Mercy, baby rapists & the cross
This is a public Facebook conversation I had recently with someone. I haven’t ever posted a conversationÂ before, but the questions they asked meÂ were so profound, genuine and clear, I was encouraged by the opportunity it gave me to try to explain the gospel. Even though the conversation was public, for the sake of privacy, I will simply put my Facebook friend’s comments in bold. No comments have been edited. Also, for context, this conversation starts in the middle of a bigger conversation about theology and the nature of God.
Mercy, baby rapists & the cross – a Facebook conversation
- What is mercy?
- Mercy is the withholding of judgement.
Grace is related but different. Grace is the giving of an undeserved gift.
So if a young criminal was told by a judge, “You are guilty, but I will not punish you.” that is mercy. But if he went on to say, “And I will personally pay for you to get an education.” That would be grace.
- So, it’s very much connected to kindness in place of punishment?
Why is judgement so important?
- Judgement (and I’m obviously speaking from a biblical Christian perspective here) is so important because God is holy and good and as much as he is 100% committed to good he is 100% opposed to evil. Judgement is the expression of this holy commitment.
Judgment is not opposed to kindness. In fact, it is unkind for God to be apathetic about evil.The Christian message is not that God ignores judgement for evil, but that he bears it and takes it on himself in our place. And so in the one act, the judgment of God and the mercy of God is displayed.
- Isn’t all I am comprised of, including all potential, made by God?
- Your entire body is made by God, but how you choose to use that body is your responsibility.
- Can God prevent evil?
- If God created us, then it stands to reason that his power is greater than us.
Are you wondering, if God is good and he is able to prevent evil, why doesn’t he do it?
- Yeah. Why let babies be raped, etc. Why invent evil?
- Those are two different questions.
God didn’t invent evil. We, as people in opposition to God’s command to love, invented ways (like rape) to defy God and live for ourselves.As for why doesn’t God prevent our evil – that is a great question and one that the biblical writers asked often: “Why do the wicked live on, growing old and increasing in power?” (Job 21:7)The answer the bible most often gives is that God is not ignorant of evil and there will be a Day of Judgement where all will be put right.The question is dangerous though. If we start asking why doesn’t God simply destroy all baby rapists, we may eventually have to ask why God doesn’t also destroy us for our evil acts?
- Rather, I’m wondering why he allows it.
- I have wondered that myself. And not in some philosophical thought-exercise way. I particularly grappled with it during my separation and divorce. I believe in a God that can do anything, which means he can cause or prevent anything he wills to. And yet horrible things happen.I think ultimately it is an unanswered question, though I do rest in a few truths that I am confident in:
1. God sees all. No suffering or evil or good goes unnoticed.
2. God is wiser than me. He knows all ends and what is the best way this world should be dealt with.3. God came to earth in Jesus, took on flesh and felt our experience of suffering. His compassion and empathy is not theoretical.
4. Jesus showed that God is ultimately a God of love for everyone, including those that do evil like you and I. He died in our place, making forgiveness and reconciliation possible, and for me, ending the question about whether or not God really loves us.
5. Jesus will return to judge all and no evil act will be ignored and no injustice will not be addressed and put right.
6. In God there is true joy. Life is not about having a happy marriage or a healthy body, or even, not ever enduring violence. Life is about knowing and enjoying our Creator, and that is a joy that is for all and it is a joy that surpasses all other griefs.
- 4. I have never understood the idea of Christ dying in our place. Or how that made forgiveness or anything possible. I cannot see any sense in this. Why died for my sins?
- To answer your question about why Jesus needed to die for your sins and how that makes forgiveness possible, I’ll try to give a simplistic answer and then flesh it out as you feel needs be…The “good news” that Christianity proposes is an answer to a particular “bad news”. This is that, although we are meant to love God with everything and love our neighbour as ourself, we don’t do that. We’d rather live our own way, we’d rather trust in our own authority, we’d rather love ourselves and live for ourselves. Basically, we’d rather not treat God as God. This is what Christianity calls “sin”. It’s not just doing naughty things, it’s a personal rejection of God as God.
God is the source of life and light and so, turning away from him brings the consequences of death and darkness (whether we intend this or not). To say God is “light” (or the Christian term “holy”) is to say that God is 100% committed to all that is right and good and just. This also means that God is 100% opposed to sin and evil and darkness. Our sin severs the harmonious relationship we should have with our Creator and puts us under his just judgment and condemnation.
There is nothing we can do to win God’s favour back. We can’t buy him off with a bunch of flowers or our weak attempts at being good. Any good deeds that we do is simply good that we should have been doing in the first place, and so they don’t earn us anything.
If you think I’m not getting this from the bible, then here’s a couple of verses to back it up:
“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) and “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).
So, the bad news is that we are all sinners to various degrees and that puts us under the punishment of death, experiencing separation from God both now and forever. And the really bad news is there’s nothing in our own strength that we can do to save ourselves.
Fortunately, Jesus came to bring the good news. The good news is that God was not content to leave us without hope. He came and took on humanity in the person Jesus, lived the perfect life we could not live and then died the death that we deserved. Jesus described his death as a “ransom” (Mark 10:45). It was a payment to enable us to be freed from the judgement that we are under. The death Jesus died was no ordinary death. It was the death that we should have died as the punishment for our sin. God’s hatred for sin and all his condemnation and judgment was taken by Jesus on the cross. It’s like a judge who condemns you to death for your crimes and then steps down from his seat, and says that he will go to the electric chair instead of you.
The way Peter (Jesus’ closest friend and a key leader in early Christianity) puts it is: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 1:24).The call now to us is not to clean ourselves up for God. It’s not to try to be good to get to heaven. Naturally, we must turn away from our commitment to sin and turn back to treating God as God, but what makes our reconciliation with God possible, is what God has done in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. The call is to turn to and trust in Jesus.
That is how Jesus’ death makes it possible for us to be forgiven. It pays the debt that we owe. It removes the barrier between us and God. It satisfies our holy God’s requirement for justice and for those who trust in Jesus, it leaves no more judgment or condemnation left for us to face. The result is that we are restored to friendship with God and we live in right relationship with him, in light and life, both now and forever – not based on any good works we have done, but based solely on his good work for us in Jesus’ death.
Now that may have seemed like a very long-winded answer. Sorry about that! Believe me, there is lots more I could have said. This is a fascinating and personally exciting topic for me, as I don’t simply believe it to be theoretically true. I have personally experienced this reconciliation myself, and have enjoyed a restored relationship with God for over 20 years now! Although I know this “good news” about Jesus’ death can seem weird or even nonsensical to some, and I have questions about how it all works, but I believe it to be true because I know that it does work and have found it to be true.