Glenn acknowledges that Penal Substitution would be and should be illegal in any human court of law. He also acknowledges that God himself would forbid it in human courts (Deut 24.16; Ezek 18.20; Jer 31.30). However, he says that one cannot draw implications about how the divine court might work from how human courts work. He writes: Similarly, the derivative/restrictive character of the human legal system cannot be used to draw implications about a higher court, with any confidence.
He cites R. L. Dabney:
But the sophism of the first is contained in the false assumption that because a given moral prerogative is improper for men, it must, therefore, be improper for God. I shall not take the harsh position that because God is sovereign and omnipotent, therefore his will is not regulated by, or responsible to, those fundamental principles of morality which he has enjoined on his creatures. I shall never argue that God's "might makes his right," as our opponents charge strict Calvinists with arguing. But it is a very different thing, and a perfectly plain and reasonable thing, to say that the infinite sovereignty, wisdom, and holiness of God may condition, and may limit his moral rights in a manner very different from what is proper for us men. The principles of righteousness for the two rulers, God and a human magistrate, are the same; the details of prerogative for the two may differ greatly, while directed by the same holy principles (Christ Our Penal Substitute, Chapter 3, available online here).
Here is where I take issue with Miller and Dabney. First, they both believe that man is created in the image of God. Now part of being in the image of God entails our basic concept of justice. Man intuitively knows that its wrong to punish an innocent party in the place of a guilty one. Where does man get that intuitive knowledge? They would say that it comes from God.
Second, Dabney admits: The principles of righteousness for the two rulers, God and a human magistrate, are the same. So there are not two types of righteousness--one for God and one for man. Therefore, if it is unrighteous for man to punish the innocent in place of the guilty, it would seem to me that it would be unrighteous for God.
Miller’s next point is:
The biblical statements indicate that Penal Substitution is used to preclude us even getting to the courtroom situation, so the situations seem totally unparallel. He explains further: We noted in the discussion above that the 'forgiveness initiatives' (of Points 1,2,3) were used to AVOID anything ever reaching the courtroom, much less ever 'requiring' such a transaction supposed in our objection. In other words, God's initiatives made sure that it was never a JUDGE who had to consider this legal issue. I never have to ask to have my sentence transferred to a substitute--because the salvation process works BEFORE any legal arguments have to occur. This means that it is never a JUDGE in a COURT who has to make the judgment about the legality/illegality of Jesus dying on the Cross in my place. That process is pre-legal in a real sense, and precludes the legal objection ever coming up. It was, in a meaningful way, a pre-emptive strike against this legal dilemma.
Miller is referring to an extended parable or analogy he has dreamed up in which He appears before Christ and the Father and they explain how all of this works. I have to give him credit for his imagination. It’s a valiant attempt to try to understand how penal substitution can be justified (with a touch of a Star Trek motif).
God's initiatives made sure that it was never a JUDGE who had to consider this legal issue. I never have to ask to have my sentence transferred to a substitute--because the salvation process works BEFORE any legal arguments have to occur. This means that it is never a JUDGE in a COURT who has to make the judgment about the legality/illegality of Jesus dying on the Cross in my place.Wait a minute? Isn’t God the Judge of the Universe? He is the one who “decided” that this penal substitution would be righteous. I fail to see how Miller’s parable, as ingenious as it is, solves the dilemma. You still have to explain how it’s a righteous thing for the judge of the universe to allow the innocent to pay the penalty for the guilty.
Next, Miller says:
Also, I am increasingly uneasy about seeing the parallel here. Theologians are quick to point out that this 'transaction' is a God-to-God contract/covenant (almost a civil law deal, in which substitution is common [e.g., assignability, co-signers, successors, power of attorney, etc.]). It's almost like the sinner human is not even there. There's enough 'oddness' about the structure of God/Jesus/sinner/sin relationships that I can't really grant much weight to arguments from analogy in this case.Maybe I misunderstand him here but he seems to be saying that the plan of redemption (including penal substitution) should not be understood in any kind of legal sense anyway. Although, he does state that some theologians see the agreement between the members of the Trinity to provide redemption as more of a civil contract.
I really don’t see how that helps his argument. A civil contract still is subject to the law and ultimately a judge would have to decide if its legal. While a judge might allow people to be substitutes for other people in a civil contract, this has nothing whatsoever to do with an innocent person becoming a substitute for a guilty person in a criminal matter.
