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    a woman surrounded by stones on the ground

    God’s Forgiveness Is Costly

    And the cost is not paid by us. There is nothing so humbling as perceiving our need for the Atonement.

    By Emil Brunner

    March 10, 2024
    • Rowland F. Stenrud

      Salvation is a work of Divine creation by which we human beings are sanctified and made perfect perfect. And we human beings are sanctified by the spirit of Yeshua living in our hearts. The crucifixion of Yeshua was a creation event and not a juridical event. Yeshua was perfected on our behalf and not punished on our behalf. See Hebrews 2:10-11; 5:8-9; 10:14 and 2 Corinth. 5:17. God's mercy is all that is necessary for the forgiveness of sins, BUT there would be no value or purpose for the forgiveness of our sins unless we become a new creation by which we are able to love God and love others. All sin is a failure to love. The Mosaic Law did not give the people of Israel the ability to love God or neighbor. That is what the New Covenant is all about. Does anyone read Jeremiah 31:33-34? The forgiveness of iniquity follows upon Yahweh God putting his law of love within the human being and writing it on the heart of the people Yahweh God has chosen to save. The definition of the New Covenant is also given in Ezekiel 11:19-20. Walking in Yahweh's statutes means obeying his commandments to love him and neighbor. Ezekiel repeats this description of what salvation through Yahweh's work in Yeshua is in 36:25-27. Jesus came as a physician to heal us human beings of our spiritual diseases, the diseases that cause us to not love God and others as we should. Christian theologians, on the other hand, reject Yeshua's role as a physician, turning him into a lawyer who enables us to escape the punishment due our crimes against Yahweh God. Our sins are only the symptoms of our real problem: our very nature, our very being. The problem is who we are and not what flows from us-our evil actions. God was never finished with his creation of the human race in the Garden of Eden. Yahweh was creating the New Adam on that Roman cross. Eve was not entirely wrong about eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, a tree in which the knowledge of evil includes the experience of suffering and sin. Human suffering including the suffering of Yeshua is a part of Yahweh's work of making us one with him, of making us fully in his image. Salvation is a creation work of God. Yeshua was always Yahweh's Plan A and not Plan B should Adam and Eve disobey him. NO ONE, including Adam and Eve at their creation, could or can come to the Father except through Yeshua.

    What can forgiveness mean, in actual truth, in positive fact? The divine law – the world-order – requires that sin should receive its corresponding penalty from God. God cannot approach man as though there were no obstacle, as though no block of stone had made the way impassable between us and him. Indeed, it is the divine righteousness and holiness which gives this obstacle its weight, its objective reality, which is the reason why we cannot push it out of the way. Man cannot push this obstacle out of the way just because God alone has power over it. Forgiveness, however, would mean the removal of this obstacle, thus it would mean the contravention of the logical result of the world law; therefore it would mean a process more vast and profound than we could even imagine, a change far more vast than the suspension of the laws of nature.

    Modern superficiality, which is due to pantheism and naturalism, evades this difficulty by an appeal to the analogy of human life. Good people forgive one another, how much more then must the good God be ready to forgive! The fallacy is not perceived. Good people forgive because they remember their own sin, because they know they have no right to judge others. They know that they ought to forgive. It forms part of the moral man’s idea of duty that he ought to forgive. He ought – just because he is under the sway of the divine world order, which cannot be annulled. Precisely because God must be taken seriously, men ought to forgive each other, thus we ought to forgive just because God is not mocked. The intense moral reality of God, however, is seen most plainly in the fact that disobedience to him must inevitably be self-destructive; it dashes itself to pieces against an immovable rock. It is quite ethical to say: “man ought to forgive,” but it is in the highest degree non-ethical to say: “God also ought to forgive.” “Dieu pardonnera, c’est son métier!” There is no more impious saying. But it only expresses the thought of all who have been influenced by the Enlightenment: “Of course God will do it.... How could he do otherwise, since he is so kindly!” As soon as anyone regards the forgiveness of God as a matter of course he is as audacious as Voltaire. This impiety is not modified if we say: “God forgives if we repent,” for this simply amounts to a denial of guilt. “What has my present repentance to do with my previous guilt?” And it also amounts to a denial of sin; for the sinner can never repent in proportion to his sin. There are no human conditions in which we have the right to expect that God will forgive us as a matter of course.

    the hand of Jesus drawing in the sand near the feat of a woman

    Wayne Forte, Jesus Defends His Bride, oil and acrylic on canvas, 2008. Used by permission.

