I had a line of reasoning posed to me by an agnostic friend yesterday that
I can’t seem to answer. It started with the question, “If God makes all
the rules why did Jesus have to die? Why couldn’t he just absolve human
sin?” to which I replied, “Along with being perfect love, God is perfect
justice. God’s justice says we have all sinned and therefore must die,
God’s love desires to show us mercy and forgive our transgressions. These
two natures of God are reconciled at the cross through Jesus when he took
upon his body the righteous penalty for our sin.” At this my friend
asked, “But how can it be perfect justice if the one who sins is not the
one who dies (as in Ezekiel).” I don’t have a good answer and seem
trapped. If I say, “God created the laws we have broken, therefore he can
set the requirements for paying the penalty and grant us a pardon”, then
He can respond with a version of his first question all over again. If I
respond with, “Justice has a righteous requirement that must be paid and
Jesus paid it” Then he will respond with, “But how is that ‘perfect’
justice since the one who is owes the debt didn’t pay it? If you commit a
crime, I can’t go to the judge and say, ‘I’ll do his time'”. How should
I respond?


One response is the following seemingly circular reasoning:

By definition, God, the Creator is Just. Therefore whatever God considers
to be just is, by definition, just. Therefore, if God provides a
substitutionary sacrifice to take the penalty justice required of us, then
it is just.

This argument, at first, sounds like a tautology. Perhaps it is.
However, love is defined by God and justice is defined by God. Human
beings have an innate, hard-wired sense of love?its definition, as well as
a desire to give and receive that love. Similarly, human beings have an
innate and inescapable sense of justice. Both of these things came from
God who created us, as we are created in his image. Love is defined, not
by the dictionary but by our Creator. The same can be said of justice.
To use a philosophical term, justice in an a priori concept.

Justice in this case (the case of a human being committing sin) has to do
with offense against our Creator, not against another human being. The
offense may ALSO be against another human being, but the justice in mind
has to do with penalty for offense against God. The one offended has the
right to set the penalty and the means of making the relationship right
again. The offended one (God) has said to us that he will accept the
substitutionary punishment to fall on his Son Jesus Christ. Like it says
in Romans 3:26 says that it was God?s desire to be the one who is “just
and the one who justifies those who have faith in Christ Jesus.” Now, I
can imagine an individual being offended at this kind of justice. There
may well be a person who does not accept this idea that the one who seeks
justice is willing to accept payment from a voluntary substitute. It is
possible that some people do not accept this as legitimate “justice.” I
can understand both the emotion and the logic of this. However, justice
has to do with recompense and the offended party has a right to set the
terms to bring about justice.

Our justice system is not the same as that of God. God does not apologize
for this fact, as seen by Ezekiel 18:19-32. Perhaps this is because God,
who knows the heart, has a right to make judgments concerning repentance
and the heart which our human courts do not. However, even a human sense
of justice does allow for subsitutionary payment in some cases. If I owe
a debt and someone who loves me and wants to help me, for example my
parents, chooses to pay the debt, then we are not bothered by that at all.
I understand that the analogy in this case is not perfect, but it may be

So, it is true that human courts sometimes allow for another to pay the
penalty, but more often they do not allow for one to pay the penalty for
another, it is true, but this does not prove, by definition, that perfect
justice from a perfect judge does not allow substitutionary justice.

John Oakes, PhD

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