September 8 Esight, 2009

And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most? (Luke 7.42)This week I thought I would share an excerpt from my upcoming book Finding the Father, to be released this December. Enjoy!

The nature of a violation is that one party inflicts loss on an unwilling recipient. For example, we have a violator (for the sake of illustration we’ll call her Nancy) and a violated (we’ll call him Ted). Ted has two options.

Ted’s first option is to appeal to a higher power, such as civil government, and ask them to inflict a reasonable level of loss on Nancy in order to restore fairness. This would not necessarily be revenge, but restitution. Nancy (the violator) would be prosecuted.

In his second option, Ted could rise above the loss and willingly choose to bear the loss that Nancy inflicted. Nancy would thus be let off the hook and forgiven.

In either option, justice must be maintained. In the first option, if Ted called for Nancy to be punished but instead someone else was punished for the crime, this would be unjust. If someone other than Nancy is punished, then balance, equality, and fairness are not achieved. Many times, Christians have given the impression that God (the violated) demanded that we (the violators) be punished, yet, because He loved us so much, He sent His only Son to be punished in our place. If this were true, it would be problematic on many levels, and would be unjust, to say the least, according to the principle that “he who does the crime does the time.” In the second option, if, against Ted’s will, someone other than Ted let Nancy go free, this, too, would be unjust.

So, we meet with a challenge. The solution must be just and merciful and we must resist injustice. In the case of the Christian gospel, the result of the sacrifice of Jesus is that the violators (us) go free. How is this not injustice?

In our illustration, if Nancy is let off the hook it comes at a price to Ted. Because it comes at a price for him, Ted must voluntarily choose to bear the loss inflicted by Nancy and to relinquish his right of restitution. There is no such thing as forgiveness that doesn’t cost the forgiver something.

Now, notice that God’s decision to let us, the violators, go free was not made by someone else against His will. God, Himself, embraced the loss and chose to bear our sins against Him. In a word, this is forgiveness. Calvary is as if God is saying to the world, with open arms (literally), charges have been dropped.

This begs the question, was our debt to God repaid or forgiven? Our sins are either repaid or forgiven, they cannot be both. And yet scripture uses the language of both. How are we to make sense of this?

We must abandon a model of three-party substitutionary atonement and begin to understand the nature of forgiveness, which is two-party substitutionary atonement. God forgave our sins against Him! Someone else did not repay Him the debt. Yet remember, there is no such thing as forgiveness that doesn’t cost the forgiver something. It cost God something to forgive us. The cost of forgiving is a payment not received but made by the one doing the forgiving. This is why we see God on the cross, and not us! God, the violated party, recognized the injustice done, realized His cost to forgive, and willingly bore that cost out of love so that you and I, the violators, could go free.

But what about justice? We must include justice for the picture to be complete. In the scenario with my Muslim friend, if he should rise above the infliction of those who stole money from him, one person would still suffer. Who? Him, the violated. Yet something would have changed. Instead of someone else letting them off the hook and dropping the charges, my friend himself would voluntarily and willingly drop them. No third party would innocently step in and substitute for the guilty ones, nor would someone else let them off the hook unjustly. Rather, the violated party himself would choose to bear the loss and to put himself in the place of the violators. Justice cannot say a word against this. It is the right of the violated to drop charges if they so choose. No one else can justly let the violators off the hook, only the violated, and only voluntarily, for it will cost him everything.

This is still an act of substitution, a type of substitution that is acceptable and just—it is forgiveness. The violated willingly and voluntarily puts himself in the place of all the violators, willingly bears what was done against him, in order for the violators to go free.

This is exactly how Jesus sought to explain the act of Calvary.

Be watching for the release of Finding the Father at this December.

I wish you God’s best this week.