Miller’s next point is:
This God-to-God, or 'within God' nature of this HUGELY transcendental act, reminds us that Forgiveness (NOT a function of law, and NOT in view in the objection) does involve some forms of 'substitution' in the act. Consider for moment Thomas' statement (The Principles of Theology: An Introduction to the Thirty-Nine Articles, p58): "The Foundation of Divine Pardon.-It is sometimes urged that as human forgiveness does not need an atonement, God's pardon should be regarded as equally independent of any such sacrifice as is now being considered. But this is to overlook the essential feature of all forgiveness, which means that the one who pardons really accepts the results of the wrong done to him in order that he may exempt the other from any punishment. Thus, as it has been well illustrated, when a man cancels a debt, he, of necessity, loses the amount, and if he pardons an insult or a blow, he accepts in his own person the injury done in either case. So that human pardon may be said to cancel at its own expense any wrong done, and this principle of the innocent suffering for the guilty is the fundamental truth of the Atonement. It is, therefore, urged with great force that every act of forgiveness is really an Act of Atonement, and thus human forgiveness, so far from obviating the necessity of Divine Atonement, really illuminates, vindicates and necessitates the Divine pardon, for " forgiveness is mercy which has first satisfied the principle of justice." It is on this ground we hold that Christ's Death made it possible for God to forgive sin.”
Miller summarizes his argument:
Now, in our case, we have something that runs like this:
1. I created a justice-imbalance by my unpunished sins (separate, btw, from the damage caused by my sins--past consequences are not part of this) ;
2. God can punish me fully for those sins (clearing out the moral imbalance)--with no cost to Himself in the process (mostly).
3. Or, God can forgive me--and not punish me for those sins--and 'absorb' the imbalance [since He cannot let it stand forever, due to the Justice issue of the moral imbalance]
4. Once 'absorbed' into God's private sphere, He must somehow "punish" Himself, to clear out the now-'internal' justice imbalance and release the justice.
5. This "necessitates" an act of justice/punishment 'inside God' (since He took the imbalance 'into Himself', and 'out of the universe/human sphere', in the act of forgiveness).
6. This 'inside' act of punishment was done at the Cross, intra-God, and moral-balance within God is restored too.
7. Forgiveness, then, created the God-within-God 'cost' of the Cross.
I give Miller credit for seriously thinking about this problem. I have not found that many Christians, even theologians, have really given due consideration to this issue. However, I still don't find his arguments convincing. How can God justly punish himself in place of sinners? This seems to create all types of other problems. For example:
1. God is said to be entirely holy. How could he ever have man’s sin “attached” (to use Miller’s term) to himself. Would he not cease to be holy at that very moment?
2. Why is it just the Father, presumably, who has to be “propitiated” and not the Son nor the Spirit? If this "propitiation" is necessitated by the holiness of God, then it would seem that the Son and the Spirit would also need to be propitiated.
3. In the human sphere, when one forgives another person, yes, they are in a sense “absorbing” the loss within themselves but are they “punishing” themselves? And the pain they are experiencing, is it self-inflicted or inflicted by an outside party? Its from an outside party. I don’t think Miller’s attempt to parallel the human and divine in his scenario works.
Miller’s next point is:
All in all, I think there are too many discontinuities between the two 'parallel situations'[Miller is referring to the divine court vs. the human court] in the objection to let it stand. It's mixing apples and oranges. There are plenty of things illegal for my local municipal court to do, that the county, state, or federal courts could do. And those are "linear" functions (smile). But even the case of International Law is so complex, that to reason from a national legal situation to an international legal situation in such a straightforward manner as embodied in the objection would meet with very little acceptance by those familiar with the differences between those bodies of law.
I would respond that just because there are differences in jurisdiction and authority with respect to county courts, state courts, federal courts and international courts does NOT change the fact that they all should operate on the same basic principles of justice. If its not just for an innocent to suffer in the place of a guilty in state court because of the basic inequity of it, then it should also not be just in a federal court or an international court, if they are all based on the same principles of justice.
Miller’s conclusion is:
The net effect of my Responses 1-7 is to shift the burden of proof to the objector, for them to show that the hidden middle term is true. The objection is, of course, an argument from analogy, from a human courtroom to the Divine courtroom. As such, the logical structure of the argument runs thus:
1. Modern human legal systems cannot morally/legally allow penal substitution.
2. (The divine legal system is identical to modern human legal systems, in ALL the details relevant to penal substitution, and ALL differences between them are irrelevant to such cases.)
3. Therefore, the divine legal system cannot morally/legally allow penal substitution.
For this argument to stand, the middle term, obviously, has to be rock-solid. And this places the burden of proof on the one making the affirmation.
I would not accept his middle term as he has written it. I would rewrite it this way: The human legal system is based on principles of justice which a Christian sees as ultimately based on divine principles of justice. Christians make a big deal out of the idea that our Western system of justice is based on Judeo-Christian principles. They believe that the ultimate judge of what is right and wrong is their God. They would maintain that human systems of justice are in fact really just ONLY in as much as they reflect the divine principles of justice.
Based on the rewording of the middle term in Miller’s syllogism, the objection against PST stands. It is, in my not so humble opinion, a miscarriage of justice to punish the innocent in place of the guilty.