The Divine Dilemma

We all have trivial dilemmas to deal with every day: what clothes to wear, snooze button or no snooze.  There are even more important dilemmas as well: Chick-fil-A or Panera, finding something on Netflix… you know, the real struggles of life.  No matter what the dilemma is, the decision you make always excludes the other options.  There are ways around this, of course, like lunch at Panera then dessert at Chick-fil-A.  This may be a nice solution, but you still miss out on something at the end of the day (like a Spicy Chicken Deluxe hold the pickles).  You would think dilemmas would be limited to the created world and God would not have to worry about this nonsense.  (In walk Adam and Eve and the Divine Dilemma)

God faced the largest dilemma in history.  Sin.  God created man and woman in his image and likeness to be in communion with him.  God gave them dominion over the land and said “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat for in the day that you eat of it you shall die” (Gen 2:17).  As we all know, Adam and Eve shared a little sin meal one day and realized they were naked!  God must do what he had warned because, after all, Truth Himself cannot lie.  So, he banished them from the Garden and sentenced them to death.

If we left the story like that it would be the most anticlimactic story ever.  It would be similar to my biggest fear of buying a new puppy… I bring him home with excitement because we are going to be best friends and then he pees all over my pillow.  I would take that pup back immediately to whatever pet store he came from demanding a refund!  Adam and Eve peed all over God’s pillow but there are no returns on creation.  Thus, God banished Adam and Eve from the Garden and sentenced them, and all of humanity, to death.  However, this was not what humanity was created for and both man and God longed for that communion once again.

“It would, of course, have been unthinkable that God should go back upon His word and that man, having transgressed, should not die; but it was equally monstrous that beings which once had shared the nature of the Word should perish and turn back again into non-existence through corruption.” –St Athanasius

Here we reach the Divine Dilemma:

  1. God allows man to continue in the filth of sin and death with no way out. Complete justice
  2. God reopens the gates of Eden to man and completely forgives all sin. Complete mercy

St Athanasius excellently explains the solution to the Divine Dilemma in the person of Jesus Christ.  God could not keep humanity in perpetual corruption, but He also could not go back on his condemnation of death.  All men are born into sin through Adam so we could not save ourselves.  We are stained with original sin.  We needed a sinless human to repent and re-head-up humanity.  Jesus releases us from the grip of sin while still suffering death.  Jesus, fully human, suffers the consequence of sin which is death.  Jesus, fully divine, was able to renew our image and re-head-up humanity.  In Jesus we find both God and man saving us from sin and repenting for sin in one act of sacrifice on the cross.

Jesus’ sinless life undid the sinful life of Adam yet he still suffered the punishment of death.  Jesus undid Adam’s disobedience by being completely obedient unto death, an undeserved death.  This death, however, was redeemed.  It is in the resurrection that we see the fruit of Christ’s salvific death on the cross.  Death is no longer an end, but a new beginning.  Therefore, we no longer fear death because we now die with Christ instead of Adam.  We still must die (which remains consistent with God’s word), but through the incarnation and crucifixion, the gates of Eden have been reopened to us.  Now we hope in the Christ’s resurrection because we have been born with Him in Baptism.  God has solved the Divine Dilemma through the person of Jesus, truly human and truly divine.  Complete justice and complete mercy.

Credit: Today in the Catholic Church we celebrate the feast of St Athanasius, doctor of the Church and Father of Orthodoxy.  He is the oldest doctor of the Church and one of the original five established in 1298.  He is most known for being a strong opponent of Arianism; a heresy that questioned the divinity of Jesus.  In response to this heresy, Athanasius wrote a document called On the Incarnation where he defends the humanity and divinity of Jesus Christ and coined the term Divine Dilemma. His argument was summarized in this post.

St Athanasius, pray for us.

2 thoughts on “The Divine Dilemma

  1. “Therefore, we no longer fear death because we now die with Christ instead of Adam. We still must die (which remains consistent with God’s word), but through the incarnation and crucifixion, the gates of Eden have been reopened to us.” This is terrific Greg. Thanks for the post and timely too! (viz., the feast of Athanasius 😉


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s