Justice and Mercy

Two of the attributes I've heard attributed to God are Justice and Mercy. These are often held in conjunction with the claim that God is perfect, so all of the attributes he possesses, he holds in perfection: so God is perfectly just, and perfectly merciful.

Now am I incorrect in thinking that there's a contradiction here? How can God be perfectly just and perfectly merciful? Here are what seem to me to be obvious definitions of justice and mercy:

Justice: getting what one deserves (whether positive or negative, i.e. punishment or reward)

Mercy: not getting what one deserves (usually purely in a negative sense, i.e. being spared the punishment one deserves)

Note that I've left open what it means to "deserve" a punishment or reward, and who decides this and what criteria they should use to judge. There are many different ideas and arguments here, but they don't affect the point I'm making, as justice and mercy come into effect after this decision has been made, however it is decided.

Now following on from these definitions, what does it mean to be perfectly just or merciful? Well these qualities only have meaning when they're applied to one person concerning their treatment of another. So for God to be perfectly just in regard to humanity, it must follow that everyone will get what they deserve. Likewise, for God to be perfectly merciful, it follows that no-one will get what they deserve, in terms of punishment. It seems to me obvious that should one single person not receive the punishment they deserve, perfect justice has not been observed. Likewise with perfect mercy, should one single person receive the punishment they deserve.

And there we have the contradiction: God cannot be perfectly just and perfectly merciful. For if he were to be perfectly just, according to evangelical theology, everyone would go to Hell. Conversely, if he were perfectly merciful, no-one would go to Hell. Now this contradiction cannot be brushed aside in a claim that in some mysterious way both are true, because we are talking about the fate of real human beings. A single person cannot both be in Hell and not in Hell (and no arguments here for quantum superposition please!).

How can we resolve this dilemma? Well there are two avenues open to us. One is to drop the idea that God is perfectly just and merciful; the other is to discard the doctrine that human beings deserve eternal punishment. The second avenue is the one I would recommend, but I think it is one evangelicals would be reluctant to go down, for obvious reasons. That leaves us with the first option, and I really don't see what would be hard about dropping this. After all, it's a core belief of evangelicalism that most people will receive some sort of punishment after death, but some will be forgiven. So why not just say that God is more just than he is merciful, in proportion to the number of people who are not forgiven as opposed to being forgiven? And leave it at that?

As an aside, evangelicals will resort to another doctrine to attempt to resolve this contradiction: substitutionary atonement. God must be perfectly just and perfectly merciful, but this puts him in a dilemma, which he solves by punishing himself (i.e. Jesus, who is the Son of God, who is actually God) for the sins of humanity. Now this is an ingenious idea, but is simply a sleight of hand, as it distracts one from the central contradiction. Aside from the question of whether it is just to punish someone else, or even oneself, for the crimes of another, the issue is simply not resolved. For justice and mercy are qualities which are shown to a particular person. So if we take the example of a repentant sinner, who has accepted Christ's sacrifice for his sins (whatever that may mean), has justice or mercy been shown to this person? Obviously, he has been spared his punishment, so mercy has been shown to him. Justice has not been shown to him, as he has not recieved what he deserved. So God has not been both perfectly just and perfectly merciful in his case, and so in the case of every person punished or forgiven by God. So this doctrine resolves nothing.


  1. Stu said... <br>Thanks for your response Sim.<br><...

    by ANONYMOUS on 17 FEBRUARY 2009 at 3:56AM
    Stu said...
    Thanks for your response Sim.

    I have to take issue with your debt analogy

    thats funny when God agrees with it romans 6:23 says: "for the wages of sin is death." penalty payment punishment its all the same. its justice.period perfect. but to continue " but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." Mercy perfect because of Jesus. mercy is a gift. a gift must be accepted. given to everyone without reguard but not recieved by everyone. an unopened gift is useless.
  2. Dear Stu,<br>Your suspicion that the doctrine of s...

    by ANONYMOUS on 24 DECEMBER 2007 at 7:07PM
    Dear Stu,
    Your suspicion that the doctrine of substitutionary atonement is an error is correct. It is not possible that a resolution between God and men can be obtained by men as the result of the sacrifice of a human male. For the actual outcome of sacrificing any human male results in the requirement of having to give a direct accounting to God, Gen.9:5. But take special note of Gen. 9:5b "and from each man too."

