The Real Pain at the Cross
I am trying to grasp a deep truth that has evaded me all my life. Something in today's devotional from Chambers helped me catch a fleeting glimpse of it, but I want to understand it much better.
It has to do with the offensiveness of sin to God and the truth about His forgiveness. Unfortunately the legal model so often infused with false beliefs about God's wrath and punishment clouded the picture for me so that the pieces never would fit together properly. Some of the pieces may have been valid but in the wrong context with other beliefs that were skewed against God so that I have never been able to see how it all makes sense. But I want to make sense out of it all and I now have a much clearer view of the puzzle than I have had in the past.
I need to somehow be empowered to see this whole sin problem from heaven's perspective and get at least a little sense of God's feelings about all of this that aligns squarely with the truths about His character that I have been learning so much about lately. I want to get into God's mind and begin to feel His feelings and sense what sin has caused Him to do in response. I need to somehow grasp the real truth about just what sin really is and why it caused God to suffer in Christ on the cross as a result.
Chambers states things from the perspective of his own understanding of God which seemed to be limited and confined to the legal view. I need to be cautious not to assume that every conclusion he makes is necessarily completely accurate. He was certainly far ahead of his time and most of what he teaches is profound to say the least. But light is still increasing and I must be careful not to get stuck looking backwards to find what is still coming from ahead. That is why I am praying intently that God will reveal to my mind and heart the deeper truths about this subject that I so need to learn and even more so to experience. Here is the quote from Chambers.
Very few of us know anything about conviction of sin; we know the experience of being disturbed because of having done wrong things; but conviction of sin by the Holy Ghost blots out every relationship on earth and leaves one relationship only—“Against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned.” When a man is convicted of sin in this way, he knows with every power of his conscience that God dare not forgive him; if God did forgive him, the man would have a stronger sense of justice than God. God does forgive, but it cost the rending of His heart in the death of Christ to enable Him to do so. The great miracle of the grace of God is that He forgives sin, and it is the death of Jesus Christ alone that enables the Divine nature to forgive and to remain true to itself in doing so.
It is the part in bold print that I am struggling to understand here, as well as the following sentence. Something about these statements seems to point to something much deeper than I have been able to grasp up to this point. And somehow I sense that it has to do with the issue of offense. But I do find myself not in full agreement that the death of Christ alone enabled God to forgive. I am coming to realize that the death of Christ only revealed the forgiveness that has always been there but needed that death to reveal it openly so it could be plainly seen and embraced by all.
All my life I have had a very heightened sense of fairness. Coming from an atmosphere of abuse, especially spiritual abuse, I may have developed a very keen reaction to not being treated as what I considered fair or honestly. One of the most sensitive triggers for me, even to this day, is for someone to insinuate or accuse me of being dishonest. And parallel to that I have been very sensitive to being treated with suspicion while others around me seem to go unnoticed. I have seen this same sensitivity in other people and I know that it likely comes from experiences in childhood that set us up to feel strongly about fairness and justice even to the point of getting us in trouble. And there is certainly plenty of injustice taking place all the time that can rile up our desires for setting things right.
But what goes on in God's heart and mind when He is treated unfairly? How does He feel when He is accused of the most horrible attributes ever imagined? What goes on inside of Him when we believe the most ghastly lies of the enemy about God and think that our heavenly Father is stern, eager to punish, arbitrary, harsh, severe and unforgiving? Do we think that He simply ignores all those accusations because He is big enough to do so? Or, like many people believe, do we think that He just stays very angry nearly all the time because He so resents all the offenses that come against Him like we would feel?
I think most would agree that when we are falsely accused and treated with suspicion that our sense of fairness causes us to feel hurt deeply. Our reputation may be seriously damaged if not destroyed and malicious suggestions about us are spread to others who chose to believe these lies about us. At this point the issue of offense immediately comes into play. Most of us take offense at being falsely accused and begin to harbor ill-will toward all those who have indulged in this act of unfairness. In our minds justice has been perverted and our accusers are to blame for not bothering to find out the real truth about us before launching their campaign of character assassination. Our reaction at that point is determined by our own true character and our level of maturity.
