As, in my shameless, Victorian manner, I bemoaned and bewailed your long absence from our dialogue, in my lowest state of bereavement, when all hope had very nearly drained out from my lifeless heart, I began to imagine, though the very thought seemed to harrow me with an insurmountable consternation and perturbation, what would inevitably become of our nearly forgotten deliberation if, little by little, in small degrees, our letters became less and less frequent, less thoughtful, and altogether less interesting. I quickly realised, as I evaluated this nightmarish fantasy of mine, that the whole situation would, without a doubt, be your fault entirely. This was only a matter of elementary reasoning, for after all, you were the one who, in my imagining, stooped to writing a letter about the proper cultivation techniques for growing eggplants, and to so dully penned an expository, I could hardly be blamed for responding with a comment, however lengthy or tedious, on the economic and culinary benefits of owning a refrigerator. I need hardly mention your spiritless droning on over the superiority of the colour blue to all others, and my response, a mere ‘sup’, was simply the best answer that I, or even the most masterful and creative intellectual, could ever muster. In short, the gradual decline of standards, and the incremental deterioration in quality, while perhaps expressing itself in my letters just as much as in yours, was solely and unmistakably the fault of your own failure to provide interesting content, which, while bad enough in itself, also accounted in full for my own demise into an unending literary lifelessness.
In your last letter, when quoting a very clever gentleman: ““How can an earthly purpose point to a heavenly one?””
Anyway, now that so much is cleared up, I’d like to discuss something else: the love of God. I recently had a conversation with someone about the theological doctrine of Penal Substitution (Jesus dying from the sins of man). In an attempt to point out how ridiculous the whole idea is, my philosophical friend said something along these lines: “If John Somebody steals a cup of tea from Don Quixote, and for that offence, you sentence Sancho Panza to thirty years in prison, then you’re not upholding justice and mercy at the same time, you’re just being a jerk to Sancho Panza”. In retrospect, I realise that the best response would have been to point out that everyone is a jerk to Panza, even Don Quixote. But since this is an intellectual blog, and at that, one of certain standards, I’ll offer a more thoughtful response:
The problem with this quixotic situation is simply the choice of third-person narrative. Penal Substitution is a doctrine based on the circular reciprocity of requited love. By this I mean that if, for example, Romeo loves Juliet, then one of his greatest objectives in life is to keep her happy and healthy. However, if Juliet requites Romeo’s love, then a large part of serving her means, for Romeo, taking care also of himself. In this way, love is a lot like writing letters back and forth: the better one letter, the better its response, and if Romeo is well off, then Juliet will be also, which is the lover’s greatest concern. By loving Juliet, Romeo has not taken away resources from himself—though it may seem like this at first—but rather, he has increased the over all purposes that he and Juliet collectively possess for staying alive. Obviously, Shakespeare is a bad example, seeing that Romeo and Juliet were never actually in love, but it serves our philosophical purposes just fine.
Between God and man, there is a very similar drama, only man is not well off, and therefore, God will suffer. And He does. Penal Substitution doesn’t mean choosing a third-party at random to suffer for the crimes of another; rather, it means that, when man has turned from God, such that either he or God must pay, Jesus chooses Himself. After all, in the third-person, it doesn’t make much sense that one man should need to die in order that another might live, but the situation does in fact arise, and the Christian answer to the conflict is different for each narrative. In the first-person, the crucifixion illustrates that the proper answer is, ‘I die’, and in the second person, the resurrection tells us to answer, ‘you live’. But if, as humans, we respond gratefully to both of these divine answers, saying back to Jesus, ‘I am dead in my sins’ (Ephesians 2:1), come, ‘you live’ inside of me, then the third-person narrative will have no mention of death at all: ‘He lives’.
I propose that pointing earthly purposes to heavenly one’s is all a matter of Imitation Christis. If on Earth, we can experience this drama in the first person, not just reading about it in books and obscure theological doctrines, but actually knowing Jesus in the second-person—as a You, not a Him—then having been so deeply loved, we will find it difficult to respond in any other way toward others. We are the recipients of an incredible letter, to which, if we offer any reply at all, everything we write thereafter will bear a resemblance, and gradually, by small degrees, our Earthly story will be transformed into something very near a Heavenly one; we will understand other characters in the text more thoroughly and love the more fully than ever before—and indeed, this entire literary revolution, the demise of the old and rise of the new, will be entirely and unmistakably His fault.