    What the crucifixion of Jesus has perfected, according to God's purpose, is the Way for God to require each man to Repent of the one sin of Jesus' murder in order to be forgiven of all sins. This is the narrow gate to obtain mercy from God. For God loves obedience rather than sacrifice. The law of God was changed but only in regard to Jesus' life being taken by bloodshed. See Rom. 5:20, Heb. 7:12. Repent has been added to the law, but only in regard to the sin of Jesus' crucifixion, so that not repenting of the sin of Jesus' crucifixion is also a sin.

    Theodore A. Jones
  3. Stu,<br><br>I have read both your statement regard...

    by ANONYMOUS on 20 OCTOBER 2007 at 7:01PM

    I have read both your statement regarding God's mercy and justice and the reaponse back from several others, perfectly stating how both God's justice and mercy can be in perfect harmony, along with several examples and references which back their rebuttles. I by no means have the back ground that those before me have,as I find myself more simple minded, but I still would like to add something to this thing.

    You have tried to explain this whole "justice and mercy" thing away from a human perspective. Have you ever given God himself a chance to explain it to you? One of the greatest things about our God is that all it takes is faith in Him, and your life drastically changes. He opens doorsm and gives insight to the things we have never experienced befor we placed our faith in Him.

    My question to you is, have you given God the chance to explain this to you? Have you ever placed any faith whatsoever into Gods hands and allowed him to take control and lead you to the answers? I say this because, nothing else matters until you have placed your faith in God. If you cannot win heavenly wars with earthly weapons, how can you honestly belive you can understand God by viewing Him from earthly standards? You have to let go of your earthly ways to truly see and appreciate who God is and what he has offered us.

    I know this probably won't make your page and honestly, that does not matter. My whole point here is to turn to God for the answers rather than man, as God obviously can explain it better than we can.

    Again, I am more simple minded than those you have posted before me, but I encourage you to try letting go for once and ask God to clarify this on His own. You might just find something you have been looking for all along.

    Put it in God's hands Stu.Talk with Him. Let your decisions be made based on what God tells you, not man.

    God Bless you Stu. I pray this all comes to light for you.
  4. <i>However, those who still believe in Hell must v...

    by LAUGHING BOY on 23 JUNE 2007 at 5:24PM
    However, those who still believe in Hell must view it as a retributive form of justice, as punishment for wrongs - it is in this matter, relating to Hell, that God cannot be both just and merciful.

    Not necessarily. Let me propose a simple analogy.

    I am at a bus station and two busses are about to depart going to different locations and I must choose to buy a ticket and board one of them. Let say, just for fun, that I have heard that one bus driver enforces strict rules on the behavior of the passengers and even denies them some of what they might consider their rights. The other bus driver is known to allow, even encourage, his passenger to do whatever they like. Some even say their is no driver assigned to the bus and the passengers themselves are in control.

    I've also heard that the two destinations are quite different. In one, the strict driver is in charge but somehow the place is regarded as quite pleasant. The other destination is known primarily as the place that's not the place where the strict driver rules. It's pictured as torturous by those who have bought tickets the other bus (though they're probably just trying to justify their own choice, right?). Depending on what scenario I'd prefer—the way of restricted freedom or the way of autonomy—I board the most appropriate bus.

    When the bus arrives it turns out that, since I am were I chose to be, it's where I prefer to be. If it's where I am not the king but a subject, I'm happy with that. If it's away from that one who claims to be king over me and I can be my own lord and master, then I'd rather be there.

    Do you want to spend eternity with the Christ whom you don't even want to spend, at most, the next 60 years with?

    What you want is what you get.

