by Layton Friesen
What exactly is God’s problem with us?
When you look at our cure, you have to conclude we have a major sickness. In the story of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:21–35), the King, representing God, forgives the servant 10,000 talents of debt. A day-labourer, I am told, might pay that in 20 years, if he spent money on nothing else. Jesus is using exaggerated figures to make a point: God has given you a mind-blowing forgiveness, now go and forgive your fellow servant likewise.
But what could I have done that demands such a price? I know I’m not perfect, of course, but what incredible debt would demand that Jesus, the Son of God would die this gruesome crucifixion to pay for my sins?
One answer that is not entirely satisfying is to say that because God is so infinitely holy and exalted, even a tiny misstep, like stealing Skittles from a corner store, is infinitely repulsive to him. So much so that it demands the whole crucifixion of Jesus, or else me paying for that one tiny deed in hell for eternity. That tends to make God look very holy but not very smart. Any three-year-old can see that some actions are worse than others, and some actions are barely bad at all.
We get more of an answer in 1 John 2:2 which says the cross is “the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” It’s the whole stinking mess across history that Jesus paid for. My sins are my contribution to this daunting ancient debt.
But a fuller answer comes when we see the cross not only as economic transaction (he paid our penalty, Isaiah 40:2) but also as a cosmic battle (Colossians 2:15 for example). On the cross and in the resurrection Christ defeated sin, Satan, and hell. Since the serpent in the garden, this deadly alliance of forces have sought to overthrow God’s creation and hurl it into chaos. Sin is not just individual little deeds like stealing candy, it’s a Satanic host swarming against the Lord of Hosts.
The big question for me is whose side am I on? Which kingdom has secured my allegiance? My actions may be trivially sinful, but they are still flags I raise to show to whom I am allegiant. They are my way of enlisting with the dark powers hurling themselves and all of creation into the abyss. That’s a pretty big deal.
Imagine a soldier who enlists to fight for Hitler and who only fights for ten minutes before getting injured and captured. This soldier could not say to his captors, “No fair! I did nothing to hurt you yet, and now you injured me and took me prisoner!” The issue is not what the soldier personally accomplished for Hitler; the issue is whose side the soldier had enlisted to support.
Our little sins are all the ways we enlist in the empire of sin that God has set his face against. The empire of sin is what Jesus battled and defeated on the cross. In that victory, we too have been defeated. But because this empire of sin was crushed by the utter self-giving love of God for his confused creatures, he now offers all who were defeated at the cross a new posting in his new Kingdom.
That incredible offer to me, this defeated, conquered warrior is forgiveness—and there is much to forgive.