Jesus and the Infinite

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February 24, 2019

“In the infinite price paid by the Son of God to ransom man, the love of God is revealed” —God’s Amazing Grace, p. 99.

Ever since I came across this passage, I have been intrigued by the notion that Jesus paid an “infinite price” for my redemption. Ellen White, the writer, uses the expression in more than one place, such as in Christ’s Object Lessons, which we’ll look at a little later, so it’s not a mere one-off pairing.

With that in mind, let’s key in on that word “infinite.” One easy-to-find definition is “limitless or endless in space, extent, or size; impossible to measure or calculate.” One way to reword this might be: It’s impossible to measure something that has no boundaries. Indeed, if you don’t have a starting or an end point, where do you place the ruler to start the measuring?

When plugging this definition into the opening quote, the writer seems to be saying that the price Jesus paid is limitless in its extent, something that is impossible to calculate. In other words: The price that Jesus paid cannot be measured because it has no boundaries. There is no starting point nor an end point in which to measure the price.

This idea has been little more than a fun exercise — a meditation as I walk in the woods on a Sabbath day. Yet, it’s lately come into sharp focus thanks to the growing movement of passionate antitrinitarians in the Adventist Church, a movement that teaches Jesus, being a Son, is by definition a finite being, a consciousness that at one time didn’t exist but was later created, or “fathered,” by God.

While antitrinitarians do employ passages from White’s writings to prove their doctrine, I find this quote to matter much more than I once did. Here’s why: There is a contradiction between Jesus paying an “infinite price” and his nature being finite.

I have yet to come across an antitrinitarian explanation that addresses this “infinite price,” but that doesn’t mean explanations don’t exist. However, it’s my assertion that antitrinitarians cannot take these words at face value; they must take them as hyperbole.

Because if White was being literal, which is what the evidence suggests, then the belief that Jesus is a finite being isn’t tenable.

The Nature of Sin

If you somehow accumulate an infinite financial debt, it borders on the absurdity to say that your debt is a large one. No, your debt isn’t merely large — it’s endless. It probably goes without saying (but here I go anyway) that as a finite person with limited means, you could never pay off an infinite debt on the books because it would take limitless means.

This is how most Christians — Protestants and Catholics alike — understand their spiritual “debts”: Your spiritual debt, my spiritual debt, and the collective spiritual debt of humanity is literally infinite. Not just merely large, but also endless! One reason I’ve heard for this is that sin offends an infinite God in an infinite manner and needs infinite appeasement through eternal punishment; another reason I’ve heard is that sinners and sin will never end. Thus, being naturally eternal, the devil, the demons, and the unsaved souls of humans will burn in hell for all eternity, perpetually sinning as they are perpetually tortured.

It is through this lens that the vast majority of Christians also see their redemption. It took an infinite being, Jesus, to pay what finite beings, humans, couldn’t pay. Jesus may have some finite qualities of a human, but he also has the infinite qualities of God; that infinite side of him made it possible for him to pay the infinite debt all humans must “pay for their sins.”

None of these positions are justified in the Scriptures, of course. Furthermore, Adventism doesn’t really allow for sin to be infinite in nature.

Indeed, applying the definition of infinite to sin, we can know that sin is not infinite. We can know this because the Bible sets a beginning and an end for sin. Sin has boundaries; it rose up at a point in time, and it will end at a point in time. Thus, sin can be measured and, by definition, is something finite. There was a first sin and there will eventually be a last sin. (Praise God!)

Even though there might be, let’s say, a multiplied quintillion amount of sins to have been committed by the human family since creation, it’s still a finite number of sins. Therefore, any “payment for sins” would only require a finite transaction, not an infinite one. Of course, while multiplied quintillion may not be an endless number, it certainly is a large number.

The irony here is that most Adventists believe that Jesus had to be God to pay for our sins anyway. Take this lesson from a prominent conservative Adventist ministry:

“Only one whose life is at least equal to all mankind could die for the sins of all mankind. Because Jesus is the Creator and Author of all life, the life He laid down was even greater than the lives of all people who would ever live.”

Just as other Protestants and Catholics do, most Adventists believe that it took the death of a god to “pay for all our sins.” Why? The only death that could settle the massive debt had to be bigger than all the sins of all the humans who ever lived. Only a god could do that; therefore, Jesus has to be God.

Keep in mind here that while acknowledging that Jesus’ godhood paid the price, this statement tacitly acknowledges that sin is finite, so while it took an infinite being to pay the price for sins, it was more than enough to pay the finite debt of multiplied quintillions of sins.

