Thursday, March 15, 2012

Integrating Infinity over Orthogonal Dimensions: The Cross as a Coordinate Transform (Or, how does a temporal event like the cross affect eternal salvation?)

So I am teaching a little apologetics class with Dan[1] this year. For the last session, instead of taking on a single big question, we are going to take turns doing 3 minute response to a dozen questions. We collected questions from the students and split them up. I thought I might float a couple of the more novel/experimental answers here before I offered them to the class. Here is one of the questions I’ll be fielding:

How could Jesus’ temporary punishment/death be exchanged for our eternal punishment?[2]

I think the answer is that on the cross, an infinite being experiences a temporally limited (but cosmic) punishment . You see, infinity is embedded on both sides of the equations, but in different variables. The infinite God’s temporal suffering offsets human (for all n, because it is a finite set) punishment, which is eternal but acts on finite beings. In other ‘words’:

Where x is a measure of the breath/size/scope/sentience/sensitivity of the being and t is a measure of time. A suffering God is a non-temporal infinite. The cross could be thought of [3] as a coordinate transform…bringing the infinity of the ‘spatial scale’ to act upon our infinite temporal scale.

It could also be argued that the magnitude of the punishment on the cross is itself an infinite quantity. The cross was the un-Godding of God. In our Trinitarian model, the cross represents a space-time event [4] in which God experiences God-deprivation.[5] That is a deprivation of infinite magnitude. Or:

where t is time and p is the magnitude of the punishment. A temporally limited infinite magnitude is exchanged for quantity that is temporally infinite but finite in magnitude.

This was posted while listening to The King Is Dead[8] by The Decemberists


[1] The college pastor and my teaching partner in the campus ministry we are involved with.

[2] The very issue of eternal punishment is its own question that deserves careful definition, canonical and historical analysis, and a truck load of nuance. I realize that this is the more important question. But if we could just posit some classical form of the Christian message that the events of good Friday and Easter somehow provide a means for humans to avoid a mysterious but decidedly suboptimal eternal state…it would allow me to address the question without setting a record for my footnote/post ratio (which as it is, came in >2).

[3] Crassly, reductionistally, and, perhaps, blasphemously. But come on, what is more Cartesian than a cross. It is the very symbol of orthogonal coordinate systems.

[4] Of course there is the whole problem that the question is based on the assumption that God experiences time in the same way that we do, and that the cross actually ‘took an afternoon to unflold’ when God’s relationship to time is, at best, murky. There is also the question of what happened between the cross and the resurrection…which I refuse to touch…even if the creed seemingly inexplicably goes there.

[5] This is a common metaphor used for the mystery of post-mortem existence. The picture goes like this. Those who find God excessive or unnecessary in this life will be granted their wish ‘on the other side’. Eternity comes in two states, Godded and un-Godded. So ‘eternal punishment’ is really just a radically independent existence in a godless state. Relegation to a God-free eternity is not a vindictive revenge but an honest respect for the dignity of human choice. The jaded lover who has been relentless in pursuit finally acknowledges that the loved has the right to go on without the pursuer even if it is to his or her detriment. CS Lewis paints a picture of ‘hell’ in which the inhabitants suspect that they got the better end of the deal…because they get what they always wanted, radical independence.[6] The opportunity for self actualization without meddling.

So, again, back to the math God’s temporal godlessness (sending a temporal rift cleaving the Trinity and inflicting God-deprivation [7]on God) is an appropriate exchange for the infinite God-deprivation which is how our instance on our independence would play out.

[6] footnote to footnote 1: Leading to his classical formulation “Hell is locked from the inside.”

[7] footnote to footnote2: We often talk about the punishment that Jesus experienced on the cross and his separation from God, but it seems like the Father and Spirit would have experienced equal and opposite anguish in being separated from the son.

[8] Two things, (1) I just realized that this is a surpisingly aptly titled soundtrack for this post (and "Don't carry it all" may be the perfect track to accompany this little experiment and (2) amd I the only one who can't get into the Alt-Country version of The Decemberists?


JMBower said...

Excellence as usual. I think the only part I'm qualifid to comment on is the Decemberists. I didn't see it as much alt-country as HEAVILY REM influenced. More jangly rock. Though now listening back to a couple tracks, yeah, there's some twang in there. That being said, I did like that it wasn't all concertina laced maritime vengeance songs, and saw it as a logical progression back from the abyss of the last album. The 1990's Georgia rock-pop sound is a good counterpoint to the proggy 70's rock opera of the last go round. So, yeah, I am into it. But not as much as Crane Wife, admittedly.
As per the cross, I tried to make some clever comment regarding line equations where Y(aweh)=M(iraculous)X+b, but couldn't think of anyting clever for X and never got around to B. Your mileage may vary.

