12 Lifetimes and 3,318 Years Is Not Enough

August 27, 2015 § 8 Comments

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The headline Colorado Movie Gunman Sentenced to 12 Lifetimes and 3,318 Years should tell us a lot about our own God-given sense of justice. It clearly extends far beyond this lifetime. James Holmes murdered 12 people and wounded another 70 when he opened fire in a movie theater in 2012. The jury couldn’t unanimously agree over the death penalty, so Holmes got the maximum life sentence. Logically, one lifetime would be enough to keep him behind bars for eternity, but our sense of eternity (Ecc. 3:11) and justice (Job 37:23) seems to surpass the limits of this world. Our dissatisfaction with human justice is a reflection of the court of the divine. We are made in the image of a God who is by nature the essence of justice, and that we would intuitively recognize grave injustice and seek to satisfy it by such extremes demonstrates this very truth. We know there must be more to it.

[Related post: Plus Infinity]

Should Justice Scalia’s Convictions Surprise Us? You Be the Judge

October 11, 2013 § Leave a comment

480px-Antonin_Scalia_official_SCOTUS_portraitA bold worldview commitment in public figures is surprising these days. At least that’s the impression I got from a recent interview with Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia by New York Magazine’s Jennifer Senior. Scalia is a committed Catholic and Senior is an Atheist (how committed is uncertain).

CONSTITUTIONAL ORIGINALISM

Early in the interview the 27-year conservative judge talks about his ‘originalist’ approach to finding meaning in the U.S. Constitution. Originalism is “the belief that the United States Constitution should be interpreted in the way the authors originally intended it.”

Interviewer: Had you already arrived at originalism as a philosophy?

Scalia: I don’t know when I came to that view. I’ve always had it, as far as I know. Words have meaning. And their meaning doesn’t change. I mean, the notion that the Constitution should simply, by decree of the Court, mean something that it didn’t mean when the people voted for it—frankly, you should ask the other side the question! How did they ever get there?

Interviewer: But as law students, they were taught that the Constitution evolved, right? You got that same message consistently in class, yet you had other ideas.

Scalia: I am something of a contrarian, I suppose. I feel less comfortable when everybody agrees with me. I say, “I better reexamine my position!” I probably believe that the worst opinions in my court have been unanimous. Because there’s nobody on the other side pointing out all the flaws.

Interviewer: Really? So if you had the chance to have eight other justices just like you, would you not want them to be your colleagues?

Scalia: No. Just six.

Interviewer: That was a serious question!

Scalia: What I do wish is that we were in agreement on the basic question of what we think we’re doing when we interpret the Constitution. I mean, that’s sort of rudimentary. It’s sort of an embarrassment, really, that we’re not. But some people think our job is to keep it up to date, give new meaning to whatever phrases it has. And others think it’s to give it the meaning the people ratified when they adopted it. Those are quite different views.

Constitutional Originalism and Biblical Literalism are not quite the same thing. The Constitution is a man-made document prone to moral error, even though our intent was to base it on Biblical moral principals. In some rulings, Scalia at one point wishes he had a stamp that reads: “Stupid, but Constitutional.” It’s not perfect. Biblical Literalism seeks the original meaning of God’s Word, which is perfect. There is a process for changing the Constitution; there is no such process for the Bible.

Christians can relate to the common principal of the two: seeking the original intent of the author. Modern liberalism embraces relativism, attempting to operate on the self-defeating principal that there are no immutable principals. If we are going to say the Constitution has authority, we can’t interpret based on the intent of the interpreters over and against the authors, unless through ratification we become additional authors. Some may want to ratify Scripture, but the best that can be done is to disregard its authority. Actually, that’s the worst thing we can do (Genesis 3), but a secularized society is surprised when people like Scalia show a regard for authority and truth, and that meaning matters.

THE POPE’S COMMENTS ON DIVISIVE ISSUES

Interviewer: I’m not inviting you to run down the pope. But what do you think of his recent comments, that the church ought to focus less on divisive issues and more on helping the poor?

Scalia: I think he’s absolutely right. I think the church ought to be more evangelistic.

Interviewer: But he also wanted to steer its emphasis away from homosexuality and abortion.

