Corruption and Perfection

Imagine the horror of your bad habits being made known on your body, on the news, or to the masses on social media. Even more than your social life, imagine the effects of such habits on your soul or upon your highest aspirations in life. If you’ve ever read The Picture of Dorian Gray you get to experience that through a man whose indiscretions are hidden from view by virtue their effects being transferred to a painting of himself that essentially represents the sum total of his virtues or vices.

Here’s an artists rendering of the painting:

The_Picture_of_Dorian_Gray

By Ivan Albright (1897 – 1983) – Public Domain*

The power of the novel, or even the concept of a painting that ages in our place for anybody who hasn’t read it, is in its ability to make us reflect upon whether or not our actions move us closer to perfection or deeper into soul and aspiration destroying corruption. The processes of corruption and perfection are measurable by comparison to an ideal self, a moral standard, or, in the case of physical goals, literally measurable by the strictest standards of science (fitness, financial, and other such material based goals).

In his volume on morality, God, and atonement, Responsibility and Atonement, Richard Swinburne explains the process of moral corruption. It is essentially the encouragement of bad desires and elimination or deformation of good desires. This is the result of choices we make. In the book he proposes the case of somebody who decides to do what they know (or think they know) to be evil. He describes what he considers to be the two possibilities for somebody who repent of their actions:

“Gradually, unless a man to some degree pursues the good, one of two things happens. First, the agent may try to persuade himself that the action which he believes to be wrong, say stealing, is not really wrong. He looks for disanalogies between stealing and other wrong acts, and analogies between stealing and acts which are not wrong. ‘It’s only luck the victim had the watch to start with,’ says the thief; ‘so I’m just upsetting the balance of luck. Anyway, hardly anyone really loses anything, because almost everybody is insured.’ And so on. Or secondly, the agent may say ‘I don’t care about right and wrong. I’m not going to be a moral man in future.’ In one or other of these ways the agent intentionally dulls his conscience, blinds himself to awareness of good and bad, right and wrong.”1

In other words, as we make poor decisions we either deaden our emotions to that decision but justifying it over and over again or we convince ourselves that morality in this or in all cases is not real.

An important question for thoughtful people is this:

Are there any habits for which I feel the need to justify myself to my conscience? And then ask, “Is my conscience right or wrong?”

This process, I think, applies not just to matters of right and wrong, though it obviously does. I think it applies to any good habit that makes us more fully alive, more fully functioning, and more happily human. Areas that take extra effort to develop good habit like diet, frugality, paying bills on time, working on your art daily, managing your property, reading instead of watching television, exercise, cleanliness, intellectual effort, and so-on can go through the process of corruption until we find ourselves unfeeling and ungoverned by reason with respect to these things. We revert to our merely animal nature and live on the basis of impulses rather than reason.

This particular discussion is interesting to me because my favorite definition of human freedom (not necessarily the one I think is most accurate) is “the ability conceive of an ideal and pursue it.” I heard it in a lecture and I don’t know from whom the lecturer was quoting. But it’s elegant and sidesteps all the other metaphysical baggage that comes with debates concerning free will.

Anyway, what good thing do you want? Do you want honesty, freedom from pornography, control over your emotions, a positive net-worth, to be truly tranquil in yourself and benevolent to those around you? Now ask, do my habits tend toward these goods or away from them? Is it worth it to keep up with habits that lead you to eventually abandon your highest aspirations or live with the anxiety caused by desiring what you believe you’ll never obtain?  In other words ask yourself if you’re on the path to corruption or perfection. You’ll have plenty of time for corruption when you’re dead.

 

Footnotes

1 Richard Swinburne, Responsibility and Atonement (Oxford [England]; New York: Clarendon Press ; Oxford University Press, 1989), 174

*Image: By Ivan Albright (1897 – 1983) – en:File:The Picture of Dorian Gray- Ivan Albright.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=48757597

How I plan to recover from my surgery

I have wrist surgery coming up.

I was hoping they’d just use local anesthesia but the chunk of bone they’re removing is simply too big and too far between my radius and ulna for them to remove it while I’m awake (I guess I’ll squirm too much). Check out the yellow arrows, they point to really sharp bone that, because I haven’t developed invincible muscles, really hurts all the soft tissue in my arm if I bump it, type too long, use a screw driver, hammer, pliers, or the gear shift in my truck.