But what I want to know is what this issue of offense has on the actions and feelings of God. I believe that God does not react the way we usually react, with anger and resentment and desire for retaliation – to settle the score and 'get even' with His enemies and accusers. But is there still a place for this issue of offense as it concerns God and if so, how is it dealt with effectively?
When we hold onto a feeling of offense from someone doing us wrong, it is clear from Scripture that we fall into a trap of Satan and quickly become deceived and angry. (see The Bait of Satan by John Bevere) Obviously God is not going to fall into that trap even though we often assume He is offended when we believe He is angry at us. But neither can I see that God simply has no reaction to offenses when people treat Him and think about Him and gossip falsely about Him in ways that always tempt us to be offended. God has far more sensitivity to justice and fairness than we do, and when treated falsely and accused of the most horrendous charges there must be something in God that responds that would answer the question of what happened to the offense.
I have to believe that at least the very real potential exists for God to feel offended when we believe and repeat lies about Him and misconstrue His motives and character. But since it also seems clear that God does not hold onto offense like we do, what does He do with this very real reaction that we struggle with? And I don't think the answer would be that He is just so different than us that it does not bother Him. There is far too much evidence to the contrary. But it would also make sense that what He chooses to do in His reaction to offenses is likely the way we should deal with them as well.
I am trying to put myself as much as possible into God's perspective to see how He deals with this issue of offense. It is clear from the Bible that our sins are offensive to Him, so the issue of offense is not ignored by Him. But it is also clear that God does not hold our sins against us as far as He is concerned, though our sins certainly react on ourselves. Sin itself brings on the pain of what we call punishment, not God. And that is yet another reason to believe that God never holds onto the feelings of offense, for to do so would be to sin Himself. If He teaches that we are to forgive as He forgives, then I need to understand more clearly how He forgives and how that relates to this issue of offense.
In the above quote, Chambers claims that God would not dare forgive or else we would have a stronger sense of justice than He does. My mind cannot presently wrap itself completely around that for I cannot perceive the assumptions that Chambers had to make that statement. Maybe it is just a matter of wording, but at the same time it did bring up in my mind this issue of what God does with the natural reaction of offense. I believe it is not out of line to include the fact that we are created in God's image, and as so we should be able to sympathize at least to some degree with how God thinks and feels and begin through that to appreciate the real truth about how He deals with sin and offense so that we can imitate Him.
God offered him (Jesus), so that by his blood he should become the means by which people's sins are forgiven through their faith in him. God did this in order to demonstrate that he is righteous. In the past he was patient and overlooked people's sins; but in the present time he deals with their sins, in order to demonstrate his righteousness. In this way God shows that he himself is righteous and that he puts right everyone who believes in Jesus. (Romans 3:25 GNB)
I am starting to see how the issue of offense, the offensiveness of sins, the false accusations, the lies we believe and spread about God and all the acts of sin we do to each other, His children – all of the potential offense that all of this would cause in the tender heart of our totally loving Father – I now see more clearly in this verse how He dealt with it.
When Paul says here that God overlooked people's sins in the past, he was referring to the reality that God never reacted in offense toward anyone who had participated in the activities or even thoughts of sin. Quite the opposite, He stepped in to prevent the ultimate natural consequence of sin from taking place immediately. All of the suspicions about God ever entertained by any of His created beings had never been allowed to have their natural effect, for the results of sin – viewing God through tainted ideas about Him and with suspicion – is always death and all the pain that accompanies it. This death is never because God reacts from the offenses created by our suspicions and lies about Him but is simply the natural result that occurs when lies and truth come into close proximity to each other. Therefore, as soon as sin began to infect the minds of any of His created children He had to shield them from full exposure to His glory and truth or they would have immediately suffered death. He had to do this to protect them long enough to have a chance to change their minds and hearts about Him and be restored to a safe condition to live in His presence. (This is why Adam and Eve lost their covering of light and left them conscious of their nakedness, because God removed it before it could cause their deaths after they sinned.)
