Actual Engagement

Interestingly enough, a comment made in passing now constitutes “engagement”.

Now, if this constitutes “engagement” – fine, I’ll buy that. However, it was followed up with this:

Again, fine. What does this tweet claim, however?

1) Jesus died (not contested by me).

2) The wages of sin is *death* (not contested by me)

3) That death is *not* eternal torment. (is contested by me)

The issue is 3), then. The issue is the definition of death. Haven’t we gone into great detail on this site about what, exactly, death is?

Given that our interlocutor is an annihilationist, what is death, exactly, to him?

Let’s use Joey Dear’s definition.

Think of how an atheist views death, and what happens when we die; like, you don’t have a mind, you can’t think, you can’t feel, you have absolutely no conscious[ness] or awareness of anything, you’re simply a corpse. That’s essentially what we’re saying happens to people. They can’t be tormented, because, like if you poke a corpse with a knife, or set it on fire, no matter what you do to it, it’s not going to feel pain, or think, or anything. It’s just inert matter.

So, when I say “now do Jesus” – what am I asking? If, as annihilationists profess, death is the *cessation* of existence – again and again we are told that the term means “destruction”, being “consumed” – again and again we are given synonyms for annihilation – what of Jesus? No consciousness, no awareness – no thinking. Did He, in whom we live, move, and have our being – cease to be? Did He lack consciousness? Did He come to lack existence, in propitiation for our sins?

Did his humanity alone cease to exist? If so, is his resurrected self the same self? If, as annihilationists profess death to be, He was reduced to ashes, destroyed, burned up like chaff, consumed by fire – *what* is united in His humanity to the eternal, divine nature of the Son? If His human nature was consumed, is the human nature that He now has taken to Himself the same human nature? To what purpose did He show Thomas the nailprints in His recreated duplicate body, or the recreated hole in His recreated side?

He claims to have answered my question with this tweet:

But again – if “died” means “destroyed”, “consumed”, “burned up” – and that death is, by it’s nature never-ending – permanent – then how can Jesus be said to have “died”, if not “eternally dead”, which is the entire resting place of the conditionalist schema? If Jesus doesn’t suffer “everlasting death”which is the linchpin upon which all of conditionalist “eternal punishment” hangs – then in what sense did He die in our stead? If only the same way that *believers* die, temporarily, to then be resurrected for a future reunion with the Father – He took nothing for us.  If he died in the sense that unbelievers die, according to annihilationists – permanent cessation of existence – then it is not the same God-man who returned from the grave. From such considerations comes the insertion of Michael the Archangel into the Millerite apocrypha, in all its variations. Add to that the necessary invention of “soul sleep” to give a reason why those who die will be once more before the judgement seat, and we have the peripheral Socinian doctrines in their full flower. If you look around the conditionalist camp, you see them all present – because they all came together to begin with.

It is not enough to say “no, you!”, as our Twitter interlocutor seems to think sufficient. It is not enough to say “but I never claimed Jesus was annihilated!” to silence the inexorable logical progression that follows from the meaning they assign to “death” in their lexicon. Death is commonly misunderstood, I agree – but the simplistic way in which conditionalists define it is not the solution. Death is profoundly unnaturalbut it is an unnatural parody of life. Like life, that parody will never end – because the sentence is that those who do not receive the unmerited gift of eternal life, will suffer eternal death. The curse of this world is terrible enough – but the sentence of Hell is more perilous still. Those wages are not paid out in a simultaneous paroxysm of wrath – as they were upon Christ, who was uniquely able to pay them – but over eternity, as those recipients are not the God-man, but finite, temporal mortals bound to time, and to creation’s succession of events. As our reward as believers is eternal, the reward of unbelievers is eternal. To one, life eternal, to the other death eternal – experienced as temporal beings, in succession that is unending.

I offered a short argument in explanation, which I will expand upon here, since our interlocutor seems confused by it. By all means, let’s do Jesus.

A) I’ve done significant work on this over the years. Time, like logic and possibility, are artifacts of creation. As such, the Creator is not subject to such constraints. As the God-man, Christ is not subject to them, either – like the wind and waves, they are subject to Him. The only being capable of suffering eternal torment in a non-temporal fashion is the Creator of time – who is Himself eternal. While He took on human flesh, His divine nature is what it is united to. His power over all of creation means that only He can suffer the infinite wrath of God in His own person – non-successively.

B) This seems to give him the most trouble – but he can be forgiven for that – because it requires a proper understanding of divine simplicity, which is often not understood. We’ve covered this extensively on this site as well, but suffice it to say that God’s infinitude applies to *all* of His recognized attributes. If God is wrathful, he is infinitely wrathful. His love is infinite. His glory is infinite – because God IS wrath, IS love, IS glorious. God is His attributes. God’s wrath against the wicked never rests because He is eternally just – in infinitude. However, men are not infinite, not eternal, not atemporal, as God is. While Christ could, and did, take the full infinite wrath of the Father’s justice upon Himself, for the sake of the elect – the unbeliever being punished cannot do so. He must, as a timebound entity, suffer that wrath finitely – but neverendingly.

C) As we’ve already pointed out, Christ is the divine Son – eternal, omnipotent, and infinite. The human nature, he took to Himself, and as the God-man, experienced the fullness of the Father’s infinite wrath poured out on Him – in the place of the elect. If He only experienced the first death on our behalf – we shall, too. So in that case, He took nothing for us. If He experienced the *second* death – the fullness of the Father’s infinite wrath poured out on sin – then He definitely did experience it on our behalf. Whether a so-called traditionalist or conditionalist, there is a requirement that Christ’s propitiatory work be something only he could do, in His unique human and divine natures. The typical conditionalist response is somewhat lacking in robust coherency.

D) Since Christ is unique – only He was fully God and fully man – only He was suitable to suffer the fullness of God’s wrath in propitiation for the sins of the elect. Only He is capable of suffering the fullness of God’s wrath – because God’s wrath, as is everything that is God – infinite. A mortal man, not united to the divine nature – as we are, by dint of His propitiatory work – cannot experience the omnipotent wrath of the Father. That mortal must suffer *for* eternity, in time – Christ, not being subject to time, could experience that *eternal* wrath *in and of Himself* in His omnipotent, atemporally eternal divine nature – immediately.

We were created immortal. We fell, and in Adam, lost that blessed condition. What’s Christ’s work did for us was not only a reversal of the curse – but a defeat of death’s sick parody of life. We will be raised to immorality. We will share in His divine life, and do so eternally.  Conditionalism not only robs us of the true majesty of Christ’s propitiation in suffering the infinite wrath of the Father on our behalf – but of His glory as the unique Son – the monogenes – who alone could atone for us.  It cheapens sin to something that can be paid for in a moment – and not consonant with an offense against an infinitely holy God. It cheapens death to something ephemeral, when it is in actuality, a twisted parody of the life without which it has no basis. Death cannot exist without life. Sin cannot exist without holiness. One presupposes the other – but is a lesser, twisted copy – seen through a mirror, darkly.

All theology is systematic. Change one doctrine, you necessarily change them all. Our theology matters, in everything we do.

Leave a Comment