I came across an article by Ray Comfort that purports to explain why the killing of Jesus as payment for the sins of man makes sense. The question that had been posed to him is this:
I would like to ask you a couple of relevant questions pertaining to the ‘sacrifice’ of Jesus and its purpose. Please logically explain why an omnipotent, omniscient, and omni benevolent God would need to sacrifice Himself (as Jesus) to Himself (God) in order to forgive man of sins against Him (God)? The entire premise seems totally absurd. - ChuckThis is a question that has been asked many times by people who are trying to make sense of the most fundamental tenets of Christianity, when ordinary logic doesn't seem to suffice. If you can step back from any ideological attachment to those religious tenets, and take an objective look at them, it really is a bizarre thing to say that God demands this sacrifice. Perhaps Comfort can shed some light on it where others have failed. Let's hear what he has to say.
First, Comfort describes an analogous scenario where Chuck is in big trouble with the law because he has committed numerous serious violations, and the judge has levied a massive fine on the offender. But Chuck has a dear friend, who knows he can't possibly pay the fine, so this friend sells everything he has, then steps in and pays the fine, and Chuck is then free to go. But there are some problems with this analogy. First, it's reasonable to ask just how serious Chuck's crimes are. In this scenario, they were described as driving violations - drunk driving, driving with a suspended license, and gross speeding. These crimes are bad, but certainly not the worst kind of crime that one could commit. They wouldn't merit the death penalty. But Comfort is likening the penalty for these crimes, a fine, to something more like the death penalty, or even worse - it is eternal damnation. If you are facing a fine, you may be able to get someone to pay it for you, but if you are facing the death penalty, or even just a prison term, it doesn't work that way. You can't have someone else step into your shoes and take the punishment for you. In the Christian view, the sins of man must be very serious indeed, because the punishment is much worse than a fine. It is eternal damnation. The payment amounts to something more than your friend selling the shirt off his back and all his possessions. Is it something that anyone else could pay on your behalf?
But Comfort never answers the question of why the sacrifice of Jesus should alleviate the rest of us from the guilt our own sins. Going back to his analogy with the fine that has to be paid, we can say that if someone makes the payment on your behalf, you should still be indebted to that person, and still responsible for paying him back. So the punishment is delayed, but not evaded. On the other hand, if the punishment is imprisonment or death, that's not something that someone else can pay in your stead. The judge expects you to to bear the punishment yourself, and nobody else can do that for you. That wouldn't serve the cause of justice. And Comfort deftly evades this question.
This brings us to the next issue. Perhaps Chuck didn't even know that he was in so much trouble, and Comfort acknowledges that, but assures us that he really was:
In your drunken atheistic stupor you have ignored the clear warning signs of your violated conscience, and you have sped with reckless abandon into sin. ... He has seen your lust ..., fornication, lies, anger, blasphemy and rebellion. - ComfortThis seems to be placing blame on atheists for their lack of belief, but it also highlights a bigger issue: not everybody is guilty of these sins, or at least not everyone carries the same degree of guilt. Certainly, there are people (like my mother) who would be described metaphorically as saints. These are not people who have "sped with reckless abandon into sin". And yet, without being saved, they are facing the same eternal damnation as the rest of us. Why is that? Comfort's answer is interesting. He says that because our sins are against God, the punishment must be severe, regardless of the nature of the crime.
Even though it’s the same crime, the penalty increases according to the importance of the one to whom I am lying. - ComfortSo as far as he's concerned, the minor transgression of a saintly person is no different from from a life of crime and depravity. They both deserve an eternity in hell. But even more bizarre than that, he seems to be saying that if you commit some transgression, but it is only an act against a lowly person, and not an act against God, then it wouldn't merit the same severe punishment. What Comfort is telling us is that the punishment that one deserves for his sin has nothing to do with the nature of the crime, but is purely a function of the power and authority of the aggrieved party. Talk about being morally bankrupt.
Comfort then asks "So, how can your fine be paid?" He makes the assumption that the sinner can't possibly pay the price that God demands, as if a wicked person spending an eternity in hell isn't enough to satisfy the blood-lust of this wrathful being. What God really wants is the blood of the innocent.
So what is precious enough to pay your fine and justify you so that you are free from the wrath of God’s Law? Here’s where the sacrifice makes sense. - ComfortIn order to save the sinner from an eternity in hell, God demands the life of one who is innocent - whose blood is pure and free from sin. And that is Jesus, of course. But here again, the logic doesn't add up. Why would God demand this sacrifice when he has already declared human sacrifice to be a "murderous act"? Even Comfort acknowledges this. And the Old testament makes it pretty clear. God considers human sacrifice, and especially the sacrifice of one's children, to be an abomination. See Deuteronomy 12:30-32, or Leviticus 20:1-2, or 2 Kings 16:1-4, or Leviticus 20:3-6. And not only that, but it is the very idea of sacrificing children who are innocent that God finds so detestable:
They shed innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters. By sacrificing them to the idols of Canaan, they polluted the land with murder. - Psalm 106:38But wait a minute. The payment that God demands for our sins is the very thing that he despises: shedding the blood of his own innocent son in sacrifice. What kind of God is this? He tells in the bible us how wicked it is, and then demands it anyway. Maybe Comfort thinks this makes sense, but I can't make heads or tails of it.
Finally, Comfort raises the obvious question: "why God didn’t just simply forgive us"? It does seem that he is taking a round-about path to offering us forgiveness, through the sacrifice of his son, which accomplishes nothing in the final analysis. Jesus still sits with God in heaven (because the sacrifice of the son wasn't really a true sacrifice - God lost nothing in the deal), and the rest of us lowly souls have managed to find our place there as well. He could have just forgiven us, and the result would be no different. So what's the point? Comfort's answer is telling:
This is because He is bound by His own holy character. ... So, we cannot separate God from His Law. It is His very essence. Scripture calls Him “the habitation of justice,” and perfect justice demands retribution. - ComfortIt is the very essence of God to demand the blood of an innocent son to pay for what we humans do, even though we were made (by God himself) to be sinners, and never had a choice in the matter, according to Christian belief. The God of Christianity is a blood-thirsty monster who doesn't even abide by his own morality.
In explaining all this to us, Ray Comfort supposes that it all makes sense. But it doesn't. He hasn't answered Chuck's questions at all. He hasn't said anything that makes sense to a thinking person. And I didn't really expect him to. It's just religious babbling. And it's absurd.