice? Its own proponents know it is not, else they would try to imitate the Lord by doing the same thing. They would go around to prisons offering to take the punishments of convicted offenders. But they know no court would even entertain the idea. No victim of rape, nor any family of a murdered person, wants to see the perpetrator set free and someone else take his place. The very idea is outrageous, both in human jurisprudence and in theology.

The next thing that happens in the Pen-Sub theory is, the wrong Person is thought to be inflicting the punishment, namely, God the Father! But how in the world could He ever derive any pleasure from seeing anybody, much less His own, perfect Son, be tortured and killed? What kind of God would take any pleasure, whether emotional, moral, legal or otherwise, in such a hideous thing? And why? And how would that repay Him in any way? What is He supposed to get out of it? Does He like bloodshed and pain, hoard up horrors and treasure them? Is anything accomplished or corrected or repaired by punishment? In reality, it is the devil in his wrath crucifying Christ, with the collaboration of wicked men. (Acts 2:23) I can’t think of any theology more tragic than that which confuses God with the devil.

We notice, too, that there is no proportional justice in the Penal Substitutionary theory, none of the business of everybody getting his due. This, on three counts:

First, as Fr. Stephen pointed out on his blog, there is no such thing as a sin so great that eternal torment would be a proportional to it. I mean, you’d think even Stalin might have paid his dues after several thousand years of unspeakable misery, and God would be satisfied and have pity.

Second, there is no way Jesus’ three days in Hades compare with even a sinner’s first taste of torment. Why not? Because Jesus’ time there was spent in perfect communion with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit while He conquered Hades. The condemned sinner, however, has no blessed communion with God and knows he has no way of conquering hell, no way out, no pass after three days or three million days.

Thirdly, if Christ endured His sufferings in the stead of all mankind, then even unrepentant sinners should not have to go to hell, since their punishment has already be borne and/or their debt to God the Father is already paid. Either way, once Christ is crucified, the Father gets all the suffering and death due to Him, yet He exacts it again from those in hell, getting it, in effect, twice. Now two people have had to suffer and die for the same sin(s) – unless you are a Calvinist and believe Christ only took the punishment or paid the debt of those predestined to be saved, and not on behalf of the rest. (I’ll give the Calvinists credit, at least, for logical consistency.)

There are many more things wrong with the Penal Substitutionary model of the Atonement, but I have limited myself here to pointing out only one of them, namely that there is no justice in it whatsoever. The whole theory is a travesty, a mockery, an undoing of justice. (And it’s meant to be, because otherwise, if this kind of justice were actually carried out, we’d all be in hell forever.)

There’s no justice in Orthodox theology, either, if "justice" means giving each person his due. I’ll try to explain that in another post. There isn’t even any such justice in human legal systems and I’ll try to explain that, too.

True justice, on the other hand, divine justice, does indeed exist. It’s the only kind that does. But it’s something else. Stay tuned.


William Weedon said...

An Orthodox friend recently shared this with me:

St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite says:

"Also remember, Spiritual Father, to advise sinners not to suppose or believe that they receive forgiveness from God for their sins only on account of them fulfilling their rule; God forbid! This is a heretical opinion, for according to the theologians, sin is infinite, and as an offense to the infinite God, no finite creature, especially an impure creature like a sinner, by works or by fulfilling a rule, can be loosed from it: "But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousness are as filthy rags" (Is. 64:6). But they are to certainly believe that they receive forgiveness for their sins: 1) on account of the infinite mercy of God; 2) ON ACCOUNT OF THE INFINITE SATISFACTION WHICH THE SON OF GOD OBTAINED ON BEHALF OF SINNERS THROUGH HIS DEATH AND THROUGH THE BLOOD SHED ON HIS CROSS, AS PAUL SAID: "NOT BY WORKS OF RIGHTEOUSNESS WHICH WE HAVE DONE, BUT ACCORDING TO HIS MERCY HE HAVE SAVED US" (Titus 3:5); AS JOHN SAID: "AND THE BLOOD OF JESUS CHRIST HIS SON CLEANSETH US FROM ALL SIN" (1 Jn. 1:7) And as Basil the Great says: "THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS IS BY THE BLOOD OF CHRIST." And finally, 3) they should consider the third reason for the forgiveness of their sins, which they do after sin. These good works, however, are not to be understood as natural in and of themselves (because in thinking about them this way, they will never be able to forgive sins and gain eternal salvation), but inasmuch as they are united through faith with the supernatural grace of Jesus Christ, which brings them about and effects them and makes them worthy of divine acceptance (from Koressios) The words spoken above are verified by God Himself Who says through Isaiah: "I, even I, am He that blotteth out thy transgressions for Mine own sake" (Is. 43:25). Do you hear? He says I am the one, sinner, Who blots out your sins and forgives you, and not on account of your rule and chastisement, but on account of My own mercy and compassion. "For Mine own sake."

From the "Exomologetarion: a Manual of Confession" by our Righteous God-bearing Father St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite. Chapter Ten Section 9

JLB said...

I see your bold letters and still see no penal substitution, Rev. Weedon.

William Weedon said...

Sorry, the bolded letters were not mine. They were my Orthodox friend's. I just pasted the quote, which I found of interest.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Sin may be infinite, but God is not infintely offended; in fact, as the quote shows, He is infinitely merciful instead.

And there's no doubt God the Father was infinitely pleased with Jesus Christ. But not literally because He took any kind of satisfaction in Jesus' suffering and death, but rather in His obedience and in His heroic work in never giving in to temptation and in trampling down death.

And there's no doubt we are saved through Christ's Blood, but not because it was the price of forgiveness. Rather, it is the form of forgiveness, a gift bearing immortality.

So I have to agree with JLB, there's nothing penal here. That part tends to be read in by those from penal-minded traditions.


Elizabeth @ The Garden Window said...

I'm looking forward to the next installment of this , Anastasia!