Monday, December 3, 2007

Jesus' sacrifice (III)

Re. Jesus' sacrifice. Have has some very interesting exchanges with William Hawthorne (who is an excellent contributor) that are worth posting, I think. I'll give my response to William shortly. For an additional comment by William, see comments on Jesus sacrifice.

William writes:

The issue is vastly more complicated than you make it look. At least one important factor you left out is that Jesus experienced God's wrath (or so the Christians would tell you). From within the Christian framework, then, this would be nobler than any earthly death you care to pick.

Tweaking your simplistic cases to include this detail, we get something like:

1*. Bert is convinced he can save all mankind from eternal damnation if he is prepared not only to die horribly, but to have the wrath of a perfectly just God poured out upon him, after which he will be resurrected. He makes the sacrifice.

2. Tim is convinced he can save the lives of several individuals (perhaps his own family) if he is prepared to die rather horribly, period. Tim being an atheist, supposes death is final. He makes the sacrifice.

Once we include details like this (and possibly others), your claim that most of us would do what Jesus did is implausible (or at least, inscrutable).



December 1, 2007 10:28 PM

Stephen Law said...

Hello William

Thanks for comment. Do keep contributing please as these are interesting remarks.

I shall respond to your comment in a main post but first can you clarify something:

(i) why is it necessary that Jesus face "God's wrath"?
(ii) what does facing God's wrath involve?
(iii) does he face it before or after his bodily death?
(iv) where is the evidence to support the view that Jesus faced "God's wrath"? I can't find any in Bible, other than maybe his final "forsaken me" comment (which, I seem to remember, Plantinga takes to be such evidence - do you?).

Also, what are the other "important factors" to which you allude? Let's get them all on the table...

all the best

December 2, 2007 11:36 AM

Stephen Law said...

Oh yes, why would a "perfectly just" God unleash his wrath upon an innocent (Jesus)?

Also, isn't he unleashing it upon himself (given Jesus is God)?

I have this mental image of Jesus giving himself a cosmic bollocking - and perhaps a severe thrashing - for something someone else did.

It all seems utterly absurd to me. Clearly I haven't got it. If you could just talk me through this I'd be grateful, and can then respond more fully.

December 2, 2007 4:56 PM

William Hawthorne said...


I don’t know the answers to those questions. And I think even if I could suggest possible answers, they’d be theologically controversial at best. But the fact that you implicitly concede that you don’t know what God’s wrath involves, or whether Jesus even endured God’s wrath, only serves to underscore my point: your claim that most of us would do what Jesus did is implausible (or inscrutable). You're realize, I hope, that a philosophically careful comparison of the nobility of deaths in (1) and (2) would require, for the sake of the thought experiment, that we suppose the Christian framework is legitimate. And once we do that, we’re left with all sorts of possible details to consider. Some of them we might not even be able to make sense of, and some might in principle be unknowable.

If you really want to show decisively that Jesus’ death was less noble than the atheist’s, you’d be forced (awkwardly, given your atheism) to put on the theologian’s gown and wrestle with a variety of nuanced theological interpretations of Christ’s work, all of which will have a bearing on your intuitions when judging the two deaths. For an example of just one interpretation, many theologians believe Christ went to Hell after he died, and was saved by God (Himself) thereafter. What’s easier to face: nothingness, or a temporary stay in Hell? Seen in this light, I doubt many people could confidently claim that they’d do what Christ did. And it won't do to respond by asking what Hell involves, and why it was necessary that Christ vacationed there. For if we don't know the answers to those questions, we have even less of a basis to justifiably assert that most of us would do what Jesus did, much less that an atheist’s death is nobler than Jesus’.


Joel said...

I agree with William- this is a repost of my comment on Jesus' Sacrifice (II), which seems to be alone the same lines of william's comment:

I think, in general, this topic, or question in specific, is wrong-headed. I would like to make a few points:

1.It would be hard to compare the death of Christ with the generic atheist you are speaking of since Christ, as God, laid aside his divine rights to become human (phil 2), and, not only lived the perfect life, died for his enemies (which seems to be where the bulk of the comparison lies), but also bore the wrath of God for the sins of the world. If you accept the terms of the Bible (which, as william noted, we must in this 'thought experiment'), then it seems fair to say that there are ontological and metaphysical 'sacrifices' that Jesus made that no one else has the opportunity to make, nor could understand prior to making if it was still possible. His unique status eliminates him from being compared. One can, as you are doing, analogously compare- 'christ died for people', 'I can die for people'- but this seems to fall quite short of the Bible's claims. Unless you dismiss the weight of 'the wrath of God' and 'the sins of the world' you can't even ask the question you are asking.

2.Where in the Bible does it say that Jesus' sacrifice is to be most admired or is the most admirable of all sacrifices? Don't misunderstand me, I think that it is, but the message of the Bible isn't that our response to the cross is supposed to be one of admiration, but one of repentance. That is, turning from your sin and toward God since he sacrificed his son in order to make peace with man.

Joel said...


