I was listening to Steps to Christ yesterday, and these two paragraphs got me thinking:
Satan led men to conceive of God as a being whose chief attribute is stern justice, one who is a severe judge, a harsh, exacting creditor. He pictured the Creator as a being who is watching with jealous eye to discern the errors and mistakes of men, that He may visit judgments upon them. It was to remove this dark shadow, by revealing to the world the infinite love of God, that Jesus came to live among men. Steps to Christ, p. 10
But this great sacrifice [of Jesus] was not made in order to create in the Father's heart a love for man, not to make Him willing to save. No, no! “God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son.” John 3:16. The Father loves us, not because of the great propitiation, but He provided the propitiation because He loves us. Christ was the medium through which He could pour out His infinite love upon a fallen world. “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself.” 2 Corinthians 5:19. Steps to Christ, p. 13
As I was listening to the rest of the chapter, I realized that for many (and at times, myself included), I have thought of God as some sort of prosecuting attorney that knows that we are bad, but is looking for evidence. Sort of like when we see trials of public figures (e.g., an impeachment trial for a president, a hearing for a supreme court candidate). There's rarely enough concrete evidence to convict them, but there's a lot of heresay and circumstantial evidence. Eventually, the prosecution team finds some lesser infractions that are just serious enough to warrant severe punishment, and the public figure is punished for the lesser infraction rather than the crime that everyone suspects them of doing.
This is sort of the picture that I had for a while. That God was some sort of cosmic administrator that wanted everyone to be safe and happy, but He also knew who the bad guys were. He loved them, and wished that they would become good guys, but He kept a record book of small infractions to be used against people if they never shaped up enough to go to heaven.
In reading this chapter though, I started to consider the opposite. What if God was someone who worked in a high-security prison community where everyone was already pronounced guilty, there was already enough evidence to get everyone on death row, and He was a defense attorney. God really wasn't interested in piling up more evidences against us, but was looking for small signs of repentence, evidences that we were looking God's way and seeking help.
Here are some biblical texts that support this general idea:
- For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. John 3:16
- When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do You want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?.” But Jesus turned and rebuked them. Luke 9:54-55
- When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more. John 8:10-11
- I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness. And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day. John 12:46-48
- And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples, Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners? But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. Matthew 9:11-12
- Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom ye trust. John 5:45
- For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost. How think ye? if a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray? And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep, than of the ninety and nine which went not astray. Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish. Matthew 18:11-14
- Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots. Luke 23:34
- What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? Romans 8:31
Jesus and God are working together to find whatever reason/evidence/justifications they can to work in our lives to save us.
- And the apostles said unto the Lord, Increase our faith. And the Lord said, If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye might say unto this sycamine tree, Be thou plucked up by the root, and be thou planted in the sea; and it should obey you. Luke 17:5-6, see also Matthew 17:20
- And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. Luke 15:20 (The father was constantly watching the horizon to see any sign that the son was returning. The father didn't wait for the son to make it all the way home before he ran to meet him.)
- And he said, Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak yet but this once: Peradventure ten shall be found there. And he said, I will not destroy it for ten's sake. Genesis 18:32 (see also Genesis 18:26)
- Go up and down the streets of Jerusalem. Look now and take note; search her squares. If you can find a single person, anyone who acts justly, anyone who seeks the truth, then I will forgive the city. Jeremiah 5:1
- The people of the land have used oppression, and exercised robbery, and have vexed the poor and needy: yea, they have oppressed the stranger wrongfully. And I sought for a man among them, that should make up the hedge, and stand in the gap before me for the land, that I should not destroy it: but I found none. Ezekiel 22:29-30 (God was looking for a reason to spare the city)
- And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them. But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD. Genesis 6:5-8
- But the other [thief] answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise. Luk 23:41-43
In light of these verses, I think that one could make the case that God is a defense attorney working with convicts on death row. The only way that a convict gets executed is if they decline the repeated efforts of the defense attorney to save them. Being saved does require the convict to admit to their guilt, and to make a commitment to work with the defense attorney (who then becomes their social worker)—it does take a conscious decision to repent on our part. But we are working with God, not in spite of God, in this salvation process.