Ian Spencer said...

So basically an adaption of Anselm's ideas to a penal substitution model? I wonder how the question and its answer would look if one used a different model of atonement. As far as God and time on the cross go, I would say that Christ in his human nature does experience it in just the same way we do, whereas his "experience" in his divine nature is radically unlike ours, being temporally transcendent and hence not subject to temporal variation (this is probably not the right word for an eternal being who probably does not apprehend things indirectly through experiences). However, it is still the single divine subject undergoing both. I'm still suspicious, though, about the idea of a rift in the trinity or Jesus being actually God-deprived, since I'm not really sure what people mean when they say things like that!

stanford said...

Justin, Right? What was that last album? But I’m going to disagree with one thing. This album could have used a 9 minute maritime revenge epic! :) But I realized yesterday that The King is Dead might bet their most thematically spiritual album…almost to the point that if I give it some careful consideration it might warrant a post. So I’ve decided to give it a little more effort than I gave the last one.

Also, I loved your shot at Biblical math. I cheated and came up with:

(Y)ahweh = (m)ystery of (X)istos + (b)odily

I cheated and used a Greek Chi for my X (which I rendered a Ch in my daughter’s name…so not really fair). But it leads into Ian’s thoughts…so I went with it.

Ian, I was hoping you’d weigh in between your current work on Christology and your expertise on the philosophy of time I was sure you’d have something useful to add.

Here’s the deal with my Christology. I am 30% Ansalemic (so this is a defense of that particular metaphor, even if it is historically novel…with novel being 1000 years old…not Darby novel, but novel none the less). But it is still my dominant metaphor (I’m ~25% Christus Victor, 10% Moral Example and 10% Adoption (of the ‘we have been adopted’ variety not the ‘adoptionist’ heresy, 10% other – e.g. the Eastern position that I don’t fully understand yet).

I think these are all partial metaphors for the mystery of the cross (note, they don’t add up to 100%) and you can’t have a robust Christology without all of these components. But I’m a good little evangelical in seeing ‘exchange’ as the slightly dominant metaphor in the text. So I wanted to go to work on it.

And so when I say that God was ungodded, I don’t mean that Christ’s fully dual nature was altered in any way, but that he was somehow deprived of his connection with the other persons of God (which, I think is on pretty firm textual grounds). I use the phrase in reference to my Doctrine of God not my Christology. But mainly I use the phrase cryptically, because any precise positive language about the Trinity either flirts with heresy or plunges into it. As you know, the doctrine of the Trinity (like the doctrine of Christ) is a “though shall not pass” fence around a mystery. The Ecumenical counsels tell us what is out of bounds but do not fundamentally explain God-mechanics.

So when you say that ‘the ungodding of God’ is an ambiguous phrase, my response is ‘phew’ – precision puts orthodoxy in peril in these waters. But it is a really important clarification (if I understand your concern with the language) that I am describing dynamics between the three persons not dynamics of the two natures.

Ian Spencer said...

Thanks, Stan! Although the philosopher in me is keen to tease out what sort of a rift is even possible between consubstantial persons (I think this might actually require some difference between human and divine natures as I don't see how a rift of any sort could exist on the divine level, but that might be okay since there are all sorts of tensions between the natures already - such as omniscience in divine nature but not in human, etc). I agree, though, that all the models of atonement are important and necessary to capture the fullness of the atonement. Just as a side note, I think it's interesting that people tend not to clearly differentiate between Anselm's view and penal substitution since Anselm explicitly argues against that sort of view, which many argue only really came into its own with the Reformers. According to Anselm, Christ made satisfaction for us (a person can make satisfaction for another) but did not take our punishment (which on his view is impossible, but this can be freely waived by God). Satisfaction and Penal Substitution both involve substitution but the mechanics are a little different (other non-penal yet still substitutionary models are also possible). There are various versions of the Eastern view. A classic one is that Christ did not simply take on A human nature but rather human nature ITSELF. By uniting human nature to the divine nature and through this divinizing it, he opened the path for us to undergo that process since human nature itself has been healed and we too can be united with the divine nature (though not hypostatically - that is, not in a single person). This process for the Eastern church, theosis, just is salvation for them. It's a bit more complicated of course, since the healing of human nature involved going through an entire human life, death, and resurrection following so as to heal every aspect of human life, but that's the gist of it.

Anonymous said...

Another possible response is that the gift of salvation is an unsolvable, grand mystery! (Cf. Rom. 11:33-34; 2 Cor. 9:15)