In the previous post where I reviewed Challenging the Verdict by Earl Doherty, I promised that I would address the deep rooted and real problem that atheists have with the God of Christianity. Allow me to catch you back up to speed. In his book, Doherty unknowingly revealed the inability of evidential apologetics to answer his deep rooted and real problem with Christianity, namely, that the God of Christianity is unjust and His method of atonement is both illogical and immoral. Doherty said, “Should we not expect a just Deity to fashion a punishment fitting the crime? . . . What, after all, was Adam and Eve’s purported ‘sin’? Eating fruit, even a forbidden one, hardly sinks to the depth of depravity” (124). A few pages later Doherty said, “But why did he require such an ultimate sacrifice in order to forgive humanity its sins? Is there not, indeed, some logical if not moral contradiction in ‘redeeming’ men of sins like murder through an act of murder on their part? Why did he not embody the act of redemption in something more exemplary, perhaps by having Jesus perform a few thousand hours of community service? What a moral example that would have set” (126). No amount of external evidence (empirical facts) can give an answer to these objections. God’s revelation of the meaning of these facts is needed to answer Doherty’s deep rooted and real problem with Christianity.
Since God is being accused of injustice, immorality, and ignorance for both His stance toward sin and His method of atonement, we must allow Him to speak and justify His actions (Romans 3:4). So to understand and see the justice, morality, and wisdom of God in both His stance toward sin and His method of atonement, we will have to consider God’s revealed meaning of redemptive history as it specifically pertains to the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
First, the resurrection of Jesus means that God is Creator and transcendent Lord. This means that naturalistic evolution is false, because the resurrection of Jesus is only possible in an open system in which God intervenes and miracles are possible. The resurrection of Jesus, since it means that God is Creator and transcendent Lord, also means that there are no “brute facts.” The facts do not speak for themselves but must be interpreted only by God’s revealed meaning for them. As Dan Phillips says of God as Creator and transcendent Lord, “He created all things in heaven and on earth, including heaven and earth themselves. In doing so, God created all facts. And thus God assigned meaning, value, and significance to everything. That means, then, that there are no “brute facts,” only created facts, with their meaning designed and assigned by God” (Dan Phillips, The World-Tilting Gospel: Embracing a Biblical Worldview and Hanging on Tight, Kindle Edition, 91).
Second, the resurrection of Jesus means that Adam was the first man created by God as both the progenitor of and representative for all people born through his seed. This means that theistic evolution is false because of the solidarity of all people with one man. To believe in the resurrection of Jesus as revealed by God as the means by which He saves sinners from among humanity is to believe in solidarity with an original, historical, first man. There could be no solidarity on the basis of theistic evolution because there would be no definite, definable place where the head of the human race, as its sole representative, plunged the race into sin. Therefore no one would be born with a sin nature traceable to an original ancestor.
There would be no solidarity under the system of either naturalistic or theistic evolution. Without solidarity, Jesus could represent no more than one person. The ratio, without solidarity, becomes a one for one ratio. Each individual sinner would have to have a different individual Savior or else Jesus would have to continually come and offer Himself over and over again for each individual sinner.
Third, the resurrection of Jesus means that God is covenant maker who promises life for obedience to and death for disobedience of His covenant. One of God’s assigned meanings of the resurrection of Jesus is that He keeps His promises. He is a covenant keeping God. He is truth and in Him there is no darkness at all. It is impossible for God to lie since to get anything out of something, it has to be in it. There is a reason one cannot get “blood out of a turnip.” Since God is truth there is no lie in Him. Therefore it is impossible for God to lie (Hebrews 6:18). God keeps His promises. He gives death for disobedience (Romans 6:23).
Adam, as the progenitor and representative of all men earned death for breaking God’s covenant and in order for God to remain true, death reigned from Adam on (Romans 5:12). On the other hand, Jesus, the progenitor and representative of all who have faith in Him earned life for keeping God’s covenant and in order for God to remain true, He raised Jesus from the dead (Acts 2:24) and will raise all who are in Christ (1 Corinthians 15:21-23). God keeps His promises. He gives life for obedience (Leviticus 18:5).
Fourth, the resurrection of Jesus means that Adam was a covenant breaker who earned death for himself and all his offspring through their solidarity with him. Adam transgressed and disobeyed God’s command and became a covenant breaker. Adam became a capital offender. One may question why disobedience to God’s covenant is a capital crime. The human mind, even among atheists, can determine that murder is a capital offense that deserves capital punishment. However, “lesser sins” that the laws of the land do not consider capital offenses are considered capital offenses in God’s kingdom. From this truth the unregenerate human mind recoils and objects.
Why is murder a capital offense? Is it because there is something so unloving about the act of murder that it is hideous? Is it because the murderer is so unloving that he is dangerous to society? Is murder a capital offense because there is no greater display of hatred toward humanity? Murder is the greatest crime that can be committed against humanity because it violates the greatest commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself” in the grossest manner and is therefore a capital offense deserving capital punishment.
What is the greatest crime one can commit? Logically, the greatest crime a man can commit is the violation of the greatest commandment. Is there a commandment greater than “love your neighbor as yourself”? Surely, and logically, the greatest crime that a man can commit is a violation of the greatest commandment against the greatest Being. What is the greatest commandment? Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and foremost commandment (Matthew 22:37-38).
Should the crime of murder, of not loving a fellow man, an equal being, be greater than any crime of not loving God, the greatest Being? Logic demands that there is no greater crime than not loving God and therefore any crime that violates love for God is a capital offense that deserves capital punishment. When Adam disobeyed God and ate of the forbidden fruit he committed a capital offense because of the nature of his crime. Adam failed to keep God’s commandment, violated God’s covenant, and earned death because not loving and obeying God is a capital offense that is greater than not loving and killing a fellow human being. All men who are born naturally into Adam’s race naturally have the same hatred for God and His commandments.
