Tuesday, March 18, 2014

John Gerstner on How Jesus Reconciles Justice and Mercy

In the last post John Piper described how, in some sense, God deeply opposes the sins of murder and the oppression of the innocent, and yet in some mysterious sense God did still will the sinful murder of Jesus, his innocent Son. Because that's a hard teaching, it may be helpful to consider the reason God planned and predestined this tragedy: This event reconciles justice and mercy in a way that gives us eternal life.

Let's consider the ideas of justice and mercy for a moment. If there had never been any injustice in human history, there would be no need for mercy. All would be fair and even. But we all commit injustice, and to this there are only two responses: Justice or mercy.

Which response is best? Paradoxically, both.

God says that mercy and justice are both right (Matt. 23:23). What's more, they're both eternal characteristics of God's own character (Ex. 34:6-7). When a debt is owed, God thinks it's right to pay the person owed and right to forgive the debt.

At first that might seem confusing, but even we typically think both are good. We think justice is right when someone gives us what they owe us. It's only fair, after all. But we think mercy is a better deal when we're the ones with a debt we can't repay. The bigger our debt and consequences, the more thankful we feel toward the person who takes the unfair loss by forgiving it.

So on the one hand, they're both good - and not just good; supremely good. But on the other hand, justice and mercy are apparent opposites. One is doing what is fair and the other is doing what is not fair. This raises the question, If both are truly good, how can anyone do both? How can anyone accept payment of a debt and forgive it at the same time?

Ordinarily that's impossible. But there's a debt important enough that God reached through the impossible to resolve this tension as only a perfect being can. God says that we all owe him a debt that keeps us from him - a debt that we can't repay but that has to be repaid to fulfill perfect justice (Rom. 3:23). But he badly wants that obligation lifted so that we can be near him. So God pays our debt (Mark 10:45).

John Gerstner explains this well:
First, Christianity confirms the fact that justice must be satisfied. Sin must be condemned according to its demerit. This means eternal doom. The sinner must be damned because God must be inexorably holy and just. His all-powerful Being must vindicate His all-holy Being. Christianity never compromises the ever-blessed purity and excellency of the divine nature.
Second, Christianity alone finds a way to satisfy infinite justice and provide infinite mercy at the same time. What no other religion has dreamed of, Jesus Christ has accomplished. He underwent the infinite wrath of God against sin and lived to bestow His mercy on the damned sinners for whom He died.
The infinite Son of God took upon Himself a human nature in which He underwent the full fury of the divine wrath. The omnipotent God satisfied His violated holiness by punishing sin completely in His blessed Son, who 'became sin' for His people. The justice of God was vindicated in full in the substitute, His own Son, our Savior dear.
He survived that awful vengeance and rose victor over the grave by the power of His own divinity. Now He offers to every sin-sick and 'pleasure'-burdened soul an everlasting mercy. Perfect mercy and perfect justice in the gospel of the crucified One are here and now offered to you, dear reader.
[http://www.ligonier.org/blog/problem-pleasure-pt-7; Also, The Problem of Pleasure, 2002, p. 24-25.]
God thinks there's a greater good than sparing his Son's suffering: Our salvation (John 3:16). Will you accept his offer?

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