Scalia: Yeah. But he hasn’t backed off the view of the church on those issues. He’s just saying, “Don’t spend all our time talking about that stuff. Talk about Jesus Christ and evangelize.” I think there’s no indication whatever that he’s changing doctrinally.

I spent my junior year in Switzerland. On the way back home, I spent some time in England, and I remember going to Hyde Park Corner. And there was a Roman Catholic priest in his collar, standing on a soapbox, preaching the Catholic faith and being heckled by a group. And I thought, My goodness. I thought that was admirable. I have often bemoaned the fact that the Catholic church has sort of lost that evangelistic spirit. And if this pope brings it back, all the better.

Interviewer: The one thing I did think, as he said those somewhat welcoming things to gay men and women, is, ‘Huh, this really does show how much our world has changed.’ I was wondering what kind of personal exposure you might have had to this sea change.

Scalia: I have friends that I know, or very much suspect, are homosexual. Everybody does.

Interviewer: Have any of them come out to you?

Scalia: No. No. Not that I know of.

Interviewer: Has your personal attitude softened some [toward homosexuality]?

Scalia: I don’t think I’ve softened. I don’t know what you mean by softened.

Interviewer: If you talk to your grandchildren, they have different opinions from you about this, right?

Scalia: I don’t know about my grandchildren. I know about my children. I don’t think they and I differ very much. But I’m not a hater of homosexuals at all. I still think it’s Catholic teaching that it’s wrong. Okay? But I don’t hate the people that engage in it. In my legal opinions, all I’ve said is that I don’t think the Constitution requires the people to adopt one view or the other.

Interviewer: There was something different about your DOMA opinion, I thought. It was really pungent, yes, but you seemed more focused on your colleagues’ jurisprudence. You didn’t talk about a gay lobby, or about the fact that people have the right to determine what they consider moral. In Lawrence v. Texas, you said Americans were within their rights in “protecting themselves and their families from a lifestyle that they believe to be immoral and destructive.” 

Scalia: I would write that again. But that’s not saying that I personally think it’s destructive. Americans have a right to feel that way. They have a democratic right to do that, and if it is to change, it should change democratically, and not at the ukase [a mandate or decree] of a Supreme Court.

Interviewer: Whatever you think of the opinion, Justice ­Kennedy is now the Thurgood Marshall of gay rights. 

Scalia: [Nods.]

Interviewer: I don’t know how, by your lights, that’s going to be regarded in 50 years. 

Scalia: I don’t know either. And, frankly, I don’t care. Maybe the world is spinning toward a wider acceptance of homosexual rights, and here’s Scalia, standing athwart it. At least standing athwart it is a constitutional entitlement. But I have never been custodian of my legacy. When I’m dead and gone, I’ll either be sublimely happy or terribly unhappy.

With refreshing clarity, Scalia rightly reflects a Biblical view of homosexuality, separating the sin from the sinner, as well as that of the current law of the land: American citizens are not constitutionally obligated to accept homosexuality as normal. He is unashamed and unapologetic of this view, which is as he points out is nothing new in what the pope or his catholic church teaches. Popular opinion and the current “sea change” won’t change his conviction of unchanging truth.

HEAVEN, HELL, THE DEVIL AND JESUS

Interviewer: You believe in heaven and hell?

Scalia: Oh, of course I do. Don’t you believe in heaven and hell?

Interviewer: No.

Scalia: Oh, my.

Interviewer: Does that mean I’m not going?

Scalia: [Laughing.] Unfortunately not!

Interviewer: Wait, to heaven or hell?

Scalia: It doesn’t mean you’re not going to hell, just because you don’t believe in it. That’s Catholic doctrine! Everyone is going one place or the other.

Interviewer: But you don’t have to be a Catholic to get into heaven? Or believe in it?

Scalia: Of course not!

Interviewer: Oh. So you don’t know where I’m going. Thank God.

Scalia: I don’t know where you’re going. I don’t even know whether Judas Iscariot is in hell. I mean, that’s what the pope meant when he said, “Who am I to judge?” He may have recanted and had severe penance just before he died. Who knows?

Interviewer: Can we talk about your drafting process—

Scalia: [Leans in, stage-whispers.] I even believe in the Devil.

Interviewer: You do?