    The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis
  5. Hi everyone thanks for your comments. All very in...

    by STU SHERWIN on 06 JUNE 2007 at 12:26AM
    Hi everyone thanks for your comments. All very insightful and thought-provoking. However, I still think my argument is right :-)

    Firstly, I will throw out a question: does mercy need a condition? Is it part of the definition of showing mercy that a condition be attached? Do you have to ask for mercy in order for mercy to be shown to you? Who is more merciful, one who shows mercy to all people regardless of whether or not they ask for it, or one who shows mercy only if it is asked for and not before?

    Secondly, the issue is being blurred here by talk of different types of justice. Cori, you said that you would like to believe that God's justice is more restorative than retributive. This is all very well, and a very nice and admirable picture to have of God. Very likely the view of God I would have if I believed in one. However that kind of justice creates issues when talking about a permanent, eternal punishment such as Hell. How is this restorative? When does restoration take place? When is the healing, the forgiveness? Hell simply does not fit in with this idea of justice, which is why people who hold this view tend to have a more universalist stance and reject the eternal nature of Hell, if they believe in Hell at all. I totally agree - Hell is a damaging, soul-destroying (literally :-)) anachronism, best to discard it and move on.

    However, those who still believe in Hell must view it as a retributive form of justice, as punishment for wrongs - it is in this matter, relating to Hell, that God cannot be both just and merciful. Those who disbelieve in Hell have no problem with God being merciful and just, and neither do I, in that sense.

    Thirdly, and this is something which I struggle to understand, how exactly is sin against God? Personally? How can God be the "victim" (for want of a better word) of me lying to my neighbour, for instance? Even if we flagrantly transgress God's law, how is the law-maker the victim of the law-breaker? If parliament creates a law, how in any sense is parliament the victim if the law is broken? If a football player fouls another player, breaking a rule of football, who is the victim? The referee? The Football Association? Such a claim seems to me utterly incomprehensible, but please feel free to enlighten me on where I'm going wrong.

    This is perhaps more confusing because breaking the law and rebellion are used interchangeably by Christians. I posit that they are different things intirely. For a person to rebel against someone else, he must consciously realise that he is going against the person and carry on anyway. I do not think that people who commit crimes are consciously aware, with every crime they commit, that they are personally defying God in each and every crime. Sure, they may be aware that they are breaking the law of the land, but they are not consciously rebelling against God specifically. We could also ask the question, is rebellion in itself a crime? Sometimes it is good to rebel against oppressive regimes, against violent parents. Rebellion against cultural norms is what creates new breakthroughs in art and science. It may cause hurt to the person who is being rebelled against, but is that a crime of the person rebelling, or merely a propensity in the person rebelled against to take things too personally?

    Fourthly, Sim, I don't understand your analogy of the victim taking the punishment of the crime. Sure I know what you're getting at, but in what sense does it show either justice or mercy that a rape victim would choose to serve the rapist's sentence?
  6. Hi Stu,<br><br>You maybe don’t like my analogy, bu...

    by SIM on 03 JUNE 2007 at 9:48PM
    Hi Stu,

    You maybe don’t like my analogy, but I used it deliberately because it is the best available. I can perfectly understand your position. Indeed, the analogy you cite is a powerfully emotive one. However, it will not do for the simple reason that it misses the point. Your analogy breaks down because the victim of the crime can have no say in what happens to the perpetrator – presumably the victim is dead. What must be borne in mind when we discuss sin and the justice of God is that all sin, though on one level it may be interpersonal, is ultimately against God. You might dispute this, but think about it. Every sin is an act of rebellion against our Creator, whether wittingly or unwittingly. Such crimes as you have alluded to are a flagrant transgression of God’s Law and are at the least an act of disobedience or an act of outright rebellion. Put this way God moves from being just the judge to being also the “victim” (I don’t know that that is the best word to use but it will have to do). Change your analogy slightly and drop out the murder. A man is found guilty of brutal rape, sentence is passed. The court waits with bated breath. Then … the victim steps forward and offers to serve the sentence. This, then, is a totally different scenario, but is actually a more apt analogy for what is taking place. The problem that I think we appear to be coming up against is in thinking up the worst earthly crimes that we can think of, and then saying ‘is this justice if …?’. No one is denying that earthly crimes demand physical, earthly punishments. A person can be forgiven by God but still have to bear the earthly consequences of their actions. Forgiveness can only come from the one who has been wronged, otherwise the term is meaningless. I quite agree with you that in your analogy justice has not been done. I have no need even to “resist the temptation to relate it to a doctrine I am already comfortable with” – it quite clearly has not been done. However, your analogy is, quite simply, faulty – I hope you can see that.

