Forgiveness is Costly
Why did Jesus have to die? Most would say, “He died for our sins!” Yes, this is true, but still does not fully answer the question. Why couldn’t God just forgive our sin and leave it at that? Why couldn’t God proclaim, “It’s okay, I think you’ve learned your lesson and I hope you enjoy the forgiveness I’m extending to you.” Surely a simple declaration out of God’s mouth would have been enough. Did there have to be death, blood, and suffering involved?
I have recently thought about such things because of a quote I happened to run across. The following sentences were spoken by a popular ‘Christian’ (and I am using that term loosely here) worship leader and songwriter. He says, “The idea that God needed to be appeased with blood is not beautiful. It’s horrific. I would love to hear fewer Christian artists sing about a Father murdering His Son. If you can’t think of anything to sing to God other than gratitude for taking your shame away through bloodshed, stop singing.” Besides making me ponder about who is behind the writing of many songs that we sing in American churches, this quote led me to consider what forgiveness necessitates and what it truly is.
The Cost of Forgiveness
Forgiveness—real forgiveness—always requires a price to be paid. An illustration could prove helpful; place yourself in the following scenario. Let’s say that you own a business that sells produce. You make your living by carefully tending large gardens and profusely sweating in the heat of the day. You are careful and work hard to ensure that your produce is free from chemicals and anything that could be associated with being hazardous to people’s health. One night, upon returning home after a long day of work, you sit down at your kitchen table and open the newspaper. And that's when you see it. Two full-page ads trashing your business and claiming that your produce is full of chemicals. The ads have been run by a nearby competitor and claim that you have been lying to your growing customer base and that you cannot be trusted. You are deeply hurt and confused; you know this malicious attack is a lie. And you also know that the majority of your customers are going to see it. What do you do? Well, you could take out your own ad and launch a counterattack. Maybe even take it to the courtroom with a lawsuit. Or you could choose to forgive them. But what does that actually mean?
If you forgive your competitor, that means you are choosing not to retaliate. It sounds nice and compassionate, but don’t miss what choosing forgiveness means. You will also absorb the suffering and loss that their malicious act caused you. Not just emotional and mental pain, but the loss of real profits from customers who believed the ad and now refuse to give you their business.
See, forgiveness always implies suffering.
A choice to forgive is a choice to absorb suffering (to some degree). And that is exactly what happened on the cross.
For and Instead
On the cross, Jesus absorbed the consequences of our sin onto Himself. For God to simply declare that we are forgiven without the cross would be a misrepresentation of what forgiveness truly is. Jesus was not only demonstrating God’s love on the cross; He was shielding us from something—God’s wrath.
Jesus didn’t just die for us, He died instead of us.
For forgiveness to fully be extended to sinful humanity, a price had to be paid and Jesus gladly purchased our redemption for us. Forgiveness is neither cheap nor easy; the price of our salvation was costly.
When you love someone, you hate the things that cause them harm. And because of God’s love for us (and His own glory), He hates sin. Sin destroys His creation and perverts the glory and righteousness of God that serve as the foundation for all that exists. Sin destroys us and that is why God hates it. So, Jesus stepped in to deal with it. For God to be loving and righteous, sin had to be punished. God’s plan had always been to offer forgiveness. And because of God’s hatred towards sin, His righteousness, and what forgiveness truly is, it led Jesus to one place—the cross.
Maybe that doesn’t fully answer the question, but I do know one thing for sure: I can’t imagine anything more worthy and beautiful to sing about!