Cost-Benefit Analysis and Christ
Cost/Benefit analysis is something that everyone of us does constantly. Everything we do has a cost. We may not really think of it as a cost, but it still is. The cost may be in time, energy, or any number of other things. We usually think of "cost as money, but that is very narrow thinking.
Even if I decide to take a nap, it has a cost attached, (time) and I have to decide if the cost is worth the benefit (rest). If I don't need the rest, then the cost is probably not worth paying. On the other hand, if I have something else to spend that time on that will give a great deal of benefit, I might choose not to take the nap if I determine that the other activity has more benefit to me than the needed rest does.
The point is, everything has it's cost and it's benefit. When Moses engaged in cost/benefit analysis, (Heb. 11:24-26) he decided that the cost (suffering with the children of Israel) was worth the benefit (the blessing of God), and that the cost (judgment after a short time) was not worth the benefit (pleasures of sin). Nothing I do will ever have no cost, even if the cost is not doing something else. And everything I do has a benefit, even if that benefit is not worth the cost.
The Bible does not make the case that sin has no benefit, but rather that the benefit is not worth what it costs. The wages of sin is death. No one denies that there is pleasure in sin, and pleasure is a good thing. God is the inventor of pleasure. Evil is parasitic. Nobody does evil for evil's sake. For example, nobody steals simply because stealing is evil. They steal to get some good thing that they are unwilling to work for, or cannot get any other way. Nobody murders simply because murder is evil. They do it to gain some end, even if that end is a sadistic pleasure. The pleasure is not in and of itself evil. Even if it is a twisted and tortured pleasure, it is a corruption of a good thing. Satan cannot create, he only corrupts. When we do our cost benefit analysis, we have to keep in mind that the benefit we desire may be a Trojan horse, that will introduce destructive forces into our lives. In that case, the cost is too high. Still, God always encourages us to do cost/benefit Analysis.
What else can we call it when God tells us, "put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need,1 or "I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see,2 or "Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
they shall become like wool.
19 If you are willing and obedient,
you shall eat the good of the land;
20 but if you refuse and rebel,
you shall be eaten by the sword;
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken. 3
God's obvious point is that righteousness is worth a lot more than it costs, and sin costs a lot more than it is worth. This is doubly true when we realize that God is the one who has paid the price for righteousness.
An obvious question, then, to ask is, "does God do cost/benefit analysis? It is at this point that we begin to discover that God is very different from His creatures.
In the first place there is the question of cost. If God is the infinite God proclaimed in Scripture, (Psalm 50:12; 147:5; Job 11:7; Deut. 33:27; I Kings 8:27) then it is hard to imagine how anything can cost Him. Let us think about His creation of the universe. What would His "cost look like. Did He expend energy in it's creation? We can only think of cost in terms of having used up something, so that we have less of it when we are finished than when we began. But God's power was not used up. When He began to create the universe, he had infinite power, and when He was finished He still had infinite power. It cost Him nothing in terms of power. Did it use up some of God's time? When He began He was eternal, and when He was finished He was still eternal. Time, in fact, can hardly enter the equation, because when He created the universe, He created time. Creating it could not have used any of it up. In fact, when we begin to think about it, we realize that creating the universe cost Him absolutely nothing.
What about the benefit side of the equation. How could creating the universe possibly benefit God? Can we say that creating the universe would make God happier? To suggest so would be to say that God was less than perfectly happy before He created it. Even the thought borders on blasphemy. Did He create the universe in order to increase His glory, His prestige? His glory and prestige were infinite before He created. You cannot increase infinity. That could not possibly be His reason. Did God create the universe because He needed something to give Himself a sense of fulfillment or satisfaction? But of course, God's infinite perfection demands that He has no needs of any kind. So He could not possibly have been fulfilling a need in creation. We must come to the conclusion that God created the universe simply because He chose to do so, and that doing so did not benefit Him in any way. He would have been the same infinitely perfect, infinitely happy God that He is now if He had not done so.
So why would He bother? I believe the only satisfactory answer must be that He created the universe for the benefit of the beings He created as part of it, i.e. human beings. He did it because He is love, and he chose to express His love by creating human beings whom He could shower benefits on. He didn't have to, He didn't need to, He just did it.
