August 06, 2006

God’s Justice

So my friend Adam had a discussion with a Muslim recently, and he blogged a bit about it.

One of Adam’s comments in his final post:

Namely, isn’t it illogical that God needs to kill himself, to have Jesus be sacrificed, for our sins to be forgiven? How can punishing one person cause the sins of another to be forgiven?

Adam does a good job of showing that how justification at least isn’t illogical. But there is something that struck me as I was reading his post that I wanted to talk about: justice.

It’s probably one of the biggest questions I would have about Christianity if I wasn’t a Christian. Why couldn’t God simply say, “Hey, bud, I’ll forgive you! I’m God—I can do anything I want!” Why the need for all the, well, blood? Herds of cattle—dead—in the Old Testament, and the blood of a truly good Man in the New Testament. It’s a gory mess. Why can’t we just be like the other religions and hope that Allah will be merciful or that I will return a better person or that there really isn’t such a thing as “sin” or “wrongdoing?”

I think it is because Christianity has a very unique understanding of “sin.” Sin as in not meeting the expectations and standards that God has for us—the same standards that He has for himself.

Now, think for a moment. If you don’t happen to meet the standards of a guy who you met on the bus—maybe he doesn’t like your haircut—you probably aren’t going to care too much. And that’s probably just as well. If it was your parent or your spouse or a close friend (depending on your status), you might care more—even a lot more. If your boss decided he didn’t like your work, you might care quite a bit. If the president of your multi-national organization singled you out of thousands of similarly-placed workers, and said that you didn’t meet his standards, you might care a lot more. And, if the God of the universe, the One in charge of all things, your Maker, Designer, and Standards-Setter, said that you did not meet His standards, should you not care that much more? And, to top it all off, should not the consequences be that much more dire?

It is called justice.

Only by associating wrong-doing with an appropriate punishment do we really realize it’s magnitude. If there was no punishment, than did we really do wrong in the first place?

God wants us to realized the magnitude of what we—you and I—do wrong. He doesn’t want us to take His forgiveness for granted. He doesn’t want us to just accept “cheap grace,” as Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it. Sin is a ugly thing, attractive, but devastatingly deadly—and to pretend that it isn’t is to laugh in the face of the God who put the standards in place.

The forgiveness that we get cost a great deal. If it didn’t, I suspect God wouldn’t have even bothered calling it sin.

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