S criptural concepts are often suspended on a web of ideas whose very shape relies on the tension between apparent contradictions. It is in the midst of this web that we discover our theology; in the center of this tension that we find the Christian life. Our faith, for example, is deeply personal, yet also profoundly corporate. While we may grow in holiness through works of piety (such as the stillness of prayer and Scripture), we must also grow through works of mercy (such as the activity of service and social justice). We may be saved solely by the grace of God, but we are also called to actively participate in the inner working of that salvation. We find our peace in the mercy of a God of justice.
This last one is of particular importance, as mercy and justice are both good things; yet mercy and justice are also diametrically opposed. A God who claims both is thus faced with an enormous challenge. It is in this place of tension that we approach a very interesting question posed in response to my article on sacrifice in the Old Testament.
I understand Jesus having sacrificed Himself for me. Through His life, death and resurrection He shows me the way to true life. I do not believe that He died in order for God to forgive us. If God needs to punish something or someone before He can forgive, then He is too much like me to be worthy of worship.
So my question to you is, do you believe that God sacrificed His son in order for Him to be able to forgive me?
Yours in Christ,
This is a great question, and one that deserves a thoughtful response. Before we dive into it, however, let us look a little closer at the paradox in which it finds a home.
The Paradox Of Justice And Mercy
Justice is a fickle thing. We recognize the need for it, and when we see a wrong that has been committed, we expect justice to be done. There is something in our gut that jerks to life when we see the innocent victimized, and that inner sense of violation gives birth to a holy desire to set things right. Evil is never an acceptable state of affairs. Justice is a critical issue.
Of course, we often confuse justice and vengeance. That inner voice which cries out for restitution can easily morph into a throbbing rage, and that slow boil can then subtly shift from a holy cry on behalf of the victimized to a decisive intent to victimize the offender. The movement is quiet, and often imperceptible, but it is there. Justice wants things to be made right, for evil to be dealt with appropriately. Vengeance wants to unleash one’s own internal torment upon the one who inflicted it, forcing them to share in the suffering which we experience. These are two very different things, yet vengeance often dons “justice” as a mask. The lust for vengeance is only doused with the power of forgiveness. Evil, however, is still a force that needs to be addressed.
The God we serve takes evil very seriously. This is important, as a god who looks upon human suffering with apathy (or worse, revels in it) is difficult to reconcile with a God of love. Justice is a moral imperative. The God of the Bible is a God of justice. And yet, this same God is also a God of mercy. This is problematic.
Mercy exists on the opposite spectrum of justice. The closer one gets to justice, the further they move from mercy; the closer to mercy, the further from justice. The pendulum does not swing both ways. Faced with a decision, one must choose. A God of justice or a God of mercy? You cannot have both.
And yet, He finds a way.
The Confluence Of The Cross
Here is the beauty of divine wisdom and overwhelming love. Rather than surrendering justice, or forgoing mercy, He chose to become the offender. Far more than merely sheathing His divinity in a flesh-suit, God chose to become fully human. The Creator became the creation.
As one of us, He took the full weight of justice upon Himself. He walked as one of us, laughed as one of us, suffered as one of us, and was betrayed by those He loved… as one of us. Then, on the cross, this innocent God-man took on the full penalty of sin, as the only truly innocent one among us. This innocence was important, as was His willingness to suffer. Had He not been innocent, He could only take on the just punishment He had incurred Himself; had He not been willing, He would simply have been another victim at the hands of evil men. He was neither. God took upon Himself the full weight of the justice His character demanded.
Yes, Hando. I believe that Jesus died so that I could be forgiven and restored, because it is only through the cross that the demands of both justice and mercy could be met.
The cross is the confluence of the paradox. It is here, at Calvary, that the God of mercy and justice chose to extend mercy to humanity… through His justice.
What do you think? How integral was the cross in God’s redemptive purpose?
Image Credit: Lindsay Shaver