Fifth, the resurrection means that Jesus is the second Adam, born without the agency of a human father in order to bypass imputation of Adam’s sin nature. In order to accomplish obedience to God’s covenant and thereby confirm the covenant promises of God, Jesus would have to live in perfect obedience to the Law of God. However, if Jesus were a natural born descendant of Adam, He would also inherit Adam’s sin nature. Here the purpose of the virginal conception of Jesus is made clear by the redemptive- historical context of the resurrection.
The virginal conception of Jesus also implies the divinity of Jesus. Here the mystery of the hypostatic union or the two natures of Jesus is revealed as one of God’s meanings of the resurrection of Jesus. He is the Son of man and the Son of God in one person. He is fully God and fully man in the one person of Jesus Christ. In order to accomplish God’s covenant with man, the Son of God, with supreme love for God, would have to become the son of man, without a sin nature.
Sixth, the resurrection of Jesus means Jesus is the covenant keeper and redeemer who earned life for Himself and all his offspring by their solidarity with Him through faith. “In the fullness of time, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that he might redeem those who were under the Law” (Galatians 4:4-5). Jesus lived perfectly under the Law of God, kept His covenant, and earned life. Jesus lived in perfect obedience to God because of His perfect love for God doing what Adam did not do and what no natural born descendent of Adam could ever do. As Phillips says, “So we must recognize in Jesus the quality that every other human being since Adam has lacked: utter, comprehensive, all-consuming love for God that flowed from a sinless heart and issued in a flawlessly, perfectly holy life” (The World-Tilting Gospel, 117).
Adam failed to love God with all his heart and as a result he violated God’s command, became a capital offender, and earned death for himself and all his offspring. God’s covenant with Adam was that if he disobeyed he would die. The wages of sin is death. By implication, God’s covenant with Adam meant that if he obeyed he would live. The wages of obedience is life. This truth is expressed in God’s Law given to Israel before the time of Christ. “So you shall keep My statutes and My judgments, by which a man may live if he does them” (Leviticus 18:5).
There is a one major problem though. Adam has already failed to love God and committed a capital offense. All of Adam’s offspring have inherited his sin nature to the point that none are able to obey God and therefore none can earn life (Romans 3:20, 28). All are doomed, unless God has a solution for the dilemma of how He can pardon capital offenders and give them life instead of death, while He remains true in the process.
Here is where the Gospel really becomes offensive and is viewed by those who are perishing as foolishness. God’s solution for the dilemma of how He can pardon capital offenders, giving them life instead of death, is through Penal Substitution. Someone would have to live a perfect life of loving loyalty to God and then suffer the penalty of capital punishment as a sacrifice for and a substitute of capital offenders.
Earl Doherty objects, “But why did he require such an ultimate sacrifice in order to forgive humanity its sins? Is there not, indeed, some logical if not moral contradiction in ‘redeeming’ men of sins like murder through an act of murder on their part? Why did he not embody the act of redemption in something more exemplary, perhaps by having Jesus perform a few thousand hours of community service? What a moral example that would have set” (126).
Others object and say that it is illogical and immoral to execute and innocent man and to set free a capital offender. How can God do this without committing two injustices? After all, God’s Word says, “He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous, both of them alike are an abomination to the Lord” (Proverbs 17:15). The answer is the resurrection! The resurrection not only makes Penal Substitution logical and moral, it is an absolute necessity for God who is truth. God promised life for the one who obeyed His Law. Jesus did obey God’s Law perfectly. The death of Christ was at the hands of sinful men. Men in violation of God’s Law were responsible for the execution of Jesus so that it was not the Law that promised life executing Jesus but godless men (Acts 2:23). Since Jesus was innocent and was dying by God’s plan as a substitute for sinners, His resurrection from the dead was an absolute necessity and certainty (Acts 2:24). The Law of God based on the Word of God owed Jesus life and since it is impossible for God to lie, it was impossible for death to hold its prey.
Penal Substitution is a logical and moral impossibility for any court system in this world. No human court can accomplish justice through Penal Substitution. In its attempt, any human court would become guilty of two injustices. Executing an innocent man is unjust even if the innocent man is willing. Setting free a guilty man on the basis that an innocent man has died in the place of the guilty man is unjust. Without the power to raise men from the dead, Penal Substitution cannot be a justice serving means of pardon. However, with the ability to raise men from the dead, Penal Substitution becomes the only means by which a righteous God can pardon sinners while He maintains justice in the process (Romans 3:23-26).
Doherty’s solution for maintaining justice while pardoning a capital offender is “having Jesus perform a few thousand hours of community service” (126). However, even atheists know that justice has not been served when the punishment does not equal the crime. Doherty’s question, “Should we not expect a just Deity to fashion a punishment fitting the crime?” now needs to be asked to Doherty instead of being asked by Doherty. Under Doherty’s scheme of atonement, God would allow capital offenders to go free without the penalty matching the crime as Doherty claims God should do.
Jesus lived a perfect life under God’s Law to fulfill its precepts, died a sacrificial death to pay the penalty of breaking God’s Law for sinners, and experienced a supernatural resurrection to fulfill the Law’s promise of life for the one who obeyed it. Jesus earned life for Himself and all who have solidarity with Him through faith.
Seventh, the resurrection of Jesus means that He is both Lord and Judge. No explanation needed! God is just, moral, wise, and loving!