For a being whose attributes consist, at minimum, of absolute justice and perfect love, there seems to be a dilemma on how that being could show love to unlovely creatures without compromising either his moral perfections or absolute justice. In other words, is there some place where love and justice intersect? How, for instance, can God exact a just punishment on those deserving of his wrath while at the same time fully express his love to those same beings?
Parenthetically, it’s important to note that in some sense the dilemma is really ours, since salvation is not from any divine necessity. God was not constrained to create much less save anyone. To suggest otherwise is theologically naive. God is only obligated to be himself, the “I AM THAT I AM” (Exodus 3:14). From a strongly human-centric framework, this sounds harsh; we would like to believe God had to offer us a way out of our sin. After all, “God is love!” we proclaim. Yet, God is also righteous (a synonym for “just”) and we must not exaggerate one attribute at the expense of another.
A robust salvation that comports with the biblical data issues forth purely from grace. God is love; but his love is a holy love. So, how might love and justice be expressed? One symbol in all of history illustrates this perfect arrangement where love and justice meet…and it looks just like an intersection. The cross of Christ extends horizontally as if to reach out in love and vertically as if to reach up to heaven proclaiming “It is finished;” justice is met. Love and justice perfectly and finally collide at Calvary!
You see, if God is holy (i.e., morally perfect) and just (exacting all and only the appropriate punishment against offenders) he must act against sin (moral imperfection). Should he overlook our moral offenses he would cease to be the God of Christianity. And so, salvation from sin is impossible unless the price of sin be paid in full meeting the demands of God’s justice. Yet motivated by love and justice God accomplished what we could never accomplish for ourselves through Christ life and death. Jesus lived the morally perfect life in our stead, paid the penalty that we incurred, taking the consequence of our sin upon himself and satisfied God’s justice in order to demonstrate God’s love.. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). So, given the holiness and justice of God in alignment with the love of God, He purposed to redeem us through the Son of God.
[By the way: The Greek word for “cross” (stauros) was considered a profane term and rarely used amongst the economically or socially priviledged in 1st century Greco-Roman society. While the cross was a threat to any nation that would defy Rome’s military might, it also pointed to God’s absolute sovereign rule over sin, suffering, and any political power that seeks to displace God. Ironically, the symbol today has come to be used as a form of jewelry adorning our bodies, a focal point in paintings, or displayed on some national flags. Imagine having an electric chair used in the death penalty as a pendant on your necklace or as a featured work of art in your home!]
“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13)