The justice and the love of God are doubtless some of the best-known attributes of God, above all in evangelical circles. And a lot of ink has already been spilt on theories to reconcile the two. God in his perfect justice must reward good and condemn evil generally, and their authors in particular. But in infinite love, God wants at all cost to offer an abundant life, full of peace, joy and hope, to all his creation and men in particular. The solution often offered to reconcile these two characteristics of God is the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. But how can the death of an innocent be a just act? In Jesus' death, God's justice isn't reconciled with divine love, but transcended by divine love. The cross is the sign of the preeminence of love over justice. Yes, there is injustice on God's part, but this injustice of the cross is in favour of men and in disfavour of God. God completely takes up this injustice in the person of his Son Jesus Christ. As Philip Yancey wrote in What's so amazing about grace?, grace costs nothing to the one who receives it, but everything to the one who gives it. And it is precisely by grace, the expression of the ultimate love, that love can transcend justice. Grace is to accept to suffer injustice in the name of love, it is to give more than that which is just, it is to accept disfavourable situations, it is to abstain from condemnation albeit merited, it is to forgive the unforgivable.I appreciate that Gauthier is seeking to communicate to the students the grace of God, and how a grace-filled life seeks grace over justice, grace over legalism and judgment. He speaks rightly of how grace teaches us to suffer injustice with joy. However I have 3 big objections with what he has written as the basis of this encouragement.
What does that imply for us? That Jesus, the Way, the Truth and the Life, shows us the path, the example of love over and above justice. It's why he calls us, notably in the Beatitudes but also by Peter's pen, to suffer unjustly and even therein to rejoice, because in that we follow his example, we walk in his footsteps. Is my life marked by search for justice or by the gift of his grace? In my life, does love transcend justice? Would it not be sad that we Christians, for whom the notion of grace is at the heart of the faith, were to live a life with neither grace nor love but full of legalism and judgment?
Love's transcendence over justice is the revolution, unique in history, brought by Jesus Christ and prepared by God throughout the history of the people of Israel. We must therefore go beyond the legalism of the Old Testament and throw ourselves without fear but with faith in the folly of the God of the New Testament. Thus and only thus can we become the salt of the earth and the light of the world.
1) God's love and justice do not need to be reconciled.
God is not composed of separate characteristics which can be played off against each other. God is wholly God in every one of his characteristics. He is love, and he is superlatively holy - holy in every aspect of his being and nature. His love is holy, his justice is holy, his justice is loving and his love just. He is not at war with himself; his love and justice are inseparable and one does not triumph over the other. God does not need to reconcile his justice and his love. In love he wants to reconcile his rebellious hell-deserving people to himself and in this he will be just.
2) In Jesus' death, God's justice is not transcended by his love; there is no injustice on God's part.
In Jesus' death, God shows his justice:
[Rom 3:21-26, ESV] But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it - the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.There was no divine injustice in Jesus' death: although he died the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, when he died God did not see him as an innocent victim: as he offered himself as the once-for-all sacrifice for sin, he bore our sins in his body on the tree. Thus in God's eyes he was guilty: those eyes which are too pure to look on sin turned away and he cried, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
It is because he was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification (Rom 4.25) that we rejoice in our sufferings (Rom 5.3) - on the basis of his justice (5.1) that we know his love (5.5) poured forth in our hearts through the Holy Spirit.
It is gloriously true that this is all mercy: "Where your boundless love conquered my boundless sin, and mercy's arms were opened wide" as Steve & Vikki Cook wrote in a hymn. But the basis of mercy is not in love trumping justice, but in God in love being both just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Our assurance is found in the justice of God's mercy: "Payment God cannot twice demand, first of my bleeding Surety's hand, and then again at mine." (Augustus Toplady)
3) God is consistently gracious: it is not that the OT is legalistic and grace comes in the New.
Gauthier is right that God's gracious justification in Jesus Christ was 'prepared by God throughout the history of the people of Israel'. Why then does he say that God was legalistic in the OT and imply that the folly (of grace) only comes in the New? We come back to the point I first made: as God is not composed of separate characteristics which can be played of against each other, so God does not have different aspects in different times which he plays against each other. God is wholly and in all times, God! And that is the God of grace and justice. He did not deal with his people in the OT by law and in the NT by grace: his dealings with his people were throughout the OT marked by grace! He created - graciously - he provided & commanded - graciously - he sustains - graciously - he redeems - graciously - he disciplines as a Father his children - graciously - he leads, guides, protects, punishes and instructs - graciously - he provides for his dwelling among them - graciously - he covenants with them - graciously - he reveals to them how to live in his covenant - graciously - for the rest, read Psalm 136: his hesset, covenantal love, endures forever. There is no dichotomy between Old and New Testaments. The only question is, 'How can his covenantal love endure forever in the face of covenantal unfaithfulness?' The answer is,
[Rom 3:21-26, ESV] But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it - the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.Gauthier asks, "Would it not be sad that we Christians, for whom the notion of grace is at the heart of the faith, were to live a life with neither grace nor love but full of legalism and judgment?" Of course the answer is yes, it would be sad if Christians were to live grace-less lives. His direction to us to be graciously salty and illuminating in the world is a good call. But we have no basis for being the salt and light of gospel grace if we have not the assurance of God's justice and love being one in him and shown in the cross: that is, if we do not know gospel grace. We may never depart from that - this just substitution in love is the basis for our gracious living:
[1 Pet 2:19-24, ESV] For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.