[Milton-L] Human dignity

James Rovira jamesrovira at gmail.com
Thu Jul 27 01:19:20 EDT 2006

Much appreciation for the responses from Profs. Strier and Smith.  I
hope I can respond in kind.

In response to Prof. Strier, I don't think that Milton's God (or the
Christian one) can be said to have "washed his hands" of the
sinfulness of others in the traditional formulation of God's
forgiveness.  The death and resurrection of Christ make possible the
availability of God's forgiveness and demonstrate God's personal
acceptance of the punishment for sin -- and God's acceptance of the
responsibility for human sin.  Christ is the lamb of God who takes
away the sin of the world.  It is inconceivable to me that God could
identify any more completely with the lost and with their sin.

The question to me is not one of "continued positive engagement"
because, of course, unless we accept Calvinist premises, we believe
that God continues to engage the sinner throughout his or her life,
and in some Christian belief, even after the sinner's death.

The question is better phrased, "eternal positive engagement."  Is
God's positive engagement of the sinner eternal, or is there an end
point?  Will God stand hat in hand begging the sinner to return -for
eternity-?  Isn't there a problem with this picture, as it imposes a
temporal model (God waiting -forever-) upon an atemporal state (the
eternal)?  If the eternal is truly an atemporal state, is change
possible?  And if one enters eternity in a state of alienation from
God, is that state therefore unchanging?

In response to Prof. Smith, I think the difference between our
position is very slight, therefore I have to try very hard to be
careful with language  When I say that God's forgiveness is
"available" to all, I mean what you say here:

<<I would argue that forgiveness is not merely available to all
without precondition; any God who truly understands humanity (and for
me, this is why the incarnation is the crucial doctrine for the
Christian religion) actually forgives all without precondition.>>

I would say that God's forgiveness is actually available to all
because God has actually forgiven all without precondition.  While
this is undoubtedly a limited comparison, I would still like to
compare God's forgiveness to an inheritance waiting for me at the
bank.  The money is there, it is mine, I simply have to go to the bank
to claim it.  Similarly, forgiveness is there, it is mine, I simply
have to accept it.

What is being confused here (by me as well, until now) is, I think,
the fact of forgiveness with the product of forgiveness
(reconciliation to God).  Reconciliation is something that can only
occur between two parties -- if one party refuses to be reconciled,
then regardless of the stance of the other party, reconciliation does
not exist.  God's forgiveness means that, from God's side, there is no
barrier to reconciliation.  But human beings must respond.

I see this reflected in Paul's language: God is the saviour of all
men, especially those who believe.  Salvation has been procured by
all, those who believe participate in it, so God is "especially" their
saviour.  If procurement and participation were equivalent, the
intensifier "especially" would be meaningless.

There is one ambiguity in Prof. Smith's language that I'm curious about:

<<Again, what humans in their dignity get to choose is whether or not
they will EXPERIENCE that forgiveness and  live in the "light" of
grace instead of in the "darkness" of what binds them.>>

What does it mean, exactly, to "experience" God's forgiveness?  It
sounds to me as if this is an emotional/psychological response to the
pre-existing fact of God's forgiveness that transforms the
individual's stance toward God and, by extension, the way they live
their lives.

If that is the case, how is "experiencing" God's forgiveness, in your
language, different from "receiving" God's forgiveness, in my
language?  An inability to "experience" God's forgiveness, to me,
proceeds from a refusal to receive it.

You seem to think that in my language, if one does not "receive" God's
forgiveness, then God has not forgiven them.  But that is not what I
mean at all.  God's forgiveness has been granted and extended--but
refused.  Returning to Paradise Lost, Satan will not repent, so cannot
either "receive" or "experience" God's forgiveness, and for as long as
Satan refuses to repent, he remains in that state.  God simply knows
he will always refuse to repent.

There is one further element I would like to add: that our experience
of/perception of the Divine is a function of our character. From 2
Sam. 22:26-27

"To the faithful you show yourself faithful, / to the blameless you
show yourself blameless, / 27 to the pure you show yourself pure, but
to the crooked you show yourself shrewd."

The same unchanging God is perceived or experienced differently by
people of different character.  I would like to suggest that Hell is
the experience of God for the reprobate soul, and Heaven the
experience of God for the redeemed soul.

Jim R

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