Scalia: Of course! Yeah, he’s a real person. Hey, c’mon, that’s standard Catholic doctrine! Every Catholic believes that.

Interviewer: Every Catholic believes this? There’s a wide variety of Catholics out there …

Scalia: If you are faithful to Catholic dogma, that is certainly a large part of it.

Interviewer: Have you seen evidence of the Devil lately?

Scalia: You know, it is curious. In the Gospels, the Devil is doing all sorts of things. He’s making pigs run off cliffs, he’s possessing people and whatnot. And that doesn’t happen very much anymore.

Interviewer: No.

Scalia: It’s because he’s smart.

Interviewer: So what’s he doing now?

Scalia: What he’s doing now is getting people not to believe in him or in God. He’s much more successful that way.

Interviewer: That has really painful implications for atheists. Are you sure that’s the ­Devil’s work?

Scalia: I didn’t say atheists are the Devil’s work.

Interviewer: Well, you’re saying the Devil is ­persuading people to not believe in God. Couldn’t there be other reasons to not believe?

Scalia: Well, there certainly can be other reasons. But it certainly favors the Devil’s desires. I mean, c’mon, that’s the explanation for why there’s not demonic possession all over the place. That always puzzled me. What happened to the Devil, you know? He used to be all over the place. He used to be all over the New Testament. … He got wilier.

Interviewer: Isn’t it terribly frightening to believe in the Devil?

Scalia: You’re looking at me as though I’m weird. My God! Are you so out of touch with most of America, most of which believes in the Devil? I mean, Jesus Christ believed in the Devil! It’s in the Gospels! You travel in circles that are so, so removed from mainstream America that you are appalled that anybody would believe in the Devil! Most of mankind has believed in the Devil, for all of history. Many more intelligent people than you or me have believed in the Devil.

Interviewer: I hope you weren’t sensing contempt from me. It wasn’t your belief that surprised me so much as how boldly you expressed it.

Religion aside (if that’s possible), even conservatism implies that there us something in our convictions worth conserving. Even progressives are conservative in this way. Here we have a Supreme Court judge frankly talking theology, and nothing new and groundbreaking at that. Scalia implies that “mainstream America” believes in the Devil, but I think that depends on which mainstream America he means. Regardless, he is relaying simple, historic Christianity. Truthfully speaking your worldview is certainly permitted and particularly Constitutional. But it’s just that kind of boldness, spoken not only on Sundays, but in the context of Scalia’s career, that Secularism finds surprising and weird.

That may be the thing about Christian worldview conviction that surprises atheists the most. From a secular viewpoint, religion is something that ought to be compartmentalized to one area of your life, if you choose to be religious at all. But committed believers like Justice Scalia and other committed believers don’t relegate religion to church on Sunday or the confines of their family gatherings. We see his candid religious honesty and boldness on the job. And not just any job, but in a very high-profile public position with the United States government, a place many feel should above all be bereft of religiosity. Scalia living out his faith in public shocks Secularists. This reveals Secularism itself as a religion, one that is practiced seven days a week by it’s devoted adherents. No doubt, if worldview matters, we will carry it with us wherever we go.

What Would a Loving and Forgiving God Do?

August 31, 2012 § 1 Comment

A post on an atheist’s Facebook page makes the following claim:

If god is all loving and forgiving, would he forgive someone for not believing in him, without being asked? If not, then he is not all loving and forgiving. If so, no one need to believe nor worship him.

Christian response:

The first assumption is flawed because it implies that God is only loving and forgiving. He is also righteous and just.

If a loving and forgiving judge lets a criminal go free without retribution, would he be a good judge, or a criminal himself?

Atheist:

Hebrews 10:17-18: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more. And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.” And Hebrews 8:12: “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

…the Christian god lets criminals go without retribution all the time. That’s pretty much his biggest selling point.

Christian:

The central point of Christianity is that Christ took on the retribution we deserved, in our place. The payment for our sin was paid in full, “once for all.” (Hebrews 10:1-18)

Jesus Christ was God, so the payment was adequate to cover our crimes, and He became a man so that He could suffer on our behalf.

The righteousness and justice of God requires that the penalty for sin must be paid, but His love is what caused Him to make that payment for us. Our willing acceptance of that free gift is where forgiveness comes in.

