Skeptics are fond of mocking the idea that Jesus Christ had to die for our sins to reconcile us to God. Why can’t God, I’ve heard some of them say, and write, can’t God just forgive us. It can’t be that hard; we confess, he forgives, we’re good, right? No, it doesn’t work that way. If it did, our relationship to a holy God would be ground in his unpredictable whim, and nothing we could count on. Sort of like the God is Islam, who bears no resemblance to God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
I’ve done many things over the years to build into my children the plausibility of the Christian faith. Unless Christianity makes sense to them on a variety of levels, i.e., it’s plausible, why would I expect that they will embrace it when they leave mom and dad’s orbit? I wouldn’t. That’s why I’ve consistently explained to them how the crucifixion is at the center of our faith, and why it makes total sense in light of the reality we experience every day. How can I say that?
One of the most obvious things about existence is that it is moral. I love the ignoramus (I’m sorry, but only such a person would say this) who says, “You can’t legislate morality!” Yet what is law but the legislating of right and wrong? There are laws against murder because it’s wrong, right? Against stealing because it’s wrong, right? We are not arrested for telling the truth before a grand jury, because it’s not wrong, right. We live in a moral universe where we continually negotiate with right and wrong.
Another obvious thing about existence is that when wrong is done, it must be paid for. Let’s say you run a red light, and since it’s not your day, a cop is nearby and pulls you over. You think, this isn’t fair because that’s the only red light I’ve ever run! So you tell the nice policeman he can’t give you a ticket because up until now you’ve stopped at every red light you’ve ever encountered, and that you very well know the difference between red and green. The officer politely tells you that, unfortunately, according to the law running even one red light is wrong, and that you have to pay the fine. Well, isn’t that crazy. He’s telling me perfection is required? That I have to pay the price of transgressing the law even if I’ve only broken it one time? Of course we don’t think that’s crazy at all. We know that’s called justice, and we hope that when we do run that one red light in our lives we don’t get caught.
Or think about a court of law. Let’s say you’re at a trial of a confessed bank robber, and the judge happens to be a friend of the man on trial. At the end of the trial the jury declares the man guilty, and the judge pronounces his sentence. He says since he knows the guilty man, and that he’s actually a really fine fellow who has just fallen on hard times, that he’ll let him go free. How do you think you and the people in the courtroom would react? Likely with outrage because it’s clearly a miscarriage of justice. The man confessed, was found guilty, and we know intuitively he must pay the price for breaking the law. This sense of right and wrong, justice and injustice, isn’t some made up thing to keep society running smoothly, that humanity discovered over the eons that must be done or else anarchy ensues. This is done because everyone knows deep in their being that wrong must be punished! That justice must be done! This is because we are moral beings who inhabit a moral universe. It’s so deeply ingrained in us that when wrong isn’t punished we know that that itself is wrong!
So the Bible’s account of man, male and female, created good, who disobey their Creator and had the sentence of death declared upon them makes sense in the moral universe we inhabit. God as judge had to carry out the sentence or he would not be just. As the story of redemption unfolds in the Bible we see the dilemma. If each of us has to pay the penalty for our own sin, we will die, and that death is an eternal and spiritual separation from God, in addition to physical death. How could God remain just and yet justify sinners? He would have to pay the price for us, in our place. This is called the doctrine of substitutionary atonement. Paul uses the word propitiation in Romans 3:25 to tell us what happened on the cross. The word means that God’s wrath was appeased because the punishment for the guilt of our sin was taken by Christ, and being the sinless God-man it could be applied to all who trust in him.
So God, as Paul says in that passage, can be just and the justifier because the price for wrong must be paid. God could not overlook our sin, and found a way in himself that we wouldn’t have to pay the price ourselves and maintain his justice. That’s why it’s called very good news. So no, Christ dying for our sins isn’t strange at all, and perfectly reasonable in a universe filled with right and wrong.