Monday, May 23, 2011

God Isn't Really Just, Is He?

How can salvation possibly be just? When we as Christians attempt to share the gospel with those around us, one of the issues we may encounter is that a person may question why a loving God would send anyone to hell. It is simple enough to say it is because the Lord is just. The Bible describes him as just also. “The just Lord is in the midst thereof; He will not do iniquity: Every morning doth he bring his judgment to light, he faileth no.” (Zaphaniah 3:5a) But how do we then explain salvation? If he saves us because he loves us, does that mean he saves everyone? Or maybe as Calvinists believe, he loves the world, but the world isn’t really the whole world, just the elect? But even if that were true, how can salvation possibly be called justice? Is there something about us that makes us worthy of salvation? That would imply works for salvation. Looking at what we have to offer, none of us deserve salvation and yet the Lord has offered it to us anyway. How can he be called just if he doesn’t give us justice?

Or maybe we look at this question a different way. Why was it necessary for Jesus to suffer and die? He didn’t sin; we did. Wouldn’t it make more sense for us to suffer some for what we did and then God extend grace to us? That’s kind of the idea behind the Catholic doctrine of purgatory. We also see it somewhat in some of their other doctrines. The idea is that when you sin, you must do something which pleases God and he forgives you. But is that justice? If I were to put your eye out and a judge gave me a twenty dollar fine, would you see that as justice? No, justice would be if I lost my eye and that doesn’t even begin to consider restitution. The penalty for sin is very clear in the Bible. Even before Adam sinned, God told him that if he ate of the tree he would die. We look at the law of Moses and time after time we see the proscribed penalty is death. If the God of the Bible is just, then by the law he wrote, he must punish sin with death. Even if we don’t understand why sin produces death, God defined justice for sin as death. It then can’t be just for him to just arbitrarily choose to kill some and others to let live.

It would be a mistake for us to think that God just looks at our sin, smiles and says, “I realize you couldn’t help but sin and I love you too much to let you suffer in hell, so I’m just going to forget this ever happened.” That isn’t justice. But suppose you got traffic ticket for some reason. It was your fault and you know it, but you don’t have the money to pay it. You mention it to a friend because it really worries you. Your friend pulls out a checkbook and writes you a check for the amount of the ticket. You take the money and pay the fine. Is that justice? It may not seem like it, but the law considers that justice. You paid the fine; the law doesn’t care that you got the money as a gift. Your debt is paid.

That is what Jesus did for us and what we see in the sacrifices of the Old Testament. If God is just, he can’t just wipe the debt off the books. The price has to be paid. Only a life can pay the debt of sin, but our death means eternal separation from God in hell. But God is love. He didn’t want us to go to hell, so he gave us a solution that gives us life and paid the penalty that justice demands. Jesus died. The law demanded a life in order to spare ours.

So, while we didn’t get what we deserve, as far as the Law is concerned, the death of Jesus for our sins meets the requirement of justice. God loves us and was willing to pay the debt required by justice in order that he could have a relationship with us while still remaining who he is.