A misconception is to underestimate the significance of our sin and the danger we are in. That’s why the death of Jesus looks like gratuitous violence.
The Bible is crystal clear on our predicament: ever since humans rebelled against God, we forfeited the right to eternal life. God cannot permit sinful, proud, selfish humans to live forever – we would only ruin the new paradise he has created.
It’s as if God was saying: “I made you. I made a world for you to live in and yet you live without any reference to me. You are self-centred, proud, aloof and ungrateful – yet you have little to be proud of since everything you have is a gift from me.”
It’s not very flattering but you have to wake up to the fact (as I had to some years ago) that your rebellion and cold-heartedness constitute a great offence to God.
That’s why the suffering of Christ was so terrible – it was commensurate with the seriousness of our sin. That sin will disqualify us from the presence of God’s love and care and beauty and goodness forever. And that is an appalling prospect.
No. God MUST punish wrongdoing in his universe. Sin can NEVER be overlooked. God cannot just dispense forgiveness like a sovereign handing out gongs.
Catherine the Great famously said, “God will forgive – that’s his business.” Do you think like that? If so, that is a terrible misconception. No, God’s business is to be true to his character and uphold law within his universe. The hardest thing for a Holy God to do is to forgive sin. His rule would become unsustainable if he excused sin.
The whole of the Old Testament points out that sin is so serious that it always involves death. Sin can never be merely forgiven – it must be punished.
The death of Jesus is the only way of God’s wrath being appeased. There is nothing we can do or say that will appease God and make him propitious. And if you have a problem with that then you’ve got a bigger problem with the alternative. For if God were not angry with sin, then he would not be good.
I mean could you observe a gang rape and remain serene – or remain neutral about the torture of young children? Such people (often powerful tyrants) who get to that state have become dehumanised, we would suggest – they have obliterated the image of God in themselves rather than reflected it.
Well let me tell you, our thoughts and motives are so foul and rebellious, our selfishness and bitterness is so obscene to God. He is angry. And if he weren’t then he wouldn’t be good.
We don’t understand the cross – the sheer brutality of the cross, because we don’t understand our own danger.
Jesus on the cross was offering himself to satisfy God’s demands for sin to be punished. He was dying to save us from God’s wrath – from hell. He was taking our place – our punishment. He was our ransom.
Consider our husband and wife again, walking along the banks of the Seine when the wife falls in. Her husband jumps in and after a struggle manages to push her to the bank with his last piece of energy, before falling back under the water. Would she then see how the dying and loving were connected? Of course.
Jesus on the cross plunged into the icy river of death in the place of sinful humanity. Sin is so serious that God’s own Son had to die.