The Dignity of Guilt
Some theologians attempt to tidy up the mysteries of God by declaring that all of our choices are overpowered by His sovereignty. They teach that faith is fully a product of God and that humanity is left with very little to do but play out salvation and damnation like puppets on strings, stuck within the confines of time.
Though I agree that God is sovereign, I think there are also dangers in pushing too much too hastily under that umbrella. When we err in that direction, we can lose the God-given dignity of our culpability.
By admitting that we can choose wrong, we are also declaring that we were made with a God-given dominion over ourselves and this planet. This is not just a theoretical concept, we can find it empirically. Our responsibility for our actions is embedded within the universe like a law of physics.
When pool ball A moves toward pool ball B and makes contact, pool ball B rolls. And when person A moves toward person B with a gun and ends a life, we do not laugh and say, “Well what do you know? Isn't that an odd coincidence?” We press charges. We enforce consequences. We respect the personhood of the murderer enough to hold him responsible for what he has done.
Society understands this. Look at those we excuse from blame; they are either children or fools. If a criminal is of sound mind and ripe age, he is expected to pay for his wrongs. When we charge him, we are declaring that he should have done better. We are declaring that he could have done better. We are working from the subconscious understanding that beings made imago Dei have been given freedom enough to work good or evil on the earth, and that good should be chosen and evil punished. One of the most honorable declarations we can give to a human is a declaration of guilt. This statement says, “You have done wrong, but you could have done right instead.”
That is why feminists, of all people, should be leading the charge against abortion used as birth control. For hundreds of years society didn't think enough of women to give them freedom to manage their own potential. Feminists Gilbert and Gubar wrote a brilliant piece called "The Madwoman in the Attic," in which a lengthy explanation of the measures society has taken to objectify women is explored. Men were so threatened by feminine power that they pushed the gender to extremes; women were either perceived as angels or monsters. Objectifying females made them more manageable.
Granting women the right to abort their children feeds on a similar disrespect. It suggests that women are primarily passive creatures who cannot control their sexuality or its consequences without needing escape plans that abuse others. Once again, females are treated as objects, victims, children, or fools who cannot be entrusted with the dignity of blame or repercussion.
Men are not belittled in this way. We trust men to be responsible for their sexual urges and the related consequences of their desires. Society does not tell men that they are not strong enough to control their desires, and therefore that they are allowed to rape women. We trust them enough to believe that they can refrain from doing things that would cause damage to others. Every time a man is prosecuted for sexual abuse, he is also told that his essential humanity should have made a better choice. To sentence a man for a sexual crime is to show him respect.
Abortion as birth control is legal, in part, because our society does not trust women to have the wisdom and strength to refrain from sexual behavior that may ultimately lead them to harm their conceived children. It exists because there is a cultural understanding that women are too weak to manage sexuality and its consequences like adults. Despite all the progress of the feminist movement, the legalization of this procedure proves that women are is still considered lesser beings.
Going back to the larger picture of culpability, I still have many questions still about how God’s sovereignty works. If God is truly outside of time, He sees all that was and will be simultaneously. Words like “predestination” suddenly appear quite different when chronology is removed from the equation. Yet regardless of how these mechanics function, one thing is clear. God allows man to be accused of His own wrongs. When we fail, He honors us enough to allow us to bear our own guilt.
This is why Christianity offers a higher view of humanity than modern or Eastern constructs which attempt to make sin obsolete. That assumption does not liberate us, it belittles us.
Christians are accustomed to talking about the generosity of God’s grace, but rarely do we see the respect in His appearance on earth. God doesn’t just pick humans up like worms caught in a rain puddle and toss us into the grass. He died for us because we were strong enough to be found guilty.
By the death of Jesus, we are shown the full gravity of our bad choices. We see in His suffering what we deserved, not because we were fools, but because we were thinkers and choosers. In the broken body of Christ we find the dignity of accusation. What happened to Jesus is what should befall every human being who has been entrusted with the intellectual, physical, and emotional resources to create and cultivate upon the earth — but who has chosen instead to steal from it and abuse it.
Christ came to die for us because we were weak. He also came to die for us because we were strong. Our glory means that we could not just be pardoned; we needed a cosmic exchange: the blood of a God for the blood of the wayward children of a God.
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Art: "Self-Portrait in Hell" by Edvard Munch (1903)