Virtual Colloquium: Brandon Warmke, “God’s Standing to Forgive”
April 21, 2017 — 6:00

Author: Kenny Pearce  Category: General  Tags: , , , , ,   Comments: 2

Today’s Virtual Colloquium is “God’s Standing to Forgive” by Brandon Warmke. Dr. Warmke received his PhD in philosophy from the University of Arizona in 2014 and is currently Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. His work in moral philosophy has been published in journals such as Philosophical Studies, Canadian Journal of Philosophy, Australasian Journal of Philosophy, Pacific Philosophical Quarterly, and Philosophy and Public Affairs.


God’s Standing to Forgive

Brandon Warmke

Consider two cases:

LUCY: I lie to my brother, telling him I bought a gift for our parents when I did not do so. Realizing my guilt, I ask my new plumber Lucy to forgive me for my lie. Lucy forgives me for lying to my brother.
GOD: I lie to my brother, telling him I bought a gift for our parents when I did not do so. Realizing my guilt, I ask God to forgive me for my lie. God forgives me for lying to my brother.

The claim that Lucy could forgive me for lying to my brother will, I think, strike most people as very strange. And yet for many people, it will not seem nearly so strange to think that God could do so. An apparently central tenet of all three Abrahamic faiths is that God can and does forgive human persons for the wrong things they do to one another. But how is this possible? Because I lied to my brother—and not to Lucy—we are inclined to think that Lucy cannot forgive me. She lacks standing to do so. But then why think that God can forgive us for the wrongs we do to others? It is natural to suppose that just like I did not lie to Lucy about the gift, I also did not lie to God about the gift. And so if Lucy does not have the standing to forgive me, how does God? This is the question I wish to explore: how could God have the standing to forgive us for the things we do to one another? Call this the problem of divine standing. In this paper I provide two different solutions to the problem.

I begin by cataloging the various ways that one might have standing to forgive someone for wrongdoing. One has direct standing to forgive a wrongdoer when one is the direct victim of that wrongdoing. One has indirect standing when one is wronged as a result of a wrongdoing to someone else. Controversially, one can possess proxy standing to forgive when one can forgive on behalf of the victim. Also controversially, one can possess third-party standing to forgive a wrongdoer for what she did to someone else.

I then show that none of these individual varieties of standing to forgive explains why God would be able to forgive interpersonal human wrongs. For example, one might argue that when humans wrong one another, both the human victim and God have direct standing to forgive, but for different wrongs. When I lie to you, you can forgive me for lying to you, and God can forgive me for, say, disobeying God. But such a solution would still not secure God’s standing to forgive me for lying to you.

I then develop two different solutions to the problem of divine standing. One kind of solution concedes that God cannot forgive wrongs between human persons because God lacks standing to do so, but argues that this is no problem. There are many things that God cannot do. Just as God cannot, say, keep your wedding vows to your spouse (only you can do that), God cannot forgive you for lying to your spouse (only s/he can do that). This solution also stresses the importance of human forgiveness: because only you can forgive the wrongs done to you, those wrongs will be forgiven only if you do so.

For those who desire for God to be able to forgive us our “trespasses” against others, I develop another solution to the problem of divine standing. On this strategy, when we wrong others: (1) the human victim has direct standing to forgive us for the interpersonal human wrong; (2) God has direct standing to forgive for the wrong against God; and (3) God has third-party standing to forgive for the interpersonal human wrong. In developing this solution, I defend the possibility of third-party standing. I suggest a new strategy for defending third party-forgiveness and show that persons can come to have such standing when they stand in relationships of personal care with both victim and wrongdoer. I conclude that since God stands in relationships of personal care with all of us, this explains why God has standing to forgive us for our wrongs against each other and not just our wrongs against God.


The complete paper is here. Comments welcome below!