Monday, May 11, 2015

A Puzzle About Baptism

I have spent a decent amount of time thinking about baptism, but one could always think a lot more.  If I have time in the near future I will comment on the thoughts the good Maverick offers below.

His first post and the context for what is below is here.

This link is for what follows:

Peter Lupu wrote me yesterday about baptism, I responded online, and today he is back at me again:
In your response you say:
" As for the change in metaphysical status wrought by baptism, the main change is the forgiveness of all sins, whether original or individual (personal).  The baptism of infants removes or rather forgives original sin only . . . ." 
" The change in metaphysical status wrought by baptism would be better described as a change in soteriological status."
I am puzzled. Why isn't conception (or even natural birth) sufficient for a salvational (soteriological) status? After all, according to all Monotheistic views, conception marks man's metaphysical status as having a spiritual soul that would animate his natural existence post birth and determine man's metaphysical status as a vital, organic, yet spiritual, being. Granting the soul at conception and rendering it a vital, active, animating force upon natural birth should suffice to grant man salvational status. Moreover, according to the creation, the soul represents God's spirit that was transferred from God to man ('spirit' in Hebrew also means 'ruah ' or 'wind' and God's spirit is translated as 'ruah Hashem' or "God's wind or breath"). Hence, bestowing a soul upon man at conception, and rendering it a vital force that animates his life at birth and thereafter, should suffice to bestow upon man salvational metaphysical status; for the soul represents God's determination, not man's. Baptism as a determinant of soteriological metaphysical status trumps the prior decision of God to grant salvational status and, since, Baptism is an act of man, it represents man's overreaching into the divine sphere where only God may act. 
Hence, I am puzzled.
Peter asked me yesterday about baptism in Christianity, and so I took my task as one of explaining concisely what the sacrament of Baptism does for the one baptized according to Christians.  What I said was correct, though I left a lot out.  Now I will say some more in trying to relieve Peter's puzzlement.  I will not give my own view of baptism, but merely explain  what I take to be the Christian view.
Peter's puzzlement concerns the necessity of baptism.  Why do we need it?  After all, man is made in the image and likeness of God.  This likeness, of course, is spiritual, not physical.  Like God, man is a spiritual being.  Unlike God, he is an animal.  Man, then, has a dual nature: he is a spiritual animal.  This sets him above every other type of animal, metaphysically speaking.  He has a special metaphysical status: he is the god-like animal.  As god-like, he equipped to share in the divine life.  Every creature has a divine origin, but only man has a divine destiny.
If so, if man was created to be a spiritual being, and to share in the divine life, then his special metaphysical status should suffice for his salvation.  Or so Peter reasons.  Why then is there any need for baptism? The Christian answer, I think, is because of Original Sin.
Man is a fallen being.  Somehow he fell from the metaphysical height he originally possessed.  This is not to say that he ceased to be a spiritual animal and became a mere animal.  It is not as if he was metaphysically demoted.  Both pre- and post-lapsarian man has the special metaphysical status.  But after the fall, Man's relation to God was disturbed in such a way that he was no longer fit to participate in the divine life.   I would put it like this: Man the spirit became man the ego.  Overcome by the power to say 'I' and mean it, a power that derives from his being a spirit, man separated from God to go it alone.  The power went to his head and he fell into the illusion of self-sufficiency.  He used the God-given power to defy God.  He became a law unto himself.
In short, man fell out of right relation to God.  Thus the necessity of a restoration of that right relation.  This is where the Incarnation comes into the picture.  Only God can bring man back into right relation with God.  God becomes one of us, suffers and dies and rises from the dead.  Having entered fully into death and rising again, God the Son secures the redemption of man for those who believe in him.  The immersion in water and the re-emergence from it signify the entry into death and the resurrection in which death is conquered.
So why do we need baptism if we already enjoy the special metaphysical status of being spiritual beings? We need it because of the fall of man, his original sin.  In baptism, each individual human being appropriates the inner transformation that Christ won for humanity in general by his death and resurrection.
Peter says that baptism is an act of man.  That is not the way a Christian would understand it.  Baptism is a sacrament: an outward sign of an inward (spiritual) transformation.  The physical rite is of course an act of man, but the inner transformation is due to divine agency.
The Peter Puzzle Potentiated
Suppose Peter accepts the foregoing.  He can still raise a difficulty.  "OK, I see how Original Sin comes into the picture, along with Incarnation, Resurrection, Redemption and Atonement.  But if Christ died for our sins and restored humanity to right relation with God, why do we need baptism?  What additional job does this do?  Didn't Christ do the work for us?"
Here I suppose an answer might be: "Yes, Christ did the heavy lifting, but each of us must accept Christ as savior by faith. Baptism is the faithful acceptance whereby the individual joins the Mystical Body of Christ wherein he reaps the salvific benefits of Christ's passion."
At this point Peter might reasonably object:  "But how is such a thing possible for an infant?  How can an infant accept Jesus Christ as lord and savior?"  Here we arrive at the vexing question of infant baptism.
There are obviously many difficult questions here, and equally difficult answers.

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