Atheist:

God can do whatever he wants, there is no rule book that he has to follow…he writes the rules (theoretically). Isn’t it more admirable to forgive unconditionally than to require a payment to be made? Real forgiveness doesn’t require payment. I think you might be confusing justice with forgiveness. I could go on and on about how crazy it is that a god would create humans with free will and then eternally torture them for actually using it…

Christian:

Thanks for the reply, these are great things to think about. I can tell you have. 🙂 God can’t change what is logically necessary (1+1=2) because logic is part of His nature (so if that is a “rule,” then no, God doesn’t “write” them, rather they’re conditions that extend from who He is). That crime must be paid for is actually a logically necessary state of affairs, and this makes sense when we look at where law comes from.

Only God can forgive sin (Mark 2:6,7 & Luke 5:21) because sin is a violation of God’s moral law, which is rooted in the nature of God. His law was broken and only He would have the authority to forgive. But even when God forgives, a payment must still be made. So of course there are conditions to God’s forgiveness. A guilty sinner can pay for his crimes by God’s judgment, or he can accept the payment that God provided through the atoning sacrifice of His Son on the cross (1 John 2:2) by repentance and faith. Either way, the debt is satisfied.

When a government makes civil laws (usually based on an understanding of an undergirding moral law, but that’s a separate discussion), we fully expect there to be payment for breaking those laws too, in the form of a fine or retribution. When it doesn’t happen, we cry foul. That’s because being made in the image of God (Gen. 1:27), we have an innate understanding of justice and the truth that crime requires payment.

On a personal level, we can forgive people, but not their sin. In the case of, for example, a physical assault, we can “let it go” and forgive the offender “unconditionally”, but the laws they have broken in their offense are a separate issue. Breaking God’s moral law is an offense against God. Breaking civil law is an offense against the state. Forgiveness is a renunciation of the violation, which happens within the context of justice (so yes, they are separate doctrines) but the violation must always be addressed in order for justice to be done.

It’s also logically necessary for there to be the possibility of sinful choices in the context of free will (and we would not want to imagine a world without freedom). “I could go on and on about how crazy it is” that God, moved by love for sinful people, provided a perfect Solution to the problem that everybody faces. Payment for sin is required, but the good news is it’s available from Christ, because we can’t come up with it ourselves.

Atheist:

I love how god and be forgiving and unforgiving, loving and unloving, just and unjust, logical and illogical depending on what verse you read in the Bible. You can pretty much use it to say whatever you want. But a big thing that bothers me about this god is that he would eternally punish a morally good person forever, but lavish blessing and paradise on a mass murderer for what? Belief. What is so good about belief? And really, what ‘sin’ is so bad that it would warrant eternal torture? That’s not true justice. I can understand serving a few lifetimes, but infinity? You lost me…

Christian:

God can be forgiving of repentant sinners and unforgiving of unrepentant sinners. There is no problem there, just as there is no problem with Him loving sinners but hating sin. Nowhere in Scripture though do we find God being unjust or illogical. (I am curious by what standard on atheism or naturalism that you would consider God to be either of those anyway).

In reality, there is no such thing as a “morally good person” because all have fallen short of God’s standard of good (Rom. 3:10,23). For those who want nothing to do with God, being eternally separated from Him in hell is really just a continuation of that person’s desires in this lifetime—God is really giving the sinner what he wants. I almost wonder if damned souls would actually get used to “torture” after a while. Either way, I think the severity of hell matches the true severity of sin, but it would take a heart that was ready for repentance to actually see the true severity of sin against a holy God.

Forget about earning your way to heaven, as your question “what is so good about belief?” implies. The message of the gospel is that there is nothing we can do to earn our way to a perfect God. I certainly don’t deserve it. That’s why He provided a way through Christ, the only perfect sacrifice. Belief is not something we use to buy our way, but the way we, using our free will, choose to follow Christ, recognize that sin has been paid for and enter into a relationship with Him—something that God desires all along. We can get hung up on the severity of God’s judgment and the simplicity of belief in Christ as the answer. Or we can recognize that yes, judgment is severe, but belief is simple: A loving and forgiving God made a way out of God’s judgment and into His presence that is simple enough for anyone to understand.

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