[1]

In years past, when I’ve had surgery for my bone disorder, I’ve taken pains to ensure a quick recovery.

Most of these efforts have been based on what I deduced might help me, confirmation bias (finding studies showing it might help me), and the placebo effect (I was convinced they would work and they seemed to).

Anyway, the things I’ll need to heal quickly are skin, bone, and the jostled about extensor digitorum muscle and its tendons (See below). The other thing is that I traditionally feel like total crap coming out of anesthesia.

By Mikael Häggström.When using this image in external works, it may be cited as follows:Häggström, Mikael. "Medical gallery of Mikael Häggström 2014". Wikiversity Journal of Medicine 1 (2). DOI:10.15347/wjm/2014.008. ISSN 20018762. - File:Gray418.png, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10591832[2]

So, what am I going to do to facilitate quick recovery?

  1. I’ll work out really hard today. Why? Because, in my mind, if my body is in a state of adaptation from difficult training, then I’ll already be in a state of recovery as soon as the surgery begins. So dead lift, chin ups, and dojo today.[3]
  2. I’ll do my Wim Hof breathing exercises. His meditation techniques have been shown in multiple laboratory settings to stimulate an increase in immune system function. So by using his hyperventilation style meditation, I should be able to help myself heal more quickly.
  3. I’ll also meditate that very morning using the same technique I use to make myself wake up early. I’ll imagine myself waking up from surgery lucid, ready to eat, and in very little pain. When I started martial arts, I read about this technique in a book written in the 70s about a westerner learning karate. I had always had a rough time coming out of surgery, but my next operation, I meditated on waking up lucid the night before and morning of my next operation. It worked, or I felt like it worked. But in the case of perceiving pain and discomfort, “feeling like it worked” is working.
  4. I won’t eat any sugar today. Why? Because I’ll be fasting after midnight due to drs orders (probably after 9:30 PM for reasons that will become apparent). My reasoning is that avoiding a blood-sugar low by being in a state of dietary ketosis will help me wake up from the surgery in a metabolic state that I’m already used to. I don’t want to wake up in the low-blood sugar state called “hangry.” I am, btw, convinced that most people hate waking up in the morning because they stay up to late and eat too much sugar so they wake up in a sugar low.
  5. I will have a bunch of caffeine prior to midnight. I’m already addicted to it and I don’t want to wake up post-surgery with a caffeine head ache. In fact, I need to ask my wife to have coffee for me upon my awakening.
  6. I’ll pray. God doesn’t owe me anything, but he might help me recover quickly if I ask. It’s doubtful that he’ll help me out if I don’t though.

Anyway, I expect to come back from this with my wrist no longer hurting every time I have to type, with a reminder of what it’s like to feel actual pain (I haven’t had an injury in two years), and therefore stronger.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Footnotes

[1] Observe how big the tumor mass is. The first consultation made the doctor think it would just be shaving some lumpy bone mass off the top of my radius. It looks more like I’ll be having a pretty giant piece of my bone cut off. So, I expect it to hurt pretty bad. 

[2] By Mikael Häggström.When using this image in external works, it may be cited as follows:Häggström, Mikael. “Medical gallery of Mikael Häggström 2014”. Wikiversity Journal of Medicine 1 (2). DOI:10.15347/wjm/2014.008. ISSN 20018762. – File:Gray418.png, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10591832

[3] There is research that shows an uptick in bone density and osteoblast production in men who participate in strength training. Not only so, but chronic loading and eccentric training increases tendon recovery despite the conventional wisdom that resistance training won’t help tendinitis.

Marcus Aurelius, Dallas Willard, and New Testament Salvation

Text
Aurelius Salvation[1]

Translation
Salvation, which is a life,[2] is to examine each thing entirely [with the following questions]:

  1. What it is in itself?
  2. What is it made of?
  3. What is its purpose?

[It is also] from the whole soul to do righteousness and to speak truth. What more is there except to enjoy life by joining one good thing to another so as not to leave even short intervals between? (Meditations XII, 29, my translation)

Thoughts
One of the most striking claims in the writings of Dallas Willard is that Christian salvation is a life that is entered into by faith. It is not merely a gift to be passively received but rather a sort of life one begins (eternal life) upon becoming a disciple of Jesus.

In terms of the overall theological meaning of salvation in Christian thought, this made perfect sense to me. But I’d never really considered that it could be the case in terms of the usage of σωτηρια in the New Testament era. But right here in the meditations, Marcus Aurelius (who is certainly not thinking of a future salvation or an intervention from a deity) speaks of salvation as a kind of life.