    Moving on. Once again your argument is faulty. It is not in the power of a judge once the verdict has finally been given to show mercy. The most he can do is show clemency, that is, passing a less severe sentence based on the circumstances of the case. That is not mercy. The Bible indicates that when the verdict is finally given at the Great White Throne judgement, that verdict will be unalterable. However, people will be judged “according to their works”, that is, sentences will vary. That however, is beside the point. You say ‘one has to actually show mercy’. Quite. Does He not? “It is of God’s mercies that we are not consumed” – the very fact that you and I are alive today (I assume you still are – let me know if you aren’t) is an evidence of the mercy of God in operation. We have offended God many times. We are under sentence of death. That sentence, however, continues to be deferred. Why? So that we can realise this do something about it while there is still time – “the goodness of God leads you to repentence”. As far as your repeated request for your own definition of “perfectly merciful” is concerned, I agree with the other contributors. For God to be perfectly merciful He must show mercy every single time the conditions are met for Him to show mercy. That He does. Every time. Unreservedly.
  7. I'll add my two-cents worth concerning how one def...

    by CORI on 26 MAY 2007 at 9:53AM
    I'll add my two-cents worth concerning how one defines justice...I'm busy working on my doctorate thesis around reconciliation in Rwanda following the genocide of 1994, and justice forms a major part of any reconciliation paradigm. Justice and reconciliation not being at odd with one another, but very much interrelated.

    In the field of conflict resolution we make several distinctions: retributive versus restorative justice, individual versus social justice etc etc. I would like to believe, from what I have discovered in my engaging with God, that his justice falls largely under the 'restorative category.

    Jim Consedine (1999) describes how the restorative and retributive paradigms differ: Where retribuitve justice is about punishment, vengeance, exclusion, isolation, destructiveness, retorative justice is about reconciliation, healing, bringing offender and perpetrator back together again, restoration, forgiveness...

    Holding a 'restorative justice' view concerning God brings into questions some of the conclusions we draw concerning what the crucifiction actually meant...
  8. Sorry. It was Sim, not Tim, who suggested that you...

    by LAUGHING BOY on 25 MAY 2007 at 8:30PM
    Sorry. It was Sim, not Tim, who suggested that you erred in your definition of justice.
  9. Stu, I agree pretty much with Tim that you have no...

    by LAUGHING BOY on 25 MAY 2007 at 7:02PM
    Stu, I agree pretty much with Tim that you have not defined justice properly. Of the 7 relevant definitions at dictionary.com only one (the 5th) matches your punishment-centric definition. The principle idea behind the word justice is "the quality of being just; righteousness, equitableness, or moral rightness."

    Also, by focusing on punishment you have ignored the "setting to rights" -- as the British call it -- the circumstance of the offended. The is the idea behind the debt analogies. Unless the debt is repayed, punishment of the debtor is not serving justice entirely. In your courtroom illustration you say that if the judge ruled that his son would serve the sentence rather than the perpetrator, the family would not feel justice was served. But in truth, the family cannot have justice under any circumstances because they can not be set right; their daughter is still dead. Deserved punishment and justice are related but not equivalent concepts.

    Another principle that applies to this discussion of the covenant (or covenants) between God and Man. With this principle in mind we see that there is a contract between God and Man. God, being God, has set the terms and is bound by them. Man, being Creature, has no choice but to accept the terms and is likewise bound by them. Man has broken the terms and God seeks recourse within the terms of the contract. That contract includes substitutionary atonement in accordance with God's justice and mercy.

