This is what I was thinking when I started asking just how it helped to have Christ suffer for my sins. How does that work? Is Christ really necessary? How did I come to the conclusion that we need Christ? Because the universe is both just and merciful.
Some people think justice is bad; it’s punishment.
This is what I was thinking about one day as I watched this video
The summary is a man goes into debt to a creditor. The man couldn’t pay the debt, and unless someone else did, he was going to debtor’s prison. Christ offered to pay the debt if the one who owed the debt would accept him as the creditor. And if the person who was owed the debt would mark the debt paid in full and not ask the debtor for any more. I looked at that picture and I thought who symbolizes me in this picture?
I’m the debtor of course I said to myself. Then I asked myself, “Is there anything I have done that I cannot make up for? Is there anyone I have hurt that even if I apologized with all my heart and did all the good I could from now on, it still wouldn’t restore the lost confidence, heal the broken heart or give back the missed opportunities?” I could think of more than several.
I thought even if I did nothing but good from now on, would that make up for the past? Even if there was such a thing as reincarnation and I was reborn a hundred thousand times and did nothing but good would that make up for it? No. The universe would be out of whack unless that person’s life was restored, was healed. Christ says he can pay that debt. Reincarnation is unnecessary because of Christ.
If people forgive without being healed the universe is not just. If people demand healing and retribution from one who cannot pay rather than forgive the universe is not merciful. It is Christ who steps in between the debtor and creditor and pays the debt making the universe both just and merciful.
That made sense. But then I had more questions.
As I looked at the picture again I asked myself who is the creditor? He was drawn as a dark man with dark hair and beard and unforgiving eyes. I’ve asked other people that question. Who is the creditor? People say cautiously Satan? But does Christ owe Satan anything?
Of course not. Who is owed the debt? The person I hurt. Think of the victims. Don’t they deserve to have their broken lives made whole? Isn’t victim’s restitution also part of justice?
But sometimes I am the person who was hurt. I am the creditor. I asked myself, can Christ heal me of the grief and pain caused by another? The scriptures say yes. The Bible says “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good. (Romans 8:28)” And even more pointedly Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 1: 3-4 Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.
I thought of Christ standing before me in place of the person who hurt me offering to heal me, to pay the debt if I would forgive the debtor. I don’t have to forgive in a vacuum just because it’s a good thing to do. If I forgive Christ offers to make up for it. I looked at my life. I thought of times I’d been hurt. I asked God to open my eyes to the healing of Christ and I saw it. I saw people sent into my life who did heal me, comfort me, restore my confidence.
I remembered events I still hadn’t forgiven because I didn’t want God to forget to punish those people who hurt me.
This brought up another question I’d had. There’s a story in the Bible about a debtor who is forgiven a debt of a thousand but since he refuses to forgive the debt of one who owes him a penny, his original debt of a thousand is unforgiven and he is tossed into debtor’s prison.
That analogy works fine for most of us I would think. But what about a 10 year old girl who’s been sexually and physically abused. Isn’t the debt she’s trying to forgive more like the thousand while she owes the penny? What about people like that? Good people who have been cruelly hurt.
Now as I looked at this picture I understood it. Christ said he took on all the debtor’s debts – including the need for restitution as well as to suffer that punishment the debtor owed and he could heal the creditor, the person hurt, if the person would let Christ do it. Christ – the ultimate victim’s rights advocate.
It is Christ who stands before us and asks will you let me pay the debt? Christ who says I took on that person’s sins, suffered his punishment and took on the task of making things right. Will you let me heal you?
This is Christ who willingly chose to be homeless, childless, single. To work to such exhaustion he could sleep through a violent storm. Christ who was betrayed by a dear friend, who sweat great drops of blood in Gethsemane from the agony, who begged to not have to drink the bitter cup, who was beaten, whipped, spit on and cruelly crucified. What will you say to him? No. You didn’t suffer enough. No. You can’t understand this kind of pain.
Is there anyone who can say that?
I looked at the picture again. I thought sometimes I’m the person who owes the debt and sometimes I’m the person who is owed the debt.
All of a sudden I understood Matthew 6:14-15 “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (King James Version)
The atonement, I thought, is like a US dollar. On the front of the dollar is a picture of a man. That man represents me when I’m the debtor. The one who owes the debt. On the back is a picture of a building. I think of that building as being filled with all the people who have ever hurt or harmed me. The people who owe me a debt.
Christ stands before me holding out the dollar and asks, “Will you accept the atonement?”
I can’t take just the front of the dollar. It’s all or nothing. The whole thing is a gift. If I accept it, I’m healed of the guilt and shame I feel for the things I’ve done and I’m healed of the grief and pain I feel for the things others have done to me. Or I can refuse to forgive and I’m left to suffer on my own.
Either I accept all the healing and joy of the atonement or none of it.
One final thought. God tells us in Matthew 6:14-15 that if we don’t forgive, we aren’t forgiven. If you’re holding a grudge your sins are not forgiven and that means you haven’t accepted Christ as your Savior. Think about it.
Listen to the short version as a podcast