I can still picture the scene unfolding in my imagination as I read the Chronicles of Narnia for the first time. Edmund had fallen for the White Witch’s trap, and now he owed her a great debt. The dark creatures sneered as they crowded around the stone table, demanding that a sacrifice be made.
I was just a girl at the time, but I questioned the allegorical narrative. Was the White Witch [Satan] the one to whom Aslan [Jesus] owed His life in order to set us free?
Something didn’t seem right.
Why would God, the Ruler of all, owe anything to Satan?
As much as I love C.S. Lewis, this is where his allegory begins to break down. Avid Lewis fans defend his work, saying that it is only the Queen who believes she is owed anything. It’s actually the ancient stone writings that demand the sacrifice. (I’d love to know your thoughts in the comments on Lewis’ theory of atonement). Regardless, the allegory gets confusing.
Man’s debt was to God, not the devil. We didn’t simply fall for a trick in the garden like a foolish little boy stuffing his face with Turkish delights. We willfully disobeyed the Ruler of the Universe. We betrayed the Creator God who lovingly breathed us into existence. And we owed Him the penalty of our sin.
Yet, God, in an act of mercy, set the record straight with Himself, restoring justice and order, in a world that had dishonored Him. He mercifully paid the debt due Himself.
A Little Theology Lesson
Prior to the early 1100s, most medieval theologians held to the Narnia-esque Ransom Theory of atonement, that Jesus died to pay off Satan for our souls. But in his work, Why God Became Man, Anselm of Cantebury introduced the Satisfaction Theory, asserting that Christ’s death was not a ransom to Satan but the satisfaction of His own justice. I read the book for one of my seminary classes not too long ago, and it opened my eyes to the importance of understanding God’s holy justice.
We can’t miss this part of who God is.
Most theologians have fleshed this out as Penal Substitution. Jesus paid our debt (penalty) in our place (substitution). As the Son of Man and the Son of God, Jesus was the only one who could restore us. There was no other way (Matthew 26:39). Yet Christ was not forced in some bizarre act of “divine child abuse” as some who misunderstand the Trinity wrongfully claim (John 10:18). Jesus, being in His very nature God Himself, was willfully obedient (Phil 2:6-8). God satisfied His own wrath with His own sacrifice.
A God Who Demands JUSTICE
While wrath seems like a strong word, we must understand God’s character. God is not a wrathful God. God is a holy God. And because He is holy, He cannot allow sin to go unpunished. His wrath is not a character trait. It is an outpouring of His justice and holiness. Would we really want to serve an unjust God? A God who lets evil run rampant and never blinks an eye at social injustices? I really don’t think so! Our generation longs for beauty and order, fair trials, and social good because we serve a God who brings order to the universe. Sin must be punished because our holy God demands justice.
But here’s our problem. In our humanity, we are powerless to make things right for ourselves. Even if we try to pay God by our good deeds, humility, fasting and obedience, we can’t. We already owe God all these things. We can’t pay off our debt with that which is already due to Him. We are incapable of making recompense on our own because we owe Him our all… our very existence. There is nothing else we have to give.
“No one can pay except God, and no one ought to pay except man,” Anselm states in his classic work.
And it is here that we see His love displayed. To look at Jesus’ death and resurrection as only an act of justice is to deny God the love that motivated Him (1 John 4:10). We have nothing to give, so God generously gave Himself to us (John 3:16).
It Was Love that Motivated Him
He did not need to save us or create us, but He wanted to share His love. God is love. It is His love that wills us into existence. And it is His love that motivates Him to save that which He had created (John 3:16). Jesus willingly chose to sacrifice Himself in our place, to restore order over creation, to restore relationship with the Father, and to make a way for the human race to be spared the condemnation of Hell. The cross is the ultimate cross section of God’s justice and love.
It is done. It is finished.
Far from hopeless, Christ’s crucifixion doesn’t end in death. It ends with the victorious Resurrection and the hopeful promise of new life to all who trust in Him.
Revelations 21:5-6, “He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.”
Our sin, evil as it may be, holds no power over Christ. He rose victorious. He conquered death. Jesus’ life was altogether more lovely and beautiful than all the sins of mankind were hateful. His love was incomparably greater than the crushing weight of all our sin.
By meeting His own demands for justice, God showed ultimate love towards us. What greater act of mercy could there be? The price has been paid. The way has been made. He died so we don’t have to. The only question that remains is whether or not you will accept the victory?
Revelations 25:7-8, “Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children. But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”