Real Forgiveness is Costly Suffering
Why would Jesus have to die? Why couldn’t God just forgive us? The death of Jesus for our sins is at the heart of the gospel, the good news. The Christian God sounds like the vengeful gods of primitive times who needed to be appeased by human sacrifice. Why can’t God just accept everyone or at least those who are sorry for their wrongdoings?
When damage has been done, repayment for repair of the damage must be made. The wrongdoer can make restitution, the wronged party can offer to pay, or some combination of the two parties together can pay for the damage. But, the cost of the damage must be borne by someone. The repayment does not vanish. Forgiveness means the wronged party bears the cost of the damage.
When one has been wronged and there is a just debt that cannot be dismissed, there are two options. 1) Make the wrongdoer suffer and pay for what they have done. 2) Forgive, which means refusing to make them suffer and pay for what they have done. This means that the wronged party absorbs the debt and takes the cost completely on themselves. True forgiveness is always a form of suffering.
God cannot just forgive us, because no one just forgives. Forgiveness means bearing the cost and absorbing the debt of sin instead of making the wrongdoer do it. God did this for us in Jesus Christ on the cross. The Christian faith has always understood that Jesus Christ is God. God did not, then, inflict pain on someone else, but rather on the cross absorbed the pain into himself. Therefore, God is not like the primitive deities who demanded our blood for their wrath to be appeased. God became human and offered his own lifeblood to offer mercy and honor justice.
Jesus death was only a good example if it was more than an example, if it was something absolutely necessary to rescue us. And it was. Why did Jesus have to die in order to forgive us? There was a debt to be paid – God himself paid it. There was a penalty to be borne – God himself bore it. Forgiveness is always a form of costly suffering.
From The Reason for God, Chapter 12, The (True) Story of the Cross, by Timothy Keller.
Don’t take my word for it, read the book, don’t wait for the movie.
Have a little hope on me, Roger