Imagine that you’re a Judge, a Magistrate. You sit in the Court of the land and wield power and consequence over people’s lives. You dispense justice to those who stand before you, guilty as charged.
Your own life however is not free from the consequence of crime. One day, your three-year-old Son is taken from your backyard. All the worst is done to him. His bruised and beaten body is found a week later. It had been thrown by the side of the road like a piece of garbage. The perpetrator is finally caught. I’ll call him Mark. Your Son’s rape, torture and murder was recorded and copies, ready to be shipped, were discovered in Mark’s apartment. Mark’s parents and friends are in shock. “Mark was such a nice person. He’d never hurt anyone.”
Two questions emerge:
The first question is, What should Mark’s punishment entail? In order for Mark to pay his debt to society and to render himself whole and fit and worthy of redemption:
a) Should Mark have to wash his hands and pray five times per day?
b) Should Mark be made to light incense and place food before an alter every day?
c) Should Mark spend the rest of his life trying to be as good a person as he can be?
Would that do it? Would any of these behaviours on the part of Mark be enough to appease the parents of this murdered child? Would any of these things be a just punishment, a deserving sentence for what he’s done? Would you be satisfied if that’s all that a child rapist, torturer, pornographer and murderer had to do? Or -
d) Should Mark be made to forfeit his freedom if not his very life?
The second question is, Who should experience the punishment of committing these horrific crimes?
a) According to one neighbour, an atheist, it was the fault of Mark’s Father that he turned out so cruel and heartless. Mark was practically innocent in this, just a pawn of an unjust and unfair society.
b) According to another atheist neighbour, since the universe is devoid of objective morals or concepts like right and wrong, there is absolutely no evidence that any crime has been committed. Therefore it would be unfair for anyone to be punished.
c) According to you, there is only one punishment that would be just. Mark should be the one to pay and he should not be allowed to reenter society ever again.
I’ve used the example of child murder and rape because it’s a behaviour that still repulses many people. It’s a act that still makes many people want to see the guilty party permanently removed from our presence. Yet we’re intimidated by the sickest members of our society to the point that we dare not do anything about it. Not in any real sense, that is. Not in any way that would make a real difference. That fact is, we’ve grown accustomed to sin. We’ve come to savour our sin like pigs bask in filth. We know at some level that if we require someone else to change their ways, it might come back on us in such a way as to require changes in our own lifestyle. It’s far better to just let the odd rape and murder take place.
Of course, from an atheist’s perspective there is no God. That means, even from an atheist’s point of view that the real rape of children, the real degrading of women and the real destruction of our planet is our fault. Knowing that we tolerate sin, promote evil and glorify the wickedness that is smothering us in the stench of spiritual death. God agrees with atheists that the evil that is present in the world IS our fault. According to God, our Creator, the wrong that we do are crimes committed against Him. King David got it right when he said, “Against You and You alone have I sinned.” Regardless of how we see our crimes against God, He sees our open rebellion against Him as horrific. God sees our callous disregard for and the habitual mistreatment of beings created in His image as worthy of eternal banishment from His presence. The place of banishment is called Hell.
But wait! There’s a difference here, and the difference is dramatic.
God has made it clear that ritual, religious behaviours, or trying to be as good as we can, will not:
a) Do anything to prevent us from committing crimes against Him, nor
b) Come even close to being a just penalty for crimes already committed.
God has made it clear that claims of, “You shouldn’t punish me because I’m actually a pretty good person,” or “I didn’t do anything wrong,” are nothing more than a delusion. We’ve made it necessary for God’s one and only Son to die, to be tortured to death and pretending that it didn’t happen or that it wasn’t such a big deal isn’t going to cut it.
So who exactly is going to pay the penalty for our sin of rebellion, for our sin of destroying the earth and it’s inhabitants? Some think that trying to “work it off” should do the trick but God says that an eternity in exile isn’t even close to a Just penalty.
In the example above, many people would lose very little sleep if Mark was killed in exactly the same manner that he killed your little boy. Most would certainly have no problem with Mark spending the rest of his life in prison. No one would suggest that he should be forgiven for his crime and then be allowed to go absolutely free. That would seem insane. From a human perspective it certainly wouldn’t entail any sense or form of justice. Let me return to my story. You, Mark’s Judge as well as being Mark’s victim understand Mark. You know that he entered life with the deck stacked against him. Both parents were drug addicts. He suffered Fetal Alcohol brain damaged while in the womb. He never completed grade four and by ten years of age Mark was on the street fending for himself. Mark was also a victim of verbal, physical and sexual abuse. He’s been beaten and discouraged, helpless and hopeless for most of his life. You step down from behind the bench, take off your robe and move toward Mark in an attempt to hug him. Certain that you hate him and that you’re out for revenge, Mark recoils with, “What are you doing? Get away from me!”
