Thania, my daughter who is 7, asked a great question yesterday. We were talking about why Good Friday was ‘good’. She had some great answers, in the midst of our talking she asked,
“Why did Jesus have to die, why couldn’t God just forgive us?”
Why indeed? It is a question which has shaken far greater minds than mine.
John Stott gives a great answer,
‘Why should our forgiveness depend on Christ’s death?’…’Why does God not simply forgive us, without the necessity of the cross?’…’After all’, the objector may continue, ‘if we sin against another, we are required to forgive one another. We are even warned of dire consequences if we refuse. Why can’t God practise what he preaches and be equally generous? Nobody’s death is necessary before we forgive each other. Why then does God make such a fuss about forgiving us and even declare it impossible without his Son’s “sacrifice for sin”?’
For us to argue, ‘We forgive each other unconditionally, let God do the same to us’, betrays not sophistication but shallowness, since it overlooks the elementary fact that we are not God. We are private individuals, and other people’s misdemeanours are personal injuries. God is not a private individual, however, nor is sin just a personal injury. On the contrary, God himself is the maker of the laws we break, and sin is rebellion against him.
The reason why many people give the wrong answers to questions about the cross, and even ask the wrong questions, is that they have carefully considered neither the seriousness of sin nor the majesty of God.
I took this quote from Against Heresies blog where it was used in answer to Brian McLaren and Steve Chalke both of whom have discussed their dis-ease with God’s chosen way of bringing forgiveness.
The traditional understanding says that God asks of us something that God is incapable of Himself. God asks us to forgive people. But God is incapable of forgiving. God can’t forgive unless He punishes somebody in place of the person He was going to forgive. God doesn’t say things to you—Forgive your wife, and then go kick the dog to vent your anger. God asks you to actually forgive. And there’s a certain sense that, a common understanding of the atonement presents a God who is incapable of forgiving. Unless He kicks somebody else.
Is it not strange for Jesus (God incarnate) on the one hand to say ‘do not return evil for evil’ while still looking for retribution himself? Similarly wouldn’t it be inconsistent for God to warn us not to be angry with each other and yet burn with wrath himself, or tell us to ‘love our enemies’ when he obviously couldn’t quite bring himself to do the same without demanding massive appeasement? If these things are true, what does it mean to ‘be perfect…as your heavenly Father is perfect’ (Matt 5:48)? If it is true that Jesus is ‘the Word of God’ then how can his message be inconsistent with his nature? If the cross has anything to do with penal substitution then Jesus teaching becomes a divine case of ‘do as I say, not as I do’. I, for one, believe that God practices what he preaches!