And this highlights the infinite difference between God and His creatures. God showers benefits on His creatures, because His creatures are beings filled with needs. Plants need sunshine and rain, and God showers them with those things. Animals need food, shelter, oxygen, water, etc. and God provides those things in abundance. Humans have even more needs. We need the same things animals need, plus we need love, significance, meaningful employment, challenge, beauty and a thousand other things. God provided all those things in the universe that He designed for us. In fact, He made us not only as beings who need love, but beings able to love, and with a need to love. And to fulfill that need, He poured out on us gifts that we are able to give to others around us, including even the other parts of His creation. But because we are finite creatures, for us there is a cost to everything, and a benefit to everything. In a sense, part of the glory of our ability to love is that when we give, it costs us something. (II Sam. 24:24)
Perhaps you will say, "so does that mean that our gifts are more valuable than God's gifts, because what we give costs, and what He gives costs Him nothing? And perhaps in this is the most amazing truth of all. Because in fact there is one thing that God gives us that did cost Him. The price is beyond comprehension. In order to redeem us from sin, God gave an infinite gift. In this, we see the infinite value that God places upon us. The fact that He doesn't need us in no way implies that He doesn't value us. He gave His only begotten Son. (John 3:16) When He gave His only Son, He had nothing more to give. He gave His all. It is the only thing God could give that could cost Him, and He received no benefit from His gift. When He gave His son, He did not weigh the cost and the benefit “ for Him it was all cost and no benefit, and He did it for Love. When we give, even things that cost us, we always benefit in some way. But for Him, it could only be pure and perfectly altruistic love.
This brings up the final issue. As humans, we have an inherent tendency to think that other beings are like us. We attribute emotions to animals, when there is no possible way of knowing if they have emotions, and in many cases, it is impossible that they should have emotions. We attribute loyalty and altruism to honeybees, when in fact all that they do is purely the result of reaction to stimuli. We even try to anthropomorphize inanimate objects. We think that our car has it in for us when it "acts up, or we lavish love upon it, as though it could appreciate our generosity.
But when it comes to God, it is far more insidious. In Psalm 50, God says "These things you have done, and I have been silent; you thought that I was one like yourself. But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you. "4 When we begin to think that God is like us, we inevitably begin to think falsehoods. It is doubly dangerous, because in some ways, we are in fact "like God. We were created in His image, and that image was not totally destroyed in the fall. In those areas where we are in God's image, we do in fact resemble God more than we do the rest of creation. But in all area's that relate to our creature-hood, we are completely unlike God.
This means that we are prone to think that God's motivation is like ours. It makes us feel good when people praise us, and we think God is like that. We are happy when circumstances favor us, and sad when they do not, and we think God has similar responses. We get a sense of power when we lord it over other people, and we think God feels the same way. We feel slighted when people slander us, and we think God does too. We feel a necessity to defend our own dignity, because it is actually in jeopardy, mostly from our own behavior, and we think God feels a need to defend His dignity. In fact, God's dignity is never threatened. Nothing can make God feel slighted. God does not delight in His power over others. God can feel grieved, but he never feels grieved for Himself, but only for others. The ways in which we misunderstand God are nearly infinite. They almost all arise out of thinking that God is like us. Cost/benefit analysis is one area where we are completely unlike God, and until we realize that fact, we will always misunderstand Him.
This is not to say that we are wrong in operating under cost/benefit. We must, because we are creatures. In regards to morality, we ought to be as much like God as we possibly can. We ought to approach the love of God as nearly as it is possible. We ought to be as truthful as God, as righteous as God, as Holy as God ("You shall be holy to me, for I the Lord am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine.) 5 But we can never be as self-sufficient as God, and any attempt to be so would result in the sin of Satan, whose pride reached a point where he said "I will be like the most High. That was blasphemy. We ought, instead, to readily acknowledge our dependence, and humbly seek God's help, God's wisdom, God's aid. We can benefit from God, we need God, and we ought to be aware of that. When we serve God, it will cost us, but it will benefit us more. When God serves us, it cost Him nothing at all, except in regards to our redemption, and He can never receive any benefit from doing so.
By Pastor Joel De Ford
1 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Mal 3:10). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
2 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Re 3:18). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
3 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Is 1:18“20). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
4 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Ps 50:21). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
5 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Le 20:26). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.