Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The atoning death of the 2nd person of the Trinity...

Christianity (or at least most branches of it) claims that God is three persons in one being, the Trinity. And it (or at least most branches of it) also teaches that Jesus Christ, the second person of this Trinity, died on the cross as an atoning sacrifice on our behalf, and was resurrected to life three days later. Christianity (or at least...) also teaches that there is a part of a person which survives death, that is, the soul. Now some (but by no means most) versions of Christianity claim that Jesus went to hell during his three days dead, while some (but...) claim that hell, by definition, is a place where God is not.

So put all that together. The result is incoherent.

Who or what really died on the cross? The one being of the Godhead? No, merely one of the three persons. But if that person is inexplicably and inseparably linked to the other two persons, then how could he die without them also dying? Or did the Trinity get reduced to a Binity for three days? Surely nobody who holds to the idea of the Trinity could accept that? But if the second person of the Trinity didn't separate from the life of the other two, then what was it that died?

And what was actually sacrificed? Jesus was apparently without a physical body for somewhere less than 36 hours, and then got a better body. That doesn't actually seem like a sacrifice, more like an inconvenience. An exceptionally painful inconvenience, I'll give you that, but not actually a sacrifice. The whole point of sacrifice is to give up something that you don't get back again. Ever. So the resurrection completely undoes the sacrifice. Its like me putting a tenner in the offering plate on a Sunday and then coming back on Wednesday to reclaim the tenner, and actually getting fifteen pounds back. No significant sacrifice, certainly not when viewed on the eternal timescale.

And what about the 'harrowing of hell' thing? If God went to hell, then surely hell ceased to be hell. By definition. Maybe Rob Bell is right and

everyone

gets

to

go

to

heaven?

I've got no major point to make here other than that when you scrutinise some of the doctrines of Christianity, they don't actually work. And especially, when you try and harmonise them, they don't always work together.

For what its worth, having wrestled with both issues over the past few years, I no longer find either the doctrine of the atonement or the doctrine of the Trinity actually makes sense. It may be that someone died on a cross two thousand years ago, but I can no longer accept that that person was inseparably part of God or that there could be any transaction in that death which took my place in some death that I should actually have died myself. There would be no justice in such a deal.

5 comments:

Mike McQuaid said...

Good post. Penal substitution doesn't work fundamentally because sacrifice is generally about renouncing personal power for a greater good and (as you point out) Jesus seems to get more power anyway.

I think it's yet another clash of omnis; Jesus truly sacrificing himself for mankind in a way that he lost something never regained would make him omnibenevolent but not omnipotent and the "temporary inconvenience" model you point out makes him omnipotent but not really omnibenevolent.

This, I think is the key reason these theologies end up in a mess: when you insist on making every part of God equal and every part of God infinite in every way you think of as good/powerful/better than mankind (e.g. infinitely big, infinitely powerful, infinitely knowledgable etc.) and try and reconcile that with a man who died seemingly unnecessarily and horribly (and the people who die and suffer daily seemingly unnecessarily and horribly) you're going to end up with a whole lot of contradictions.

To use the independence language I'm happier thinking of Jesus/God as e.g. potent-max rather than omnipotent.

KWRegan said...

Have you studied the notion of quantum superposition?

Ricky Carvel said...

No. Please explain.

KWRegan said...

OK. The simplest example involves electrons, for which a so-called "spin measurement" gives the answers "up" or "down", with nothing in-between. The state of the electron at any time is represented as

a*"up" + b*"down"

where a and b are complex numbers such that |a|^2 + |b|^2 = 1. The "equal superposition" which is called "+" has

a = b = 1/sqrt(2) = about 0.707.

Now the general state is commonly described as a "combination" of the two basis states, with lurid allusion to cats being half-alive and half-dead, but I take a realist rather than consciousness-driven stance here. The state just is what it is. We can describe it as 70.7% up and 70.7% down. But---and here's the one concession to relativism---if you choose what's called the "+/-" basis instead of the "up"/"down" basis, the same state is 100% "+".

The punch line, though, is that if you wish to reason about the algorithmic objective of a quantum computer, you really should think of the state as being "fully up and fully down". The .707 factor gets taken outside. Within a quantum algorithm, that's what the state is for purpose of phenomenology. Ultimately this is why billions of research dollars are being targeted to the idea that quantum computers can speed up the time for certain tasks (still a very select few, but the code-breaking power in the movie "Sneakers" is one of them).

Does this explication of Nature help answer some of your difficulty with the nature of Jesus? Well, I like to joke that I do affirm he was "at least 70.7% God and at least 70.7% man" and figure the rest is rounding up :-).

Note---to be careful, I'm not talking about the Trinity as (including) a superposition of Father+Son; I'm addressing only the human-divine connection. To continue on that, we should go to John 1---I recall your stated interest in writing a post on the Logos idea, for which you may consult this young-adult book written with his daughter Lucy. I'll try to answer other things in your interesting post from the theology end, but my own best-appointment is to contribute what I can from the science end, as I said early on.

Best, ---Ken R.

KWRegan said...

Whoops, I muffed two HTML links. The first "this" is my essay "John Donne Meets Google". The second is a children's book by Stephen Hawking with his daughter Lucy, in which the hero is "resurrected" out of a black hole.