Did Jesus Die because of Joy or Indifference? Part 3

Since neither the context of Hebrews 12:2, nor the rest of the NT portrays ideal love as dispassionate duty, as Kenneth Wuest supposes, the question begs to be asked, where did we get this idea? Significant theological and philosophical objections also can be raised against this view.

In response to Wuest’s second point, that there is a necessary connection between selflessness and a refusal to benefit in any way from a loving act, we must reject this as the case. First, as mentioned above, ekenosen in Philippians 2:7 by no means entails that Christ emptied himself of anything, much less of self. Christ’s “self” is not in conflict with his love and supremacy, such that it needs to be laid aside. However, granting Wuest’s understanding of Christ emptying himself of self, there is still no logical entailment between selflessness and refusing to benefit in any way from the cross. It is entirely possible to act selflessly and still receive joy from one’s act (1 Thess. 3:9). More on this later.

Wuest seems to adopt the idea of duty that was articulated most clearly by Immanuel Kant, an 18th century German philosopher. Kant believed that for an act to be truly virtuous, it should be done with no consideration for the benefit the individual may receive by performing the act. The purest act would be that in which no benefit could accrue to the performer of the act. If the individual received any benefit whatsoever, said Kant, the act would be of no moral value and meaningless.

Kant’s morals were consistent with his philosophy, which divided knowledge between the phenomenal (that which can be empirically observed), and the noumenal (that which is known apart from the senses, such as God, the soul, and the thing in itself). We can believe the noumenal, said Kant, but we can only know the phenomenal. Therefore, in judging an individual’s act, the motive is inaccessible to the senses, and therefore all that counts is the act itself. The nobility of an act of love or duty is intrinsic in the act itself, with no consideration for the motives of the individual performing the act. According to Kant, then, it wouldn’t matter why Jesus went to the cross, just that he went to the cross. And even more, if Jesus received no benefit from his crucifixion, his death would be morally superior and purer. And since it’s Jesus, we must assign to him only the purest motives.

This distorted view of love and selflessness has unfortunately infected many definitions of love in Christian writing and teaching. And it is simply not biblical. God does not act dispassionately. While God is essentially impassible, in his creation of the world and covenanting together with us through Christ, he condescended and bound himself to us in Christ. His relationship is one of genuine emotion, including love, joy, wrath, and jealousy. This distinction between the essential attributes of God and the creational (or covenantal) attributes understands God to be immutable, yet genuinely respond to his creation with real emotion. As a result, there is no need to deprive Jesus of a motivation of joy in his death.

In addition, the preceding context of Hebrews 11 makes it clear that the heroes of the faith did not live from a sense of “pure” duty and Kantian indifference. Rather, they were motivated by the reward that “lay before them.” Hebrews 11:13-16 presents the paradigm, which is followed by several examples of heroes who lived for (the joy of) future reward:

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.

For he [Abraham] was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. (11:10)

By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. (11:24-26)

Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. (11:35)

As these verses demonstrate, these heroes of the faith had a motivation of reward, or we could say, the joy of reward for what they did. This joy for what they would receive did not conflict in any way with their God-pleasing faith. In fact the opposite is true. We have already shown that there is no necessary connection between selflessness and a refusal to benefit in any way from a loving act. But it goes one step further. There is a necessary connection between an act of faith or obedience and the motivation for that act. Here is the principle: if an act of obedience or faith is not done out of a cheerful heart (seeking joy), it is not acceptable to God (2 Cor. 9:7).

Now we have turned Wuest’s essay on Greek prepositions on its head. While the Greek text certainly allows the sense of substitution or exchange in the use of anti, it is most certainly not a valid argument to say, as he does, that the rest of Scripture conflicts with our conclusion. Rather, the rest of Scripture stands in testimony against a Jesus who would die out of Kantian indifference.

Hebrews 12:2 depicts Jesus as seeking maximum joy for his own glory. He thought little of the shame of the cross because of the magnitude of the joy that would be his after securing redemption for his people. By securing redemption, he guaranteed that there would be for all eternity a people who would magnify his glory (Heb. 12:28-29). His motivation, then, was ultimately for his glory.

In Part 4 of this essay, we will look at the richness of joy-motivated love in the writings of men such as Blaise Pascal, C. S. Lewis, and John Piper. These men help reshape our faulty ideas about Christ’s love and ours.

About Mark Farnham
Associate Professor and Coordinator of Pastoral and Pre-Seminary Majors at Lancaster Bible College, Lancaster, PA. Founder and Director, Apologetics for the Church (apologeticsforthechurch.org). PhD in Apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia; ThM in New Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

2 Responses to Did Jesus Die because of Joy or Indifference? Part 3

  1. Luke Forman says:

    Mark,
    I have appreciated your recent posts on this topic. I’m studying for a lesson to my youth group about edifying each other and came across Romans 15:1-3. How do we interpret this passage in light of Hebrews 12:2 and similar passages? I’d appreciate any thoughts you have.

    Thanks!

    Luke

  2. Mark Farnham says:

    Luke,

    Great question. My short answer would be that there seems to be an implicit distinction in Romans 15 between selfishness motives (bringing myself happiness) on the one hand and ultimate joy (bringing God happiness, which brings me happiness) on the other. The reference to Christ not pleasing himself could refer to his statement in the garden, “not my will but yours be done.”

    Also the context from Romans 14 is about Christian liberty and our relations with Christian brothers and sisters. The selfish thing to do was to practice liberty with no concern for those with sensitive consciences. In conjunction with Hebrews 12:2, I would say that Christ did not avoid the cross out of a selfish desire to avoid pain, but endured it for the joy that would result from his death.

    Mark

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