The key to understanding this paradox, is that our God is both a God of love AND a God of justice.
This question is often posed when we try to reconcile the image of a loving God that at the same time, is capable of punishing sinners to eternal damnation. The answer is our God is both a God of love and a God of justice. Justice and love go hand in hand. A father that does not discipline his children, but instead forgives them of everything, and lets them continue to ruin their lives is an irresponsible parent. The is not the model of fatherhood that our God teaches.
What The Bible Says About Forgiveness
Forgiveness does not mean you can do anything you want and then run back and say sorry when you’re done. Then go back and do it again. Paul says, “Do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.” (Romans 2:4-5)
Forgiveness Requires Repentance
Many churches today rightly focus on salvation by grace through faith. But what is often neglected is repentance. God’s forgiveness does not give us the RIGHT to take advantage of His grace. The apostle Paul rightly says that if we think we can get away with this, simply by confessing but not repenting, we have another thing coming. In western culture, we have presumed to take for granted forgiveness. Then we get angry when God gives judgment. How dare a loving and just God judge us? We can accept forgiveness (wiping out our debt), but we cannot accept judgment (held accountable for our debt). Ironically, other cultures have the opposite problem. They have absolutely no problem with a God that punishes evil and rewards the good. They just cannot accept a God that gives grace and forgiveness, where just by following Jesus, all your sins magically wash away, and we are made right in the eyes of God. The concept of Karma in the Eastern culture strongly clashes with this idea of grace, and causes quite a stumbling block.
Forgiveness and Justice
The concept of justice, or more specifically divine justice is an extremely important pillar in how we make sense of the world today. We are able to forgive someone of hurting us only if we believe God ultimately punishes the wicked and unrepentant. Tim Keller, in his book, “The Reason for God” says it best:
It is the lack of belief in a God of vengeance that “secretly nourishes violence.” The human impulse to make perpetrators of violence pay for their crimes is almost an overwhelming one. It cannot possibly be overcome with platitudes like “Now don’t you see that violence won’t solve anything?” If you see your home burned down and your relatives killed and raped, such talk is laughable – and it shows no real concern for justice. Yet victims of violence are drawn to go far beyond justice into the vengeance that says, “You put out one of my eyes, so I will put out both of yours.” They are pulled inexorably into an endless cycle of vengeance, of strikes and counterstrikes nurtured and justified by the memory of terrible wrongs.
In other words, if I don’t believe that God will eventually deliver justice, then I will “take up the sword and be sucked into the endless vortex of retaliation.” Divine justice enables us to forgive and move on.
Judgment is not only necessary, but it is the only way we can make sense of right and wrong. For if wrong has no consequences, that what can possibly be so wrong about wrong?
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