    If, however, we are unable to judge of the forgiveness of God from our idea of him, then we can know nothing at all about it from the human point of view. Whenever anyone thinks he has the right to lay down the law about divine forgiveness he does not take the question of human guilt seriously. For those who take it seriously know that they can only expect from God the penalty which they deserve. If the conscience which has been weakened by naturalistic ideas cannot perceive this truth clearly – the worse for it! But if we can expect from God nothing but punishment – and hope, at the very most, for forgiveness as a free gift – it is evident that we can know nothing of forgiveness unless it is explicitly revealed to us. To the free grace of forgiveness there corresponds the contingent freedom of the divine communication of forgiveness, which could not possibly be inferred by reason. It is only thus, as an unimaginable revelation, as a gift which could never be taken for granted, as a free, gracious gift, that forgiveness is proclaimed in the Bible. If all real personal knowledge of God is freely revealed, and thus a contingent communication, and therefore connected with the self-manifestation of God within time, this applies in a very special way to the revelation of God’s will to forgive. It is not a logical necessity to God to forgive. He can forgive or not forgive. Indeed, it is of the very nature of God to possess this freedom, this mysterious will which men cannot understand. To know forgiveness is only possible on the basis of an explicit divine declaration, which breaks through all intellectual necessity, all legal ideas of an a priori necessity. Thus forgiveness can only be revealed to us as something which actually happens, as a fact, as an amazing assurance of forgiveness from God himself.

    That God comes, that he comes to us, means that he himself really and actually meets us as we are. This is why he comes down to our level, that he may really meet with us. Nostra assumsit…. That it is God who really meets us, and that he really meets with us means the same thing. He meets us at the point where we become “real,” that is, where we stand before him naked, stripped of all illusions and coverings or masks, with nothing to shield us from his gaze. This only happens where our inmost soul is exposed, where, in the presence of God, we have no excuses to offer, nothing to say. Our humiliation is complete when we perceive that in ourselves we cannot possibly reach God. This illusion, the illusion of religious people, is only finally destroyed by the mediator of the Atonement. Everything which religious thought has invented, in order to mediate between God and man, is more noble, is less humiliating for us, than the conviction that this Atonement is necessary.

    That God comes to us means that he himself really and actually meets us as we are.

    The humiliation coincides with the perception that fellowship with God is not something which we can take for granted, but something which is incomprehensible and amazing. The more we take it for granted, the more, properly speaking, we take our place by the side of God. The summit of this arrogance is reached in the doctrine of identity: Atma is Brahma.

    At the opposite pole to all this stands the cross….

    The truly realistic view, which therefore is just as much opposed to idealism as it is to naturalism, is the judgment man passes upon himself when he admits that he is guilty. The more realistic we are, the more knowledge of guilt we possess. The more real man becomes, the more he acknowledges himself to be guilty. The more clearly we see that fellowship with God is not something which can be taken completely for granted, the more we see that it is “costly.” And the “cost” is not paid by man. For how can sinful man himself undertake to bear the “cost” of restoring the conditions of fellowship! Thus this restoration of communion “costs” God something; even on the part of God it is not taken for granted; even by him it can only be achieved with “labor” – as a particular event. The heavier the burden of guilt the heavier the “cost,” as Luther puts it; that is, forgiveness is the very opposite of something which is so natural that it costs no effort.

    Source: Emil Brunner, Mediator: A Study of the Central Doctrine of the Christian Faith (Philadelphia: Westminster Press), 1947, 446–448, 452–454. 

    Contributed By EmilBrunner Emil Brunner

    Emil Brunner (1889–1966) was a Swiss theologian who wrote extensively on Protestant theology.

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