The offensiveness of sin is very real and the pain that offenses bring is not something God simply dismisses as irrelevant. Our participation in believing lies about God deeply wounds the heart of our heavenly Parent just as when our own children that we love dearly turn against us due to malicious lies they may come to believe about us. This pain that parents can suffer when they are falsely accused and viewed with suspicion by their own offspring is the offense that is even more acute in the heart of our Father in heaven. But what is done about that offense and pain makes all the difference in whether there is any possibility for reconciliation and vindication or whether there is permanent estrangement.
In this verse I am starting to see more clearly the core of the plan of salvation – God's method of setting us back to being right with Him so that we can live in freedom from lies about Him and then thrive in His fiery presence of intense love. (see Isaiah 33) Instead of reacting like we usually do when offended, God absorbed into His own self all of the pain produced by all of the sin and the lies and the malicious attacks on His reputation. But to convince us of this He had to show us explicitly a demonstration of that forgiveness. He also needed to reveal that He really was not what His enemies have made Him out to be and reveal the nature of His true character. All needed to see what the effects of believing lies produces so that we could begin to grasp the truth in contrast to the lies we have all believed about Him. He also needed to show us the very real pain and death that falsehoods produce in the life without allowing those natural effects to fully happen to us before we had a chance to learn the truth about them and be given opportunity to turn away from them back to the truth about Him.
When this passage says that God's righteousness is revealed by dealing with our sins, I believe it is saying that on the cross God demonstrated the effects on His heart of the offensiveness of our thoughts and actions toward Him so that we could come to see more clearly the natural consequences that sin will always produce in any who allow it to control them. God demonstrated on the cross the death that He talked about when He warned Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden against disobedience. God prevented them from experiencing that eternal kind of death after they sinned against Him by believing Satan's lying insinuations about God. Rather, His desire was for them to learn from their mistake and have a chance to be restored to their original design and purpose – set right with Him once again.
The pain that Jesus suffered on the cross internally, the real pain that took His life (which most certainly was not the physical pain inflicted on Him by the act of crucifixion) is the pain that has been present in the heart of God due to the rebellion started by Lucifer from the very beginning of the inception of sin. It included all of the effects of all the rebellion by every participant in sin from both before and after that point in time. All of the accumulated pain that God suffers from the malicious lies about Him along with all of the pain that we cause each other was heaped upon Jesus in His last hours and resulted in His experiencing the second death to show the universe what the second death is really like. This is the only time up to now that anyone has ever experienced the death that results from sin.
The reason that Jesus had to come to die as a human, as God incarnate, was to expose to the onlooking universe of observers, both on this planet and everywhere else, the pain that God has been experiencing as a result of sin. God revealed the real truth about what was in His heart in Jesus at the cross. He there showed both His unconditional love and forgiveness alongside the pain caused by our spurning of that love and rejection of His forgiveness. Otherwise we could not really grasp the reality of either the truth about God's heart or the truth about how damaging sin can be. It had to be done in such a public way that it would become the reference point for all to look at to begin to understand the truth about reality.
As we begin to acquire a better concept of what sin will do to us alongside how God responds in total forgiveness and love under the worst of circumstances, we will be drawn to want to be more like Him and to be separated from the sin and rebellion that causes such pain and suffering. We can also begin to realize how much our sins affect those around us and will seek God's power of grace to cease being a source of pain both to Him and to others.
It is the Holy Spirit's job to point out sin and to infuse into us the necessary truths both about ourselves and about God that we need to be transformed by His revelation of the truth about God's righteousness. As we really grasp what His righteousness truly means and how beautiful and attractive it is as demonstrated by Jesus, we will be drawn to want to have that same life reflected through our own lives; or we will resist it and cling to our lies about God that will in the end destroy us in the fiery presence of the greatest love ever known.