11/29/2010

Responses to Some Common Questions on The Gospel

I find a particular set of questions show up when I share the gospel with atheists on the internet. I want to adapt some of those questions as given here and give my answer and / or explanation. The objections are boldface. My comments are regular script.



“God has no right to impose punishment on me because he is the one who made his laws so I could not follow them. The God who makes the laws, decides if you broke the law or not and determines the punishment.”


You assume that the law of God is arbitrary, that God could choose to make the law be whatever He wanted it to be.

God could no more make the moral law in a different way than he could make the laws of mathematics a different way. All of these abstract laws are an expression of His nature and character.

God’s character is the basis for good attitudes. God’s actions are the basis for good behavior. God’s character and morality cannot change because His being cannot change.

God’s knowledge is the basis for the laws of logic, and by consequence the laws of mathematics. He cannot learn or forget. His knowledge is unchanging, and everything He knows must fit together into a coherent account. Logic helps us spot inconsistencies in our own views, the places where our knowledge does not fit together coherently.

God could not make the laws of morality or the laws of logic differently than what they are. God, being who He is, must create as an expression of Himself.

Things being what they are, the laws of morality cannot be any different. We know this intuitively whether we admit it or not. We know some things are right and some things are wrong. That is the way the universe works. We know it full well.

“When a law is created that nobody can follow, it’s a bad law… Violating an impossible law incurs no debt and any punishment is unjustified... a tyrannical king.”

Your argument depends on something forcing you to behave in the way you do, to violate your freedom of choice.

No one or nothing can force you to make any choice. You always choose the very thing you desire most at the time you make a decision in the situation you find yourself in. Your choices in a given situation can be limited, but I cannot ultimately make you do anything.

You always do what you want to do. Your actions are freely chosen according to your most pressing desire at the time you make your choices.

There is nothing outside of us forcing us to sin against our will. It’s not that we cannot keep God’s law; it’s that we will not because we do not want to.

”A gift is something that is freely given with no obligation or conditions upon the recipient… When you put conditions like “faith” on your "gift" it's not one.”

I can buy you a brand new BMW 7 Series luxury car. I can make arrangements with an insurance company to pay the insurance for the next five years. I can make all of the appropriate car tax and licensing fees.

I can then present you the keys. If I hold the keys out in front of you, and you do not take them, you will never drive the car. The gift of the BMW must be received, but it is no less a gift.

Eternal life, unhindered fellowship with God in this life and the next, is a gift freely given. But any gift must be received to be of benefit. That’s the way a gift works.

”How does Christ’s sacrifice pay for my sins, what is it giving up to itself for the payment to have any meaning?”

Anytime someone sins against me, they owe me a debt. Anytime someone sins against me, they break a law and should be punished. It is that way in all human relationships because we are made in the image of God.

If you purposely drive your aforementioned BMW (if I can ever get you to take the keys to the darn thing) into my house, you will damage my house. You owe me for the damage (and probably for emotional suffering). You are ethically obligated to repair the damage to my home.

If I chose to forgive you freely and completely, I have to incur the costs of repairing my home. I must, in effect, pay the penalty for the damage.

If you did purposely drive your BWM into my house you have caused me pain. You should have to suffer yourself for the pain you have inflicted. Almost everyone who has been severely sinned against has felt the right to inflict punishment on the one who has offended him or her.

This right to vengeance is a real moral right. We are just when we require it.

If I choose to forgive you, I choose to experience this pain while giving up my right to vengeance. I suffer the pain your actions have caused me without requiring appropriate pain from you.

God must both pay sin’s penalty and suffer sin’s punishment. Our universe being the kind of universe it is there could be no other way. God just did it by suffering on the cross in the Person of Jesus Christ as a kind of object lesson.

There’s a book on this subject that I would like to recommend: The Reason for God by Timothy Keller. He does a much better job on this topic than me, and much of my answer is borrowed from him.


”Paying for a debt that wouldn't have been incurred had they not inflicted that debt on you in the first place is not a gift…”

Again, this line of thinking depends on the law of God being completely arbitrary and capricious. It assumes things could be different in this universe when those things cannot in fact be different.

It also indirectly assumes that we are not fully aware of this law as we violate it. A person is only responsible for what they know to do. While our awareness of the moral law is never perfect, we have not followed the morality we do in fact admit.

"The one that created the law, decides that it didn't break the law, and uses that decision to pay itself for the debt it claims that you incurred… It just paid itself for the debt/punishment it decided you owe it.”

The law is not arbitrary. It is an unchanging standard that finds its logical ground in the unchanging character of God.

“…the one that is throwing you the life preserver [paying for your sins] is the same one that caused you (and everyone) to start drowning and says you need faith to use it. I would say the person that put you in danger is morally obligated to save you. They have committed a crime...”

Again, nothing outside of us forces us to make any of the choices we make. We are fully and completely responsible for our own actions given the knowledge we have. God can send us all to the hell we so richly deserve and still be fair. He didn’t make us sin.

“Something created us, and you will have faith in it or you will suffer forever. This is motivation by fear.”

You have nothing to fear if you have not freely chosen to sin against God’s law, insofar as you know it to be. But I bet you have done things you know in your heart to be wrong. We all have.

You only have to fear God if you freely choose to reject the gift of salvation He offers you in Christ. No one or nothing can force your rejection. If you reject that offer, you have no one to blame but yourself.

The good news of the gospel destroys the basis for servile fear of God.

2 comments:

Unreasonable Faith from 2009 said...

Please tell me more of what your god can't do.

J. K. Jones said...

God cannot deny Himself. He will not do something that would change His nature. He cannot becuase He will not.

He can't lie.

He can't cease to be.

He can't make a rock bigger than He can lift (It would deny His omnipotence.)

He can't sin.

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