Of course, Adventists do expand the lens of redemption further to include what Jesus is now doing in the heavenly sanctuary. But even then, his work in the heavenly sanctuary is of a finite duration. It began after his ascension and it will end at some point, presumably right before the Second Coming.

The points at which Jesus lived, died for our sins, and was resurrected were all finite in time. We can plot when his ministry on earth began and when it ended. The points at which Jesus worked in the sanctuary are also finite.

That is to say, his torture and death were not an infinitely paid price, neither by quality or quantity. The same applies to his ministry in the heavenly sanctuary. Those ministries began; those ministries ended or will end soon. Thus, both of these solutions are finite in their scope.

This seems to favor the antitrinitarian idea that Jesus is finite. But what about White’s description? How was it that Jesus paid an infinite price using finite means? Could it be that White was simply being hyperbolic?

The Price Wasn’t Actually Infinite

If she was using the word “infinite” loosely in God’s Amazing Grace, as hyperbole — that “infinite” doesn’t really mean immeasurable and endless but is merely a way to express the greatness of what Jesus did to dull human minds — then this exercise need not go on a single sentence further.

But if she were using it as hyperbole in Grace, what about chapter 14 of Christ’s Object Lessons? In a passage spanning pages 165 to 172, she describes God’s compassion, love, nature, and wisdom; each of these, she says, is “infinite.”

Why does she say that God has qualities that are infinite? Because she knows that God himself is infinite. Whatever qualities he has would be equally immeasurable as he is.

God exists. Many theologians have said that the “I AM” of Scripture is the name of what Aristotle would later call the Unmoved Mover, the Prime Mover, the uncaused cause of creation. Whereas humans are bound to time and space — we have a beginning, we take up one space — God is unbound. Whatever God is, there is no boundary in time or space with which he can be measured. He did not begin; he will not end. We have no place to put a ruler to measure him by.

Fast forward to page 176 (actually, I suggest you read the whole chapter), where she writes, “In this speck of a world the whole heavenly universe manifests the greatest interest, for Christ has paid an infinite price for the souls of its inhabitants” (my emphasis).

The question here is whether White transitions from literal uses of the term “infinite” to a hyperbolic use when describing the role Jesus played. There is no reason to think she would do that. In the very least, it would confuse a reader into thinking that Jesus was actually infinite.

But if she wasn’t using hyperbole, how might we understand that a finite being had the means to pay an infinite price. The simple answer is: We can’t. It’s a contradiction. It makes more sense to conclude that she believed that Jesus possessed the same infinite qualities of the Father, that the Son actually had the means to pay an infinite price, which would, of course, make him God.

The Price of Redemption

Only something infinite could pay what Ellen White calls an infinite price. Only God is infinite — not space, not time, not humanity, not anything that has been created. Thus, Jesus being created makes little sense if he’s done something that had an infinite effect.

But something deeper needs to be looked into here, and I’ve run out of space. If the infinite price wasn’t merely the finite time of his death on the cross and his resurrection, if that price wasn’t merely his finite work in the sanctuary, then where do we find the infinite in the work of his redemption? That’s an article for another time, but you can actually find the answers for yourself in Christ’s Object Lessons chapter 14 and in God’s Amazing Grace.

Finally, it’s not my position that anyone who denies that Jesus is God isn’t saved. But in my experience with antitrinitarians, there is an idea that because I believe that Jesus is God, I have been tricked by Satan and that my salvation is threatened. If you have been assailed by this kind of talk, I hope this article brings you peace.

But even if I’m wrong, the battle that antitrinitarians are bringing at this late hour is a distraction. It’s not whether you can correctly guess at what God is — the finite will never catch up to the infinite — it’s really whether you embrace the model of his selfless, sacrificial love and put his ways into practice. It’s not what God is that matters, but who God is, His character, especially at an hour when our churches and our politics and our economics wander after the beast. If manifesting as a triune god or as a finite Jesus will make you act like the devil, then that’s the form Satan will take.

This is the most important question of our age: “What is the fruit of God’s character?” Jesus was, simply put, a liberator and a friend, the best possible expression of God’s immeasurable love for the measurable you. Go and do likewise.

 

Joseph St. Amant is a freelance writer and editor for various religious and secular magazines, publications, and websites around the world. He has been a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church for more than fifteen years.

Photo by Daniil Silantev on Unsplash

 

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