SCRIPTURE AS GOD’S PRECEDENT FOR CHOOSING THE GREATER GOOD WHEN FACED WITH CONFLICTING ABSOLUTES.
By Sarah Ankenman
The Crucifixion as the Greatest Precedent
As one can see, over and over again throughout Scripture, God chooses to deliver and/or bless His children when they choose His will, the greater good, when faced with moral dilemmas. However, God’s precedent of choosing the greater good is the most evident when seen in light of the crucifixion of His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. In his book, The Lost Message of Jesus, Steve Chalke likens Jesus’ work on the cross to “a form of cosmic child abuse - a vengeful Father, punishing his Son for an offence he has not even committed.” Is this true? Is the cross nothing more than a punishment placed on an innocent God-man by a vengeful Father? The author would say no, and so would many others. The fact that God Himself had to come down and be united with a human nature in order to suffer an excruciating death shows that it’s possible Jesus’ death was completely necessary and that what was done was the greater good. In the next paragraph, the reason why that was so will be explored.
In the Old Testament when men placed their hands on the head of an animal to symbolize a transference of sin, the sin did not actually, literally transfer to the animal. The animal was not all of a sudden sinful, as they cannot sin since they lack a soul, and did not deserve to die. The people were still dying in their sin even though they were anticipating salvation through their belief in the future Messiah. This is why they did not go immediately to be with the Lord, but instead dwelt in Abraham’s Bosom, a place of waiting until the work was finished on the cross, in real time, through Jesus Christ. Jesus was the only one who could take away the sin of the world for good. In John chapter eight, Jesus said, “I told you that you will die in your sins. For if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.”
The “He” Jesus is speaking of is the prophesied Messiah. Jesus fulfilled “more than three hundred predictions concerning the Messiah through His birth, life, death, and Resurrection. What would be the odds of one person fulfilling all of these by chance? The number is so astronomical, that it puts chance out of the picture… [it is] one in ten to the seventeenth power.” There is no question in the author’s mind that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah, due to the evidence. If Jesus was indeed the Messiah, then at this point it is imperative to examine the need of the Messiah to die a death such as Jesus did. Why did He have to die for the sin of mankind? Could not God have simply wiped the slate clean in His Sovereignty? This will be inspected in the next paragraph.
Scripture itself states that an innocent person will never be held responsible for a guilty party, and man is guilty due to his genetic, original sin nature. So how can God justify sending His innocent Son to die for humankind? Geisler answers this question in his encyclopedia of apologetics: “A virtually universal human practice is to consider commendable the actions of one who dies in defense of the innocent. Soldiers are honored for dying for their country. Parents are called compassionate when they die for their children. But this is precisely what Jesus did. As the apostle Paul puts it, ‘very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrated his love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’ (Romans 5:7-8).” As Jesus Himself has said, greater love hath no man than he who lays down his life for his friends. There is no one on Earth who would argue that it is wrong from someone to sacrifice their life for another.
The second point that bears examination is the fact that the cross was no form of “forced cosmic child abuse” as Chalke purports. Jesus had what was considered a “hypostatic union”: a uniting of two natures in one body. Because Jesus had a full human nature alongside His divine nature, He had free will. He could have decided not to go to the cross. In the Garden, we even see Him praying to His father in heaven asking if there was any other way. He asks, “If it is possible, let this cup pass from me. Yet not as I will, but as You will.” However, there was no other way, and so He agreed to do what was necessary out of love. Jesus chose love, the greater good, all by himself. It was a choice of free will to go to the cross for mankind.
This is the opposite of ethical egoism, or morality based on self-interest. Graded absolutism is based on self-sacrifice. When the Nazis come to the door, one must put the Jews before themselves because that’s what Christ did for mankind. He decided to be obedient to His father in Heaven before a man, even a man like himself. Why? Because there was no other way to accomplish the forgiveness needed to bridge the gap between God and man that was created when sin entered the world. Paul writes in Romans, “So then, as through one trespass there is condemnation for everyone, so also through one righteous act there is life-giving justification for everyone.”
Jesus chose to go to the cross for the greater good of mankind, for without Him, mankind would be eternally lost. He was temporally wounded so we could be eternally saved. We see that through God’s actions of choosing to send His Son to die, and in turn, Jesus’ recognizing it as the only way and being obedient to it, God chose the greater good in the greatest moral dilemma of all time. Geisler states, “Indeed, God Himself faced a moral conflict in the cross – should he sacrifice His Son or should He allow the world to perish? Thank God, mercy triumphed over justice. Surely the sacrifice of Christ was not a lesser evil; it was indeed the greatest good God could do.”
Biblical ethics are not pluralistic in the sense that each moral commandment is absolute. Biblical absolutism is monistic, meaning that it is the one basic principle as the foundation of reality, in the sense that one should always do what God commands them to do. However, built into that principle is the idea that such commands include doing what is the weightiest good. Thus, in effect, God commands us to always do the greatest good, and that never gets violated. In conclusion, that specific command to do the greater good is not just a “graded” absolute but is, in actuality, simply an unqualified absolute.
 Chalke, Steve. The Lost Message of Jesus. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2003, p. 182.
 John 8:24, HCSB.
 Smith and Eastman. The Search for Messiah. Costa Mesa, CA: The Word for Today, 1993, p. 163.
 Ezekiel 18:20, HCSB.
 Geisler, Bakers Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, p. 146.
 John 15:13
 Matthew 26:39, HCSB.
 Romans 5: 18, HCSB.
 Geisler, Christian Ethics, Chapter 6, Kindle 2 Edition.