I used to think that folks had too small a view of sin when they asked why it was necessary for Someone to suffer and die in place of others for there to be forgiveness of sins. If sin is no big deal, then the cross seems extreme to say the least. But in a recent conversation with a man at church, it was clear that his issue was not in thinking sin too small a matter. He agreed it was a big deal. His issue was why God didn’t let the sinner pay for his sins rather than letting someone or something else (bulls and goats and then later Jesus) take his place. It seemed unjust to him.
Two things struck me as we talked through things. The first was that he had too small a view of God’s holiness and the majesty of God’s being. The short answer to his concern from this perspective would be: the only appropriate response to an infinitely good, powerful and loving God is perfect love and obedience. So, to turn from such a God in disobedience or lack of love is an infinite offense. To “make right” such an infinite offense requires an infinite price – something finite creatures like you and me can’t offer.
Here we get the answer to Anselm’s question, “Why the God-man?” Man is the offender, man must make it right. But only an infinite being or someone with infinite resources can pony up with the necessary “atonement” for an infinite offense. This brings us to Jesus. The Second Person of the Trinity, the eternal divine Son of God, who was and is God, took on flesh (became man) and dealt with our mess. God Himself paid for our sins.
But coming back to the second thing that struck me as I talked with my struggling friend, I realized that those who think of sin as a less significant matter than it is and those who think of God as less than He is, often have the same underlying mega-problem – pride. If we actually think we can make right our offenses against God (either by thinking our sins are not that great or by thinking that God’s holiness and glory are not that far from our own), then we will necessarily think it a travesty of justice to make some poor bloke serve as our whipping boy.
It does seem that God gives us a choice in this: “You can pay for your sins, or you can let Someone Else pay for them.” It is both arrogant and a deadly folly to choose the former.