    You have also committed the error of assuming that God's possessing an attribute "perfectly" means he possesses it to an unlimited degree. This is the fallacy behind the "can God make a rock so big he can't lift it" objection we all have heard from 6th grade on regarding God's omnipotence. Omnipotence does not mean that God can do anything. He can't lie. He can't make a round square. He can't act against his own nature. Tim rightly observes that the balance among his attributes is where the perfection lies. The same principle applies to many things in life.
  10. Your sleight of hand problem arises from the commo...

    by TIM on 23 MAY 2007 at 1:54PM
    Your sleight of hand problem arises from the common error caused by human reason. In God's sight there is only one grade of sin. Granted, the analogy previously used will represent only a partial picture when viewed from the human standpoint, but as far as God is concerned, all humanity are sinners, ungodly, enemies (Romans 5) - engaged in open hostility.
    You continue to misunderstand the idea that God is perfectly merciful. His mercy is extended to all, regardless of who they are. God is prepared to pardon His enemies unconditionally on the basis that the believing sinner surrenders and renounces his sin. However, God's mercy can only be actually appreciated when this has happened.
  11. Thanks for your response Sim.<br><br>I have to tak...

    by STU SHERWIN on 15 MAY 2007 at 10:52PM
    Thanks for your response Sim.

    I have to take issue with your debt analogy. You say there is no sleight of hand, but I think this is exactly where the sleight of hand comes in. Punishment for a crime is not equivalent to a debt that needs to be paid. They are completely different things. I think an analogy on my part might help to illustrate my point. A prisoner stands in the dock accused of brutal rape and murder. Imagine yourself as a family member of the victim. You sit in court with bated breath as the judge announces the sentence. The judge issues the severest penalty possible. Justice has been done. How do you feel at this point? The judge makes an announcement: his son has offered to serve the sentence instead of the defendent. The prisoner is free to go; acquitted. Now how do you feel? Imagine the reaction of the court. Has justice been done here? Answer honestly, resist the temptation to relate this to a doctrine you are already comfortable with. The idea of one person bearing the punishment for another's crimes would be incomprehensible if it were not ingrained peoples minds from an early age.

    You say "To be merciful in character one need only not want the sentence to be carried out and desire to exercise clemency ... that does not mean that clemency or mercy has to be exercised unconditionally" - I agree. However I disagree totally with your rewording: "for God to be perfectly merciful, it follows that He does not desire that anyone should have to receive the punishment that they deserve." If a judge did not desire that anyone should receive the punishment they deserved, and yet never acted on this desire, never once showed lenience when passing sentences even in the most extenuating of circumstances, could they still be described as merciful? In order to be merciful, one has to actually show mercy, not just wish that one could show mercy. It does follow that to be perfectly merciful, one must show mercy every time. If there were but one instance in which mercy was not shown, one is not perfectly merciful. If you like you can claim that God is merciful sometimes, or even most of the time, but please don't claim he is perfectly merciful.
  12. Hi Stu. As I said you've tempted me into print. Se...

    by KITCHEN MAN (AKA SIM) on 09 MAY 2007 at 9:38PM
    Hi Stu. As I said you've tempted me into print. See what you think of the following.

    It strikes me that the apparent contradiction that you have raised is actually self-made and arises: 1. from an inadequate definition of justice at the beginning, and 2. from an assumption that for God to be merciful that mercy must be unconditional.

    We will for the moment leave aside the idea of reward in relation to justice, since this in any case would not bring it into conflict with mercy which, as you rightly state, may be defined as being spared the punishment one deserves.