Btw, while the life Aurelius describes is not the Christian life, nothing in it is contrary to what Christ enjoins us to do and everything in it is Biblical. So even if you don’t read Dallas Willard, I hope you learned something from the meditations.

References

[1] Marcus Aurelius and Charles Reginald Haines, The communings with himself of Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, emperor of Rome: together with his speeches and sayings (London; New York: W. Heinemann ; G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1916), 338

[2] I take the genitive to be an appositive or an epexegetical here.

Marcus Aurelius’ Questions for a Strong Mindset

Marcus_Aurelius_-_Project_Gutenberg_eText_15877

What am I doing with my soul? Interrogate yourself, to find out what inhabits your so-called mind and what kind of soul you have now. A child’s soul, an adolescent’s, a woman’s? A tyrant’s soul? The soul of a predator— or its prey?[1] -Marcus Aurelius Med. Bk V, chap 11

One of the most valuable exercises we can perform is to determine the content of our thoughts and, if you believe you have one, the state of our souls.

With the four questions above, one of the greatest mindset writers of all time, Marcus Aurelius, helps us to determine if our mindset is strong or weak. 

Remember, strength of mind is a virtue.

  1. What am I doing with my soul?
    For Aurelius, this question means am I cultivating virtue, learning to be tranquil, understanding nature, conforming to it, and achieving the goals I set?
  2. Do I have a child’s soul, an adolescent’s, a woman’s?
    In other words, “Is my soul adequately developed for who I am?” If a man, do I shirk responsibilities like a child? Aurelius would have believed in traditional gender arrangements. So, if a man, do I fear battle? If a woman, do I think as a man who is more willing to fight than to care for my children and home?
  3. A tyrant’s soul?
    A line in the gospels helps us understand this. Jesus said that his followers should not “Lord it over” one another as the leaders of the nations do. Does I require that I get my way from everybody? While this may make one feel very powerful when it works, the decisions of others are the worst of things upon which to rely. Can you have virtue and tranquility if you possess the soul of a tyrant? Can you even have strength?
  4. The soul of a predator or its prey?
    This is particularly helpful in a culture that seems to reward behaviors of submission and retreat.[2] People don’t want to be weak and often to mask weaknesses will engage in self-destructive rather than self-constructive behaviors. Are you a predator that overcomes obstacles to seek the good? Or are you the prey that waits for problems to come your way? Are you bold as a lion or do you refuse to move forward because you fear the lion in the streets?[3]

 

References

[1] Aurelius, Marcus. Meditations: A New Translation (Modern Library) (Kindle Locations 1357-1359). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

 

[2]

 

[3] See Proverbs 22:13 and 28:1.

What They Think

One of my favorite books is the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. A few days ago I was reading book twelve and was reminded of this:

I am often amazed at how each loves himself more than others, but cares more for the opinions of others than of himself. If a God should appear to a man, or a wise teacher and charge him to cease to think or imagine anything which which he would not make known as soon as he thought it, he would not last one day [without breaking the command]. This is because we have more respect for the thoughts of others about us than for our own thoughts of ourselves. Book XII Chapter IV (This is my rough translation)*

Aurelius Meditations 12 4

Marcus Aurelius, Charles Reginald Haines, and Charles Reginald Haines, Marcus Aurelius, 1916, 324

Is it true? Do we care so much more for what others think about us than what we think?

I once told a group of students before an SAT to get some water, splash their faces, do some pushups or jumping jacks, or whatever it took to wake up before we started the test process. I said that wasting money taking this thing while drowsy was a bad idea. I then said, “Never be afraid to do what makes you look weird to be the best.” Several years later a student contacted me because that line changed how she approached excellence.

I’m all for the idea that peer-pressure can actually be a good thing. But too often we imagine that somebody might think something bad about us. That they might be offended by us. That they might think we’re silly. Most people forget almost every thought they have throughout the day. And most people are terrible at reading others. These thoughts that people may have are just fiction, wraiths, figments in the ether. They’ll be covered by the sands of time or they will never exist at all. Yet, many are ruled by their fear of the thoughts of others. The fear of man, as it’s been said, is a snare.

