Archive for May, 2008

The Great Dilemma

May 29, 2008

   Whenever I talk to people about God, Jesus, the Bible and so on, I often ask them what they think God is like. Several answers pretty much cover it all. 

   “He’s loving, forgiving, and very understanding.” 

   “He’s angry at us and can’t wait to send us all to hell.” 

   “He’s out there somewhere, but I don’t think anyone can really know for sure.” 

   And, “I don’t think he exists. If he did, our world wouldn’t be so messed up.” 

   Those are honest answers, but I wonder if many people, even Christians, have really thought this through. For instance, if you take the God revealed in the Bible, one thing you will find out quickly is that he’s just, righteous, and holy, holy, holy. What do those things mean? 

   That he’s just means he must deal justly every person who has ever done anything wrong – stealing, lying, killing, committing adultery, cursing his name, etc.  – and ultimately to mete out justice for the crimes they’ve committed. Nothing can be overlooked. Everything must be considered, including that person’s situation in life – “he stole because he couldn’t get a job and had to feed his children and he had no money.” “He committed adultery because his wife hated him and cut him off.” Or, “He was a nasty guy and hated everyone and decided to kill people for no good reason.” And so on. God, being just, would consider every variable, nuance, problem that the person had, and so on. Only then would he pronounce sentence. 

   That he’s righteous means God himself would never commit a sin, or do something wrong and against his own laws, himself. He would never cheat, obfuscate, deceive, or manipulate, no matter how exercised he might have been at the time over Lucy’s incessant talking late into the night in prayer, or whatever.

   That he’s holy means he is utterly separate from all evil, sin, and unrighteousness. He can’t even look at a person who is sinful or evil. He has to hide from that person and go somewhere where he doesn’t have to see them, because if he did, he’d immediately have to destroy them and wipe every vestige of them off the face of the earth. 

   Now look at that rather short list: God has to judge human sin, would never commit sin himself, and can’t even look on a human who sins. So the question is how can he have anything to do with us? 

   Okay, you see part of the problem. But let’s go the other way for a second. God has other characteristics that seem to negate some of the above. For instance, the Bible explicitly says, “God is love”(see 1 John 4:8 and 16). He is loving. He loves everyone, everything equally, without partisanship or partiality. He doesn’t prefer Jennifer Aniston because she’s better looking than Phyllis Diller. God doesn’t bless George Clooney because he’s the coolest guy in the universe, and shun Jerry Stiller because he plays idiots on TV. No, God loves them all deeply, totally, and forever, because that’s who he is, love itself. 

   He’s also merciful. That means he wants to show mercy to anyone and everyone, whether they ask for it or not. He wants to let them off the hook, give them a free ride, overlook the latest drunkenness spree, and flush the nasty pictures out of his mind. In other words, he wants very much to give all of us a big break, and especially if we do ask for. 

   Another thing: he’s forgiving. He has forgiven people when they repented of their sin and asked for it(all of the disciples), when they didn’t(the paralyzed man in Matthew 9:1-8), and when they didn’t even expect it or want it(the Romans who nailed Jesus to the cross). God wants to forgive us more than we’re even willing to ask.

   Most of all, God is gracious. That means he wants to give us everything he has, can make, and be to all of us. Every blessing. Every good thing. Just pile it all on. That’s his nature. He literally wants to give us the greatest birthday party every day for eternity.

   Okay, all that’s very encouraging. But do you notice the dilemma? 

   If God’s just, righteous and holy, he can’t forgive anyone, love anyone, be merciful or gracious. No, he has to judge them and send them off on a permanent vacation in a very dark place where they won’t be able to inflict themselves on anyone ever again. 

   But if he’s forgiving, loving, merciful, and gracious, he wants to shower us with every good gift.

   The dilemma is: How does he do all that and not compromise his character in any way? In other words, if he’s just he has to be absolutely just and can never forgive anyone. On the other hand, if he forgives, he can no longer be just. 

   It’s a pretty big problem, don’t you think? But the reality is, God solved all this rather simply: He sent us Jesus. 

   What did Jesus do? He lived a perfect life, satisfying God’s requirement to be perfect. Then Jesus died on the cross, paying the penalty for every sin that was ever and will be committed, and satisfying God’s justice, righteousness, and holiness. 

   Do you see it? Jesus lived the perfect life in our place and by faith gives it to us so when we exercise faith in him. When God looks at us, he doesn’t see us – sinner, foul-up, idiot, jerk, genocidal maniac, serial killer, or whatever – no, he sees Jesus in us by faith and he treats us as if we truly were perfect.

   At the same time, he takes all our sins and puts them on Jesus. Jesus pays for every one of them, and when we accept that payment by faith, God forgives us forever, releases his mercy and grace, and loves us perfectly. 

   How can it be that simple?

   Why shouldn’t it be? Think about it. No matter how much you might try to be good, righteous and perfect for God, you could never do it. Sooner or later, you’ll foul up. So God says, “Believe in my Son; he’ll pay for your sins, and you get his perfection. All by faith in him.” 

   Some people say, “Well, why doesn’t God just forgive us all and leave it at that?”

   That’s the dilemma: he can’t just forgive us all because someone or something has to pay for those sins. If God’ just says, “I forgive everyone,” he has seriously compromised his justice and all those great truths about his greatness, goodness, and holiness.

   You might say, “Well, I guess he should just punish us all.” 

   Sure, but he’s loving, remember? Gracious? Merciful? He doesn’t want to punish any of us. 

   So he made a way for him to be himself completely and for us, by faith, to get everything he wants to give us: forgiveness, eternal life, heaven, and the resident Spirit.

   Some will say, though: “You mean, Jesus had to die that horrible death just so I can be forgiven?” 

   Right. That’s the price of sin. That’s the price we should pay ourselves. If God was to be just with us, he’d put us on that cross and leave us there until every sin we ever committed was paid for. God wants us to see in Jesus’ death just how bad our sin is.

   Some say, “But I just curse a little. I don’t get drunk. I’ve been faithful. I haven’t done a lot of sin.” 

   Maybe you’d better ask your family about that one. If you really examine yourself, you’ll probably see a lot more sin than you ever imagined – in thought, word, and deed. I have never met a person who truly was perfect. Nice? Sure. Decent? Of course. But perfect? Can you name one besides Jesus? 

   God solved the Great Dilemma in Jesus. That’s why he’s the way, the truth, and the life. No one else did what he did. 

   Ultimately, you can take him or leave him. But remember one thing: if you do reject him, God will have to deal with you in perfect justice.

    Are you sure you really want to take that doorway when forgiveness, eternal life, joy, love, peace, and every good thing comes with faith in Christ, who is the Door to all of it and more?