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December 16, 2006

God's Gift

Christ came as a propitiation for our sins. He was the sacrificial lamb that suffered in lieu of our suffering. This was necessary to demonstrate God’s justice and mercy. Justice, because the sins of mankind made punishment necessary, and God is not a liar. Mercy, because instead of making us suffer the consequences of our sin, he bore them himself.

Sometimes I wonder if this central doctrine of Christian theology opens the question as to whether there is an assumption that there is a moral law to which God is subject. In other words, why was punishment required for the sins of man? What if God would simply have let the punishment go? For example, what if he would have forgiven man just by sending Jesus and making him flesh and having Jesus act as a good example on how to live and behave? What would have happened had there been no punishment that Jesus suffered? Certainly Christian theology would not allow that there is some power above and beyond God that would require the imposition of the punishment.

I think the answer lies with God alone. It is his nature to tell the truth. He stated that mankind would suffer punishment for sin. Mankind sinned. There must be punishment. Although there is nothing that could force God to fulfill what he promised—that is there is no force that could have prevented God from saying, in essence, “oh well, I tried and they sinned anyway; so I’ll let them off the hook.” However, God is subject to his own nature--if that can be said to be a form of subjection. His word is essential a law. When he said the word of punishment, he then necessitated the consequences. To have done otherwise would have been apart from his nature as a God who fulfills his promises and keeps his word.

Then to demonstrate his own mercy, he sent his Son into the world to suffer the very punishment that his own word ordained.

The question remains though, could God have changed his mind and said, “oh well, they sinned but I’ll let them off the hook?”

That is an impossible question to answer for a human I believe. I suppose the best answer is “yes” that he could have. However, that would have been a contradiction. And, in God there are no contradictions.

Posted by Mark at December 16, 2006 12:37 PM

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CS Lewis attacks this very question - I believe in Mere Christianity - which I recommend to your attention. He reasoning is something similar to yours, that it is not a matter of God letting us off the hook, but in His nature that things transpire this way. Lewis would put it that the necessity for propitiation is in the nature of reality. That is not terribly different than saying it is in God's nature, but the emphasis is different. Some sort of atonement is not an arbitrary imposition, but part of the fabric. If His goal were for us to become blue, then it would do no good for us to ask Him if violet were alright, because it is somewhat blue. Or again, it would be like asking God to make us spherical, but without all that unnecessary circularity.

Posted by: Assistant Village Idiot at December 16, 2006 06:49 PM