* Here is a more professional translation: 

4. It never ceases to amaze me: we all love ourselves more than other people, but care more about their opinion than our own. If a god appeared to us— or a wise human being, even— and prohibited us from concealing our thoughts or imagining anything without immediately shouting it out, we wouldn’t make it through a single day. That’s how much we value other people’s opinions— instead of our own.

Aurelius, Marcus. Meditations: A New Translation (Modern Library) (Kindle Locations 2489-2492). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Rhetorical Assumptions in the Sermons on the Mount and Plain

In Matthew 5-7 and Luke 6 are the sermons on the Mount/Plain. There is a lot of debate about the relationship between these two sermons, but what interested me the other day when I was sitting in a waiting room (thankfully I took a legal pad) was what Matthew and Luke assumed would be interesting and would be known to the readers/listeners.*

Now I cannot have certainty about those things. But if we assume that like any piece of written rhetoric, the author had an audience who knew certain things in mind, then we can make some inferences. In all of this it’s important to remember that when we construct a speech, we appeal to what we think will interest people in order to help them find interest in what we think will benefit them (or get them to buy our product). But in an extended speech there might be several subaudiences to which we appeal.

Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount Assumptions

  1. The readers/hearers were interested in being happy in the sense of flourishing human life. The beatitudes start with the word “blessed” which probably means something more like “in an honored state” or “possessing the best/most desirable life.” In the Greek Old Testament that word seems to function like Aristotle’s word for happiness.
  2. They cared about putting the law of God into practice. Jesus tells the audience not to be afraid of the possibility of him doing away with Moses’ law.
  3. They at least know an oral version of the Old Testament, “You have heard…,” never “it is written.”
  4. They are in contact with the Pharisees (see chapter 6:1-13 especially) or have pharisaical tendencies.
  5. They want honor and rewards.
  6. They find it valuable to “see God.”
  7. They  want to be wise.
  8. They want to be part of God’s kingdom.
  9. Some of them felt spiritually destitute (poor in spirit).

Luke’s Sermon on the Mount Assumptions

  1. Luke’s audience similarly desired “blessedness” or “happiness.”
  2. They may have been more financially successful and willing to infer that they were living the blessed life with God as a consequence of their good fortune.
  3. They knew Jesus was a teacher, but were not themselves as familiar with the law of Moses.
  4. They really wanted to be good people whose lives bore good fruit.
  5. Strangely, in Luke, being like a ‘wise man’ is not a motivation. But the same simile of the builder who uses a firm foundation is used. In this case, the idea is simply of having a life that is not susceptible to the trials of the world. These people wanted unwavering or everlasting life.

I would be willing to say more about Luke’s audience over all, but I wanted to go simply by what we could find in the respective versions of the Sermon on the Mount.

What did I miss?

*I’m of the opinion that by and large these sermons, regardless of the process that lead to it happening, preserve a common public sermon Jesus preached about the kingdom of God before he shifted to primarily using parables before the public. So of course there will naturally be overlap between Matthew, Luke, and Jesus’ audiences desires, interests, and knowledge.

Tools for Christian Leaders by Dallas Willard

I rarely weep.

When I heard that Dallas Willard died, I did.

Few authors have so helped me see Christ, his goodness, and the greatness of his kingdom.

Since his death various essays, talks, and interviews keep appearing in compilation volumes. In Renewing the Christian Mind is transcript of a talk Willard gave off the cuff in which he gave some principles for how to lead in a Christian organization. Here are some of the principles he outlined in my own words (not in the order of the book):

  1. Write regularly. Willard thought it was imporant for pastors to write because it “is one of the surest ways to hone your sense of what you’re saying. (430)” I’d agree with that. Writing has made me a clearer thinking and speaker. Under this heading he also recommends copying things out of books. This is, in fact, one of the greatest tools for learning available.
  2. “Know your Bible. (431)” This should be obvious. But I’ve been teased by pastors and other seminary students for learning the Biblical languages. So, it seems that some people aren’t very excited about this aspect of ministry. And I admit, that sometimes reading Scripture for extended periods can be difficult. But Willard says some challenging things here, “Set aside time so that you can read the New Testament five times in one week.” Whoa.
  3. “Grow in making distinctions for people. (432)” The idea is that simple distinctions can help people understand what you mean, what Scripture means, and offer ‘aha’ moments for people. For instance, the basic difference between affection (positive feelings toward) and love (intending to benefit) can help many people who don’t know what love is.
  4. Grow character rather than acquiring methods. Willard says that “Many people have tried to substitute results for what they lacked: joy, relationship, and character. (432)” His idea is that switching ministry techniques over and over again without being rooted and grounded in the love of God won’t help you or anybody else come to know the gospel.