    Justice must be defined as follows: to every misdemeanour there is an appropriate penalty. For justice to be satisfied this penalty must be paid in full. In principle the penalty should be met by the perpetrator. It is not considered “justice” for the wrong person to be pursued and convicted. So far so good, and there is no deviation from your definition yet. However, what happens when the perpetrator is not able to meet the demands for justice to be satisfied? This point is best understood in relation to debt. Say a person has run up huge credit card bills that he is unable to pay. Justice says that the person who incurred the debt should repay it. But he is unable to do it. How is justice to be satisfied? To simply write off the debt would not be just – for one thing it wouldn’t be fair to all those who pay their credit card bills in full every month. Another option, which could be considered an appropriate punishment, would be to throw the debtor into the debtor’s prison (an option which happened in the days of Mr Micawber!). However, if in prison, evidently there would never be any way in which he could personally pay off his debt and he would have to remain there indefinitely. There is, however, a third option and that is for a third party who is both willing and able to pay the debt in full and satisfy the creditor. For “justice” to be satisfied in the case of debt all that matters is that the debt is paid completely not who pays it. Herein lies an important qualification to your definition of justice. Moreover it is a principle that is widely used – how often have parents bailed out their children?

    To say that God is merciful, or even that a person is merciful is not the same thing as saying that mercy must be unconditional. To be merciful in character one need only not want the sentence to be carried out and desire to exercise clemency. Verses from the Bible such as those that say that God does not will the death of any, or that He has no pleasure in the death of the wicked illustrate this point. However, that does not mean that clemency or mercy has to be exercised unconditionally. In the case of a God whose attributes are in perfect balance, for example, mercy will not be exercised at the expense of justice.

    I return then to your question. How can God be perfectly just and perfectly merciful, or rather, what does it mean for God to be perfectly just and perfectly merciful? On the basis of what we have seen, we may reword what you have said as follows: “For God to be perfectly just in regard to humanity, it must follow that” every sin must be paid for in full. “Likewise, for God to be perfectly merciful, it follows that” He does not desire that anyone should have to receive the punishment that they deserve.

    And here we have not a contradiction but a dilemma. How can God be perfectly just and yet exercise mercy? How can justice be satisfied, yet God pardon the guilty? How can sin be paid for without the sinner paying for it? This is where my qualification of your definition of justice comes in. This is by no means a sleight of hand, as you put it, nor is it distracting from the central point, nor is it an aside. The only way that the debt can be cancelled is for someone else who is both willing and able to pay it. The only one who actually fits both these categories is God Himself. Therefore, for God to exercise mercy he must himself satisfy the claims of justice. Paul elaborates on the whole principle in the second half of Romans 3 (if you want me to explain it to you I will separately). In Christ the matter is perfectly resolved. Justice is not a quality shown to a particular person it is an appropriate measure taken in relation to a misdemeanour. To take your example of a repentant sinner he has undoubtedly been shown mercy – the punishment he deserves has been withheld from him. Has justice been satisfied? Yes, because the debt was paid in full by Christ. How is that justice? Because one who was actually able to pay off the debt was also willing to do it and did it.

    This leaves a final point to be made (for now). Why then, if there is a just basis for showing mercy, does God not just pardon everybody? I return to the point I made earlier. Mercy is not unconditional, but the exercise of mercy is determined by our response to the provision that God has made. To illustrate this from the picture I’ve been consistently using, if a debtor receives a cheque for the full amount of his debt but does nothing with it the provision of his benefactor avails nothing. If to be merciful is to desire to exercise clemency and that desire causes one to make provision to be able to do it, it is not unreasonable to conclude that the acceptance of that provision is a necessary condition that must be met.
  13. You argue that there are two avenues open to us wh...

