Friday, March 10, 2006

Punish the Righteous?

So far we’ve examined two serious flaws in the idea that Jesus died on the cross in my place to be punished by God. The first flaw relates to the accountability of sin, the bearing of it, is that of the individual who committed the sin and is not transferable (Ez 18:20). The second flaw is that the direct consequence of my sin is a spiritual death (Ez 18:20, Rom 6:23) but Jesus died a physical death which would put punishment in the wrong realm, physical instead of spiritual. There is a third critical flaw, one that represents a great jeopardy to everyone’s soul that asserts this view: Did God bring punishment on Jesus of any kind? There is a variation of Penal Substitution that instead of having Jesus become accountable for my sin in punishment has Jesus receive my punishment from God and still is perfect and sinless. This is expressed in statements such as, "He paid my debt." Generally this is referred to as the "Satisfaction Theory", reflecting the root point of view that all sin must be punished.

It is also without doubt that Jesus was perfectly righteous as established in scripture:

Heb 4:15 For we have not a high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.

Jesus committed no sin which uniquely qualifies him to serve as our spiritual high priest before God. But let us consider for a moment the case of another righteous man, Job. Job was not perfect in that he did sin, but still God called him perfect and upright:

Job 1:8 And the LORD said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil?

Recall that this introduction to the book of Job is setting the stage for Satan to bring all manner of suffering on Job. Satan was granted the power to destroy Job’s possessions and family and then Job himself was given into the hand of Satan but only to the point before taking his life. Why was this allowed by God? In order to show the character of Job as being a perfect and upright man that feared God reglardless of his physical state of being.

The rest of the book of Job is an account of the interaction with his wife and friends. They all came to Job telling him that he is being punished by God for something that he had done, some sin. Repeatedly Job tells them that he has done nothing wrong but it is clear that not even Job understands who is really causing these things to happen to him. He cries out seeking an answer to a question of why God is doing these things to him. However, as is common to man, Job is asking the wrong question. It was not God bringing the loss and suffering on Job, it was Satan. Asking the wrong question about the cause of suffering was even done by Jesus’ disciples:

John 9:2 And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind
John 9:3 Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.

Jesus corrects their perspective and re-aligns the events with the true objective with suffering: God working to overcome and glorify Himself through the lives of those serving Him. However, we have a tendency to ask what sin someone has committed when we see them suffer thinking it is God punishing the person for it, which can be the wrong question.

Returning to Job, we see in the conclusion when God speaks to Job and his friends, He corrects their understanding:

Job 42:7 And it was so, that after the LORD had spoken these words unto Job, the LORD said to Eliphaz the Temanite, My wrath is kindled against thee, and against thy two friends: for ye have not spoken of me the thing that is right, as my servant Job hath.
Job 42:8 Therefore take unto you now seven bullocks and seven rams, and go to my servant Job, and offer up for yourselves a burnt offering; and my servant Job shall pray for you: for him will I accept: lest I deal with you after your folly, in that ye have not spoken of me the thing which is right, like my servant Job.

It is God’s rebuking of Eliphaz that strikes fear in my heart in asserting the view that God punished Jesus in my place on the cross. Eliphaz spoke wrongly of God in assigning responsibility for Job’s suffering to God and God tells him His wrath is kindled against Eliphaz and his friends. Why was Eliphaz wrong? Job was a righteous man and there was no reason for God to punish Job. If God was punishing Job while being righteous then that makes God capricious and unjust. If God were indeed punishing Jesus on the cross in our place, Jesus the perfect and sinless man, then somehow Jesus must be made responsible for my sin for God to maintain His justness in only punishing the unrighteous. But as we’ve already examined, Ez 18:20 leaves no room for assignment of accountability of my sin to Jesus. Which leaves Penal Substitution with a third flaw if true, God is punishing a perfect, sinless, and righteous Jesus on the cross.

At this point I will present to you that just as Eliphaz and his friends and Jesus’ disciples asked the wrong question so it is to look at Jesus on the cross and ask why God is punishing him. Even worse, by completing the answer as a conclusion that God did punish Jesus, we are not speaking of God rightly and risk kindling His wrath. It is for this reason that I am most compelled to properly harmonize scripture concerning this matter. We must speak rightly of God, and for all that I can see in scripture, Penal Substitution speaks wrongly of God. There is no such thing as “punishing the righteous” by God. The next few topics will furhter examine closely the events of the cross as we seek to continue the harmonization of scripture.

---Stephen Ledford