I don't want to chase a rabbit, but you asked where in the Bible are the terms 'wrath of god' and so forth. Well, like the term 'trinity' it might be hard to find, but the notion is certainly there. Here are two verses from Romans (3:25 – 26) with such an implication:

“whom God put forward as a propitiation 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 show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (this is a word for word translation- ESV)

Another translation (not word for word, but idea for idea- NLT) states it this way:

"For God sent Jesus to take the punishment for our sins and to satisfy God's anger against us (this is the idea of 'propitiation' found in the ESV). We are made right with God when we believe that Jesus shed his blood, sacrificing his life for us. God was being entirely fair and just when he did not punish those who sinned in former times.
And he is entirely fair and just in this present time when he declares sinners to be right in his sight because they believe in Jesus. "

DrBen said...

I had always thought Jesus' brief stint in Hell was not as punishment but instead acting on behalf of those who had not come to god through Jesus. All those who by unfortunate accidents of birth had not been around to see Jesus but still had been pious, just and blessed individuals in life were brought up to Heaven by him.

I still think that in the Easter story that Judas comes off as a sympathetic character. Betrayal of god (in the form of Jesus) is necessary for the forgiveness of all our sins (because god can't do such things on a whim, evidently). Hence Jesus must be betrayed and murdered. Judas obviously acts in this way, and then is banished to the very darkest recesses of Hell whilst also being vilified up here on Earth. I cannot see how Jesus is the one who suffers more.

Martin Quarry said...

The Great Sacrifice.

Let’s look at this while staying consistent to mainstream Christian beliefs.

In the Trinity, God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are one, agreed?

God, and therefore, Jesus too, has always existed, since the beginning of eternity.

Jesus, in human form, knew that he was going to be killed, and he knew that he would rise from the dead in three days:

"Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." (2 John 2:19)

Jesus also knew that he would then ascend into heaven to live for all eternity at the right hand of God. That was the deal: Exist for eternity in paradise, go to Earth for 33 years, teach a bit, return to paradise. The time since then has been spent waiting for the other shoe to drop; that is, for Christ to return to Earth.

So then, where is the sacrifice?

I mean, “to sacrifice” means to give up something you need without expecting to get it back. Certainly, if God told Jesus that the only way to save mankind was to leave heaven permanently, ie. sacrifice his spot, then I would recognize the great gift. But he didn’t. He sent him to visit and come home.

It’s no different than me putting a slug nickel in a gumball machine, yanking it back out, and proclaiming that you should really thank me for that gumball you’re enjoying because I sacrificed my own nickel for it ESPECIALLY FOR YOU. It’s silly to claim I sacrificed a nickel when I clearly got it right back. Why is it different to say God sacrificed his son when he clearly did not?

The crucifixion itself was not the sacrifice either; Jesus the man giving up his life. The sacrifice of a life is a purely human construction. It is the ultimate gift a human can do precisely because we only get the one life. Death is scary, because neither you, nor I, know what comes afterward. Maybe nothing comes afterward, thus the correct use of the words “human sacrifice.”

Gods have no fear of death, even in human form, because they not only already know what is on the other side, but that death simply means they get to go home, where it’s much nicer.

So what?

So we are faced with a choice: Either God is playing us for suckers, talking about a sacrifice that clearly is not, or, drum roll....someone made the whole thing up and forgot to wrap up the logical contradictions.


This is carefully weighed evidence directly from Christian Holy Scriptures, and theists can not satisfactorily dispute it. The best they’ve done is to say that Jesus had to suffer so we couldn’t say something like “You don’t know how it feels to be human.”

However, an omnipotent god wouldn’t need to do that.

No, to call Jesus divine is to admit that there was no sacrifice. Conversely, to say that Jesus sacrificed his life, you can no longer call him divine. The best you can do is to say a divine Jesus pulled a fast one on us because human sacrifices were all the rage in the Bronze Age, and faking one was the best way to get our attention.

And insisting that Jesus really sacrificed his life for us means nothing less than he was fully human—with no link to the divine. A true sacrifice. Dead and gone forever.

Thus, the “Mystery of Faith.” So it goes with all of religion: When things go our way, then God is responsible. When things go badly for us, or we’re faced with an irreconcilable contradiction in dogma, well then, God works in mysterious ways.

Bill said...

Fascinating...I have long felt that there was something obviously off with the notion of the noble sacrifice of Jesus. I know this is some time after this original discussion, but I would add an additional consideration. The sacrifice of Peter and all the other Christians who have been martyred over the years is nobler than that of Jesus, for the following reasons:

1. Jesus either was God or the Son of God. My heavily Christian upbringing taught me that 'God so love us that he gave his only begotten son so that he could die for our sins'. Even as an eight-year-old, I can remember thinking, well, he didn't actually die, did he, since he got resurrected and wandered around a bit. And, this is the clincher, being God and all, he planned what was going to happen and he knew what was going to happen.

2. Christian martyrs, including Peter who 'didn't want to be killed in the manner of his Lord' so they crucified him upside down, only believed that they would go to Heaven, they didn't know it.

3. Therefore, Jesus' sacrifice would be seen in the context of firm knowledge, whereas, Christian martyrs actions were acts of faith, making their sacrifice more noble than that of their Saviour.

Love the blog, keep up the good work.