    by TIM on 02 MAY 2007 at 2:02PM
    You argue that there are two avenues open to us where either justice or mercy is discarded. But the Bible presents a different approach where both justice and mercy are upheld absolutely. God cannot in any way bend His character to accommodate us. I’m glad about that because my salvation depends on God getting things right so that He cannot at any time, now or in the future be accused of “foul play” and therefore my salvation be called into question.
    God’s mercy cannot be exercised at the expense of His justice or holiness. God’s justice (upholding a right standard) must be satisfied without compromise in respect of every single person.
    The Bible shows how that God loves (John 3 v 16), He warns (Amos 4 v 12), He commands (Acts 17 v 30/31). He does not desire that any single person should perish (2 Peter 3 v 9).
    The Bible also states that the soul that sinneth it shall die (Ezekiel 18 v 20) and the wages of sin is death (Romans 6 v 23).
    To argue that God does not have perfect justice and mercy is to misunderstand and even to undermine the meaning of the cross. Without the cross, justice and mercy will never be reconciled and there would be no gospel message. The need of every single person is met here.
    There is a lovely hymn that expresses this perfectly: -
    1 THE perfect righteousness of God, Is witnessed in the Saviour's blood; 'Tis in the cross of Christ we trace His righteousness, yet wondrous grace
    2 God could not pass the sinner by, Justice demands that he should die; But in the cross of Christ we see How God can save, yet righteous be.
    3 The judgment fell on Jesus' head, 'Twas in His blood sin's debt was paid; Stern Justice can demand no more, And Mercy can dispense her store.
    4 The sinner who believes is free, Can say, "The Saviour died for me:" Can point to the atoning blood, And say, "This made my peace with God."
    There is a depth to the sufferings on the cross by the Saviour that only those who find themselves in hell will be able to understand. But then it will be too late.

    Without forcing the issue, Peter preaches that we must be saved. This is God’s desire and His salvation is available. The whole matter now lies with us – do we want it?

    God’s mercy is shown to every person accepting His way of salvation. But what of His justice? This has been totally satisfied by the death of the Saviour in our place. It can ask no more of us. After all, if the wages of sin is death, a life has been given so that the matter is settled. God cannot be accused of a sleight of hand in what took place at the cross. We have a volunteer in the person of the Lord Jesus to undertake our cause.
    Take the example of you and me going to a shop. You mention to me in passing that you have need of a certain item but that you cannot afford to pay for it. At which point I pick up the item and take it to the checkout. As we leave the shop, I hand it to you saying “It’s yours, take it”. Would you then have concern that you would be stopped leaving the shop? Was the price demanded not settled in full, so the shop had no further claim on that item? Did you deserve the item? Would you not wholly rest on the fact that I had given it to you, cost settled? Doubtless this would result in you being grateful to me for stepping in to help.

    Does this help?
  14. Emma<br>I'm not sure about the millions of years b...

    by TIM on 26 APRIL 2007 at 1:59PM
    I'm not sure about the millions of years but I did appreciate the rest of your reply.
  15. Hey Stu, I don't normally get involved with apolog...

    by EMMA on 07 APRIL 2007 at 6:39PM
    Hey Stu, I don't normally get involved with apologetics because I'm not a big fan of that whole image of Christians being know-it-all busybodies. But I thought I'd share my thoughts with you on this one, in case it helps.

    Firstly, I think that substitutionary atonement, as you put it, does make sense (obviously I do!). The idea of punishing someone/thing else for your sins goes way back into the Old Testament before Jesus. God accepted sacrifices of animals as sin offerings in place of punishing the person. This comes out of love. God places quite a high value on animals because he created them to take pleasure in them and he looks after them. But he cares about human beings more as they are made in his image and the essential feeling he has towards us is love, because he made us to love us. In this sense, then, God is being just, because he is accepting something which is of value to both him and the sinful person as recompense.

    If you don't see the justice in this, you might think of the legal system in this country. Many offences can be sentenced with a fine. This is the giving up of something of worth to the higher authority in recompense. It doesn't necessarily match exactly to whatever the offence might have been (it's not logical that a fine is a just exchange for having commited a speeding offence, because the 2 things don't balance each other out in any way). Yet we still call this justice.

