The Cross and the Plausibility of God
Theology & Philosophy1

The Cross and the Plausibility of God

Or, How I Became a Supralapsarian

It is evident enough that there is a principle by which the universe was created and is ordered. This is a point on which little substantial disagreement is possible; one hardly deniable by even the staunchest atheist, whether or not he calls it God. But it is so because it has very little content; hardly more than “the universe exists”. The existence of God the Father, in Trinitarian categories, is uncontroversial, whatever it should be called. The controversy is in the existence of the Word of God; the inbreaking of creator into creation, whereby God uses language to communicate directly to his creation.

Language is an inextricable part of what it means to be human, distinguishing us as much from what is above as from what is below. It is difficult to conceive that the same God who orders the universe would speak to us using our own language: not that he would be unable, but that that mode of interaction with its creation – especially such an infinitesimal part of it – does not necessarily follow from his mere existence. Authors do not typically write themselves into their stories. Were God no more than creator, it would make no difference whether or not anyone believed, for what would belief be but a pattern of atoms in the brain? As creation, we are by nature closer to dust than to God.

“Any relationship that one might have with this God would have to be something other than a natural relationship” (Horton 2006, p. 29). The Word of God therefore, not God himself, is the principal disagreement between the Christian and the atheist. To speak of the consciousness of God, his will, his emotions, is admittedly to speak by way of analogy. But it is of no use to say the same of language. Where God is spoken of as angry or pleased, this is obviously enough a translation from higher to lower, not capturing the essence but something like it. But where God is recorded to have spoken to men, it was actual language, not something merely like language. Regardless of how God may be said to naturally communicate, he has revealed himself specifically using the extant languages of particular people groups.

If the universe is not an act of God but a display of his glory – or the outworking of the principle, if you like – the implausibility of the Word of God come to the earth is in the fact that in the vastness of the universe, earth seems to be an impossibly small part in which to focus that Word. Is not God glorified in the rest of the universe by the simple outworking of his providence? Is human consciousness really so special as to warrant an entirely different mode of interaction between creator and creation?

It is for this reason that theology must be cross-centric – not as a starting point, but as an end. However much God is glorified in the mere creation, redemption is its crown jewel. Why should a sovereign God require sacrifice for sin, or even ordain that sin exist? It is because creation exists for redemption; not the other way around. To conceive of the atonement as a reaction to the fall either binds God by rules greater than himself, or makes atonement arbitrary. Both of these options, for the sake of personalizing the sovereign God, exalt humans on a cosmically absurd pedestal.

To complain therefore of the inhumanity of creation for such a purpose is as futile as to complain of the inhumanity of gravity, or of Planck’s Law. One is decreed no more or less personally than the other. It is to conflate the ordinance of God with the Word of God, the latter of which only can coherently be called just or unjust. It is to attack a fundamentally implausible strawman by smuggling in a false premise.

One Comment

  • 1

    Soren Kierkegaard

    Jun 20, 2012 at 16:14 | Reply

    When I first read this post, I wondered if it had to do with our conversation last night. I just read your subtitle, which answers my question (or at least, I think. It’s not in reaction to last night, right?)

    I think your question in the fourth paragraph, “Is human consciousness really so special as to warrant an entirely different mode of interaction between creator and creation…”is a very interesting one. I have often found the demarcation between humanity and the rest of physical creation to rest along the lines of the mind’s ability to will something other than it’s proper good (i.e. ascetism). Yet, assuming God’s existence and that the Scriptures are a communication from this God to humanity, I think that’s an interesting way of raising the stakes for humanity’s value. Of course, this might often be construed as a power play…whoever possesses God’s Word possesses God’s election, which would also lead one to question who truly possesses God’s Word. These issues aside, you raise an interesting viewpoint.

    I do, however, think that the arguments of the article derail in a few places. You don’t quite explain why God’s mode of communication does not necessarily follow from His existence. I think that you mean to say, from the standpoint of a naturalist, that the world was created as it was does not exclude the possibility that God made it, or that God speaks in a way other than through said creation. For, to a Neo-Platonic Christian, God’s essence does necessitate certain behavior, which I think of as an emanation, due to the absence of possibility in God’s essence. If God is all actuality, then God only does (or is).

    Further, I’m not sure how you get to your point that, assuming these specific conditions for disbelief, the solution is to focus on penal atonement theory. To conceive of atonement as a reaction to the fall actually LIMITS God, because He only chooses one way to display love towards the world…and this display appears eerily similar to the Roman justice system (which, consequentially, obviates a great deal of the Law that Jesus fulfilled). I’m not saying that penal substitution in itself is a pathological way of theorizing Christ’ work on the cross…but that collapsing God’s work down to one view of one part of Christ’ heilsgeschichte really limits our view of God.

    Also, I don’t think that you must necessarily conceive of God as unlimited. At least, one might say that God is self-bound, as in, God only works according to His own logic (so, God cannot make a wall that He cannot break through…or, God cannot become/do evil). And even if God is unlimited, there are other options than that He chose the fall and redemption to reveal something to creation. How about, God enacts historical events simultaneously…that rather than God being prior to both the fall and the crucifixion, God exists outside of both and views them at the same time, responding to both in their own moments. This actually purports a God more different from deism than supralapsarianism, especially if God is seen as planning the fall and redemption, then deterministically setting the historical events in motion. Even further, what does this say about the person of the Son? Is He not making choices in the moment? How is He fully divine if His fate was determined alongside everyone else’s? Is He fully divine (in the Calvinistic sense), or does He actually suffer with the cross in Gethsemane?

    And I would almost argue that penal substitution, alongside of the hyper-Calvinistic sovereignty of God, makes anything other than atonement arbitrary. Why did the Son have to be fully human and divine…i.e., why the Incarnation? Why resurrection? If the cross is the only lens through which we might view God, then why was Christ resurrected? Wasn’t the death itself enough? Why the Ascension, or why the return?

    I think that the exploration of the relationship between a naturalistic and supernatural (or super-in-natural) worldview is important. Especially in that, many people even view God through the rules of naturalism now. Your point about domesticating God is both valid and relevant. I just think such an exploration must occur in a broader scope…not assuming modern rules from which to play the game, but superseding those rules to play the game in a different way.

    We need not explain away natural determinism by showing how God is the True Determinist. Rather, we see how a deterministic view of the world is limited by its own rules, whereas God is only limited by Himself. How can we supersede the rules of modernity? I have some ideas, but I’ve been writing for too long and I need to emerge from my cave for a while.

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Hi, I'm C. Harwick, an economics PhD student in Virginia with an interest in monetary theory, web development, and folk music.

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Aug0214:25RT @StanCarey: No, they haven't, and no, it doesn't.…
Aug0214:17In other words: nature vs. nurture is significant at the margin, not as some immutable quality of human genetics.

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