Anyway, it’s a really cool book. I highly recommend it.

What is Love?


Edward Feser wrote an excellent article about what love is. In it he quoted Thomas Aquinas:

As the Philosopher says (Rhet. ii, 4), “to love is to wish good to someone.”  Hence the movement of love has a twofold tendency: towards the good which a man wishes to someone (to himself or to another) and towards that to which he wishes some good.  Accordingly, man has love of concupiscence towards the good that he wishes to another, and love of friendship towards him to whom he wishes good.

Love, in the sense which Christian doctrine typically means, is exactly what Aquinas quoted from Aristotle, “to wish good to someone.” For Aquinas and Aristotle, “wish” is better understood as “intend.” Love is a movement of the will, not a passion nor a feeling. In the case of loving other people as a Christian this makes sense. To love your neighbor is to intend to give him the goods he needs to flourish (to have success and happiness now and in eternity): companionship, knowledge, assistance, mercy, protection, prayer, etc.

But what does it mean to love God in this sense? Some people, like John Piper, would say that to love God means to have certain feelings about God. But on the analogy of love for human beings, we can love our enemies even if our feelings toward them are quite hateful. Acts of love would be much harder, as positive emotions are a great aid to positive action, but they would nevertheless be possible. And the Bible has several psalms, clearly written as actions of love toward God, but which express intensely negative emotions toward God.

So how do we “wish good to someone” with regard to God? Here is my most basic answer: to love God is to act to further God’s purposes in creation. While God is goodness itself and therefore cannot increase/decrease in goodness, God’s purposes in creation are meant to have progressive fulfillment. For instance, God commanded humanity to tend the garden. God made the garden, but there was further work to be done.

There is Biblical evidence in favor of what I’ve inferred from Aristotle’s definition of love: Jesus said, “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.(Joh 14:21)” For Jesus the categories of “those who love me” and “those who have and keep my commandments” are convertable. And elsewhere in John’s gospel Jesus says that he glorified God by doing the deeds he was sent to do (17:4) and that he sends his disciples as the Father sent him (20:21). So, to love God is to act in line with his purposes or to obey his commands. This, of course, will include positive feelings. A significant consideration is this: Is it superior to obey a command of Jesus in the face of severe temptation and emotional resistance or in a state of deep and motivating affection for Jesus?*

Here is where things become interesting. Can our love for God be unrequited? We all know that our love for other people can. But in the case of God, the answer is no. Why? Because Jesus tells his disciples that “You are my friends if you do what I tell you. (John 15:14)” While our love for peers, children, parents, enemies, and so-on can be unrequited. There is no such thing as unrequited love for friends, for if the love is unreturned there is no friendship. In our relationship with God, our acts to further his purposes, include simultaneous action by the Holy Spirit on our behalf.

Finally, it is important to note that for the Christian, God’s purposes are primarily contained in the teaching of Jesus. To love God is to put the teachings of Jesus, rightly understood, into practice.

A corollary is that one might say that the highest form of self-love is to obey Jesus, as this would obtain the highest benefit for ourselfs if the gospel message is true.

To simplify the explanation above:

  1. To love is to wish to benefit another.
  2. To benefit God is to wish to further his purposes.
  3. To further God’s purposes is to obey Jesus’ teachings.
  4. To obey Jesus’ teachings is to live in friendship with God.

A final thought

I think that correctly understanding love as a matter of the will can help people who struggle with depression to realize that they do, in fact, love God. Also, as Feser mentions in his post, “…if love is thought to be essentially about having certain pleasant feelings, then the quest for love naturally comes to be understood as essentially a matter of finding someone who will generate in oneself pleasant feelings of the sort in question, and showing love to others comes to be understood as essentially a matter of generating in them pleasant feelings of the sort in question. [author’s italics]” Thus, in the case of loving God two errors can occur: to love God is to give myself good feelings about God or upon realizing how impossible this is to do consistently, to give up on the idea of positive emotions in relation to doing God’s will. Also, understanding love as intending the good of others assumes that there is such a thing a objective good that reliably benefits other people. The modern obsession with feelings (which are obviously good, important, and natural) leads of a sort of nihilism with regard to love. If it’s always loving to generate positive feelings in ourselves and in others, then because our quite plastic grey matter can learn to find positive emotions from all sorts of disordered events, can lead us to consider the most dastardly things loving.