    God accepted the sacrifice of Jesus because he is of infinite worth both to God himself, and to human beings. When a person becomes a Chrisitian, they agree to give themselves over to Christ. Jesus' sacrifice can repay an infinite amount of sin because he is of infinite worth to God. Even though no-one is claiming not to have struggled with this fact (myself included), the fact is that God asks for somthing (our lives) in exchange for the sin we have done. If we choose to sacrifice our lives to Christ, he in turn will make a sacrifice of his life to make up for the sin that we have done. But if we don't give ourselves to Christ, he won't present that sacrifice before the Father for us because he asks for sacrifice of our lives before he will give his for us (I think this seems pretty just - although his life is worth a whole lot more than mine so really it seems I get the better end of the deal!). Anyway, I know you know all this, I'm just trying to put it in a different way that maybe answers the difficulties you have with this stuff. As for perfect mercy, God has mercy on people who ask him for it. Which also seems pretty fair. You have to say to someone "Have mercy" before they will agree to it.

    But anyway, if all my ramblings leave you as convinced as ever that it makes no eartly sense, you're probably right. In 1 Corinthians 1:18, it says "the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: 'I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate'". God's not particularly fussed if things don't fit our logic. What he wants us to accept is that he is bigger than us. If he says he's perfect, he is, because he came first. If he says that it is perfectly just and perfectly merciful to accept the sacrifice of his Son, then it is. So if we can't understand that, it's because we've got our ideas of "perfection" or "justice" or "mercy" wrong. All of those concepts are defined by and in God. The answer that very many people come up with is, in essence "if that's God's idea of justice, then I want no part with him". But to say that is to fail to look beyond ourselves and realise that any truth must be inherent in God. He just wants us to surrender to him and say that he is right (because he must be - he is God) even though it makes no sense to us. When you talk about the contradictions inherent in Christianity, you are 100% right from a human perspective. The Bible is full of what, in human terms, are logical fallacies - hate your mother and father, but love them as yourself, for example. They only make sense when we relinquish power and just agree to accept that God is right. Then he starts to show us how it all makes sense. Hun, you say that you never experienced the reality of Christianity in your life. The hard thing about it all is - we can't experience that reality until we give our lives up (relinquishing the right to ever take them back). God's spent millions of years proving he exists through all sorts of ways and he knows they don't work because human logic or science will always find a way to explain him out of the equation. Jesus talks about the rich man in hell, to whom it was said "even if someone is raised from the dead you won't believe". That's a pretty powerful sign, but God just knows that people aren't convinced by it. If it would work, God would come and show miraculous signs all over the place and people would believe. But when Jesus did that, loads of people found ways to explain it out of the equation. The only alternative we have as humans who won't accept any proof as final is to take a deep breath, accept that God must necessarily be right, and go for it. Total surrender never fails to work, trust me! You just first have to accept that there's someone to surrender to... I accepted it not because God showed me a single miracle or extraordinary circumstance, but because I saw people from the other side of the point of no return and they clearly had what I didn't! There are also lots of people who claim to be Christians and haven't ever surrendered - and they don't have what I want. So anyway, I went for it and it worked. That's rebirth defined, crossing over the point of no return and clinging to the fact that a God who put you together must have it right, however difficult his truth is to accept.

    Emma :)
  16. Too right Stu, grace isn't fair.

    by STEVE PARRY on 28 JULY 2011 at 8:52AM
    Put me in my place indeed! Hi Stu, really good website, as you know I think challenging our beliefs is such a necessary thing to do and I'm not sure in the churches in which we grew up we got to do that enough. Some thoughts... I think substitution works as far as punishment goes only if the person who has the right to punish and determine justice is satisfied that justice is being done. Fortunately we cannot take love and mercy out of that equation when dealing with religions. Taking sustitutionary atonement on for a second, you're quite right, one doesn'tt get what one deserves and (let Jesus be God for a second?) Jesus didn't get what he deserved either. The combination of those two things, grace for me and judgement for God is, in the structure of the argument of Romans, just. If we allow for a second God to be the arbiter of what is just and what should be punished then he is satisfied with that as being just (Romans deals with this exact question). Not fair for me in that I get mercy and grace, not judgement, it wasn't fair for Jesus but that's why we can't dismiss the power of love from god and thankfulness from me. Jumbled thoughts but there we are. Have you ever read The Life of Pi? You'd like it.

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