Mark’s Judge - Mark, I too grew up on the street. One of my parents died of a drug overdose and the other died of a suicide. I too was sexually abused. I know the pain, and rejection and confusion and anger that you experienced as a child. I want to forgive you for what you've done to me.
Mark - But I killed your only Son.
Mark’s Judge - I know.
Mark - You should hate me.
Mark’s Judge - I know.
Mark - I deserve to die.
Mark’s Judge - I know.
Mark - I deserve to die at your hands.
Mark’s Judge - I know that Mark. But I want to forgive you.
Mark - Forgive me!! I’m a misfit, a freak. Whenever I’ve tried anything in life, I’ve screwed it up. No one will give me a first chance, so why would you give me a second?
Mark’s Judge - I know you. I love you. I’ll help you change.
Mark - I can’t learn.
Mark’s Judge - I’ll teach you. I’m very patient.
Mark - I don’t have any place to live. I’m a pariah to society. I’ll be hounded from place to place for the rest of my life.
Mark’s Judge - You’ll come and live with me.
Mark - Why are you doing this?
Mark’s Judge - I feel compassion for you. I know what it's like to live the life that you've lived. I want to forgive you and let you know what it’s like to live in the presence of love.
Mark - I’m too bad a person. I can’t accept your forgiveness.
Mark’s Judge - Mark, you have committed a very serious crime. You have hurt me more than you can ever imagine. If I were to sentence you to die it would be just and fair. I am offering you a clean slate, forgiveness for your crime, freedom from any and all guilt. It’s one or the other Mark, freedom or judgment. What’s it gonna be?
Mark - This is for real?
Mark’s Judge - Yes. It’s for real.
Mark - So I can experience your love and mercy and grace and forgiveness at absolutely no cost?
Mark’s Judge - Well, it’s free for you, but it cost me the life of my Son.
Falling on his knees before you, Mark cries, “I am so very sorry. How can you be so kind to someone like me? I promise to love you and serve you for the rest of my life. Thank you, thank you, a thousand times thank you.
Mark’s Judge - You’re welcome Mark.
As I reread this, the ending sounds pretty cheesy. And you might say that something like that would never happen. If you are talking about life here on earth you are probably right. But God sees things differently than we do. God is shamelessly in love with us, His creation. He cares about us. He wants what’s best for us. He wants that so badly that He came to earth in the form of Jesus to do exactly what is described in the story above. Jesus didn’t come to earth to make sure our outside was clean. He came to change our hearts. Jesus allowed Himself to be tortured to death AND to take God's wrath toward sin upon Himself to make that possible.
That God is a God of love is beyond dispute.
On the other hand, God is Just. He’s absolutely, completely and totally Just. God is the definition of Just. Genuine crime and rebellion require a real consequence, a just and fair consequence. Someone has to do the time for the crime that’s been committed. In our Creator’s mind the just and fair consequence for our open rebellion against Him, and for destroying His Creation through our choice of sin over righteousness, all of which necessitated the death of His Son, is eternal banishment from His presence. It’s a prospect that is horrific beyond description.
The Bible tells us two important things in regard to our crimes.
- Every single one of us have sinned and fall short of God’s expectations for us.
- The just consequences of our sin is death, but there is a second chance to receive freedom from guilt through faith in Jesus, God’s Son.
What are we to do? There is no way for us to change things. We are born, no, we are conceived into a state of real guilt. We come into this world deserving the just, and righteous wrath of God. It is a situation that is impossible to repair, unless - UNLESS someone with the power to do something about it, does what we cannot do for ourselves. In this case, that someone is God Himself. He is our Judge and our Saviour. Because we are already guilty of the crime by the time we understand the consequences, God, in His mercy and grace gives us a second chance.
He says in effect:
If you will let Me, I will pay the consequence of your crime for you.
If you let Me, I will keep you from eternal banishment and instead bring you into my very own home.
If you let Me, I will lavish you with eternal gifts and riches beyond imagination.
If you let Me, I will die in your place and allow you to live forever in paradise.
All you have to do is let me do this for you, accept the deal, take the gift, make it yours.
Now, I ask. Who’s insane? Is it God, for offering to pay your penalty and then declaring you not guilty, or you for refusing to take Him up on the offer?