*I think that it’s a trick question. If one has love as a virtue (good habit), then it will ‘come easy’ but individual deeds do not lose their value for being done in a state of temptation, depression, melancholy, or even momentary resentment.

Science Fact of the Day #4: Francis de Sales and the Science of Performance

In a 2004 study, it results were discovered which “suggest that self-compassion is associated with adaptive motivational patterns and coping strategies in academic contexts…”

Self-compassion “involves being open to and aware of one’s own suffering, offering kindness and understanding towards oneself, desiring the self’s well-being, taking a nonjudgmental attitude towards one’s inadequacies and failures, and framing one’s own experience in light of the common human experience… ”

Now, this is a fairly early study of self-compassion as a psychological model, but more recent research seems to confirm the results or at least fails to disprove them.

Now, in my own opinion, there are times for being harsh with yourself. But that’s in relationship to immediate experience like finishing a set in the gym, making yourself finish a hard assignment, show up to work when depressed, or some such thing. Being “hard on yourself” post failure makes no sense. The cake has been baked, you can’t get the ingredients back.

Anyhow, Francis de Sales had interesting insights into this subject a few hundrew years ago:

“So too when we have committed some fault if we rebuke our heart by a calm, mild remonstrance, with more compassion for it than passion against it and encourage it to make amendment, then repentance conceived this way will sink far deeper and penetrate more effectually than fretful, angry, stormy repentance.” (Introduction to the Devout Life Book III Chapter IX)

He goes on to say:

“…do not be surprised if you should fall. It is no wonder that infirmity should be infirm, weakness weak, or misery wretched.”

De Sales observed that it’s important to frame your experience in terms of common human experience. And because of that he recommended that we show ourselves compassion when we fail. He didn’t mean to ignore our failures or to overlook them, but “with great courage and confidence in God’s mercy to return to the path of virtue which you have forsaken.”

 

Interesting Insight from Charles Finney on Justification

In the lecture on justification in his Lectures on Systematic Theology Charles Finney uses the distinction between legislative, judicial, and executive functions of government to consider the doctrine of justification:

Justification is the pronouncing of one just. It may be done in words, or, practically, by treatment. Justification must be, in some sense, a governmental act; and it is of importance to a right understanding of gospel justification, to inquire whether it be an act of the judicial, the executive, or the legislative department of government; that is, whether gospel justification consists in a strictly judicial or forensic proceeding, or whether it consists in pardon, or setting aside the execution of an incurred penalty, and is therefore properly either an executive or a legislative act. We shall see that the settling of this question is of great importance in theology; and as we view this subject, so, if consistent, we must view many important and highly practical questions in theology.

Now, I’d never even considered that such a distinction in the roles of government might apply conceptually to the kingdom of God. But it seems to make some sense. For instance, while obeying the law gives life, the Bible also teaches that nobody will be justified by works of the law (for all sinned according to Romans 3:23). It also teaches that justification comes by faith, by grace, through Christ, and strangely enough, to those who are obedient to the law (Romans 2:13).

But with the exception of Romans 2:13, the meaning of which is contested, most other passages about justification (being declared righteous by God or the resumption of a properly ordered relationship with God) treat it as a rather personal reality (through grace, by faith, in Christ, etc). It’s not about whether or not somebody has done as much good as they can, because no matter how much good is done, guilt is still guilt. In Finney’s taxonomy, the judicial office of government is purely that of determining whether or not the law has been broken by this or that person. So for him, as far as the law goes, there can be no justification for anybody who has done anything wrong, ever (Romans 3:20 seems to say exactly this). But as far as appeal to the law-giver (legislator) or the branch of government responsible for action (executive) justification, pardon, and reconciliation are possible. So sinners cannot, by any means, appeal to the law for forgiveness (though the Law of Moses offers conditions of pardon, these do not come through the system of elders/judges). But sinners can appeal directly to the law-giver and king of God’s kingdom for forgiveness: a gracious and kind God.

But I’ve never seen this taxonomy God’s role in justification in a Bible commentary and I’d never noticed it from reading Scripture. This doesn’t mean that Finney is wrong, but it’s just gone unnoticed for a while, now.

Any thoughts?