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By Gary F. Zeolla
Is it "just" for God to punish people eternally for their finite sins here on earth? In response to this often asked question, I pose the following illustration:
If I were to kill my neighbors gold fish, what would happen to me? Maybe he might hit me and throw me out of his house. But that would probably be the end of it. If he took me to court, I might receive a few dollars fine, but that would be about it.
If I were to kill my neighbors dog, then I would probably be in much bigger trouble. He would be much more likely to want to slug me. He also would be more to take me to court. And if he did, I would probably receive a much stiffer fine, and maybe even a few days in jail.
If I were to kill my neighbor himself, now I would really be in trouble. The state would come after me. Once convicted, I would probably spend the rest of my life in prison, either through a life sentence or capital punishment.
Why the difference in the punishments in each of these three cases? In each, I killed another living being. But the punishments differs because the "worth" of the one I committed the crime against differs. In our society, a dog is viewed as having greater worth than a gold fish; and a human being is viewed as having much greater worth than a dog.
In the latter case, I must pay with my life because only the forfeiting of my life is sufficient justice to pay for the taking of another humans life (whether I spend my entire life in prison or am executed doesnt matter; either way the reasoning is the same).
So it is the amount of "worth" possessed by the one offended that determines the degree of the seriousness of the crime and resultant penalty, not necessarily the act itself.
Now, to apply this to God, He is of infinite worth. So any "crime" committed against Him would necessitate an infinite punishment. Again it is the worth of the one sinned against that determines the degree of the seriousness of the act. Moreover, since I am finite, there is no way I can "pay" for my sin. Just the forfeiting of my finite life would not be sufficient to pay for an infinite crime.
So for God to execute an eternal punishment on me for my sins would not be "injustice." It would be perfect justice. Eternal punishment fits a sin committed against an infinite Being. So I know that I deserve damnation.
But, God out of His pure grace and love, came and died for my sins. Jesus Christ, being God in the flesh, took my sins upon Himself. And since Jesus was and is God in the flesh, His sacrifice was infinite. So it was able to pay the infinite penalty due for my sins.
Now, God did not have to die for me; He would have been completely just if He had damned me as I deserved. But because of His grace and love He saved me. So those who are damned receive justice; those who are saved receive mercy; no one receives injustice.
Moreover, in the Christian faith there is a "balance" between Gods wrath and His love, between Gods justice and His mercy. The Bible says that "God is a consuming fire" - but it also says that "God is love." Moreover, the God of the Bible does not just SAY that He is love, He DEMONSTRATED His love by His sacrifice in becoming incarnate and dying for our sins (Rom 5:8).
Thus, in the death of Christ both Gods justice and His love is displayed (Rom 3:25,26; 1John 4:10). So for me, God is One who is just and merciful; One who is wrath and love. These attributes are kept in perfect balance by the death of Christ.
So today, there is always a remembrance of the incredible mercy and grace God showed me in saving me. And when I think of about it more directly, like as when I am writing this, it makes me want to fall on my knees in thanksgiving to Him for His grace, mercy, and love toward me.
"O heart of God, I see Thee nowhere as at Golgotha, where the Word incarnate reveals the justice and the love, the holiness and the tenderness of God in one blaze of glory.
"If any created mind would fain see the glory of God, he need not gaze upon the starry skies, nor soar unto the heavens of heavens, he has but to bow at the cross foot and watch the crimson streams gush from Immanuels wounds."
(C.H. Spurgeon. "Mourning at the Sight of the Crucified" sermon on Luke 23:48 in 12 Sermons on the Passion and Death of Christ. Grand Rapids: Baker, reprinted, 1994, p.55).
God Justice. Copyright © 1999 by Gary F. Zeolla of Darkness to Light ministry (www.dtl.org).
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The above article was posted on this Web site March 14, 1998.
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