The main reason why I cannot accept Christ as my saviour

In the Hebrew Bible the definition of injustice is to acquit the guilty and condemn the innocent. At the cross the greatest injustice–acquittal of guilty humanity, condemnation of the innocent Son of God–is somehow taken to satisfy God’s justice. So the cross is paradoxical if looked at in simple legal terms. But sometimes paradox is the mark of deep spiritual truth.

The idea that mercy entails suffering for the one needing forgiveness is not absent from the Hebrew Scriptures. “Blessed be the LORD, who daily bears our burden. The God who is our salvation.” Ps 68:19.

Joseph suffered from the sins of his brothers, but by so doing became the agent of their salvation (Gen 45:5-7). Moses had to carry Israel in their grumbling and sin in order to bring them to the place of rest (Num 11:11, 14).

The object of God’s work is to restore intimacy between God and people. The “cost” of intimacy is vulnerability. Anyone who has been in a close relationship knows that. It’s not an arbitrary cost, it’s just in the nature of relationship. And the cost of vulnerable contact with evil is suffering. Again, it’s in the nature of sin. “Can a man take fire in his bosom and his clothes not be burned?” (Prov 6:27). To restore a broken relationship with us as sinful humans, God had to draw vulnerably close to us in Christ. And the cost of that approach was the natural consequence of evil.

I don’t pretend that this is a complete answer. Ultimately, the nature of God’s regenerative work through Jesus is too deep to be plumbed by the human mind.

But it is not a matter of God needing to be angry at someone–anyone–so that we could get away Scott free with all our selfishness. It’s much deeper and more profound than that.


This is like watching Jesus’ debates with the scribes and priests. They rejected Jesus as Messiah because he did not fit their literal expectations of a Davidic king. Your literal hermeneutic is what leads you into the same dead end.


This absurdity is only in Western Christianity and the distortions of medieval Europe, which has taken one of several metaphors for the atonement and made it literal.

  1. NOBODY in their right mind really believes that a guilty person should go free just because an innocent person was punished for the crime. Nobody supports a system of justice like that.
  2. The seriousness of a crime is not something which scales with the some classicism valuation of the victim. The value of punishment is also not something which scales with this valuation of the person punished. Thus this argument that a crime against God is infinite and requires an infinite sacrifice is all nonsense.

These are the reasons why I have rejected this distortion of Western Christianity the same as Reggie/RiderOnTheClouds. But that doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with the original metaphor. Do we not say that those who have died defending our country have paid the price for our freedom? This is a metaphor because we don’t really think that freedom is for sale and the price is human sacrifice, right? The point is that we don’t think that these people have died for nothing. Alcoholics Anonymous is full of people who know just how much other people have suffered because of their problem and sometimes this includes innocent children. So we can likewise say that the innocent have paid the price for them to realize that they need to change. It is a metaphor. Christians experience the same thing when they look at Jesus on the cross, and they say to themselves, “He died because of people like me.” Our self-destructive habits – our sin – even makes us kill those who try to save us. Thus convicted, we are finally moved to look for change, just like all those in Alcoholics Anonymous. And that is what the metaphor means. He payed the price for our sins. He died so that we would turn from our sins and make the effort to live differently. It is not some weird system of justice. It is just the plain facts about what it takes to make people change.


I shall try, unlike you, not to state my opinions as facts. The atonement is not, IMO, a “distortion of medieval Europe”, except for very large values of the range of “medieval” that include the early church. For we can see clear expressions of the atonement, even arguably (strongly arguably) the penal-substitutionary atonement, in the writings of theologians like Justin Martyr, Augustine, Clement, and others.

This is a text-book logically-flawed argument from incredulity. (Also known as an argument from intimidation: “Oh my, you actually believe X? Don’t you know that no educated person believes X!”.)

Theologically, it is also a classic: it is classic uber-liberalism. It’s the timeless: “My God wouldn’t do this, because I wouldn’t do it, if I were God.” But those arguments, in my opinion, lead nowhere (although taken to their logical conclusion, they arrive at Universalism.). My human inclination is that, if I were God, I wouldn’t punish anyone–I’d admit everyone into heaven and burn hell to the ground, so to speak. Unfortunately in the only means available to me , the bible, which I take to be the word of God, I don’t see God behaving as I imagine I would, if I were God.

Of course everyone is free, should they choose, to ignore all or selected parts of the bible and make God in their own image. In doing so I am always puzzled why they make their god nicer than they see the god of the bible to be. I mean, supposing the god of the bible, the God who must have wrath satisfied, the god for whom only blood can atone for sins (why? I have no clue), suppose this god isn’t real. On what basis, having no gold standard, does one always postulate a “nicer” (more human-like) god as opposed to a truly monstrous, capricious god?


While I agree that we each try to imagine God conveniently after our own image, and that we should experience self-reflective checks on ourselves in doing so, is this always a bad thing for people to do? We were created in the image of God, with very acute, God-given moral sensitivities in place after all! People in the Bible did it all the time and weren’t always reprimanded for challenging God with their own sensibilities on how justice ought to work.

So would your reaction be an: “Oh my God … it leads to Universalism” kind of fallacy then? I’m curious what you think of George MacDonald’s sermon: “Justice”. Was he an uber-liberal or just somebody steeped in scriptures and trying to peel away centuries of doctrinal accretion? The sermon linked above took me a good hour to read, but it was well worth the effort. I would be at loss at the moment to see any way in which he hasn’t occupied the scriptural high ground on this. Though I am sensitive to the notion of people thinking they have seen through something that eluded so many centuries of church tradition. One should not lightly do that. And yet if church tradition runs up against scriptures … or more importantly yet … up against Christ himself, there is a clear priority there, no?

[with edits]

1 Like

Just to be clear, I made that comment from a position of sincere admiration for, although not agreement with, Universalism. Because I see Universalism as self-consistent liberalism, and I find virtue in self-consistency.

I disagree with just about everything in MacDonald’s sermon. For example, he writes

Every attribute of God must be infinite as himself. He cannot be sometimes merciful, and not always merciful.

I can’t imagine anything that is easier to refute from scripture. Now if you have a low view of scripture (not to say that you do!), then an argument from scripture is not convincing, but I am going to make one anyway. In Romans 9:15 we read

For he [God] says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” (Rom 9:15, NIV)

So either God will indeed withhold mercy from some, or this passage wasn’t worth mentioning. Of course I do believe that an attribute of God is mercy. But I don’t actually know what “infinite” mercy means, although my gut tells me that unless God is merciful to all, then the question of whether his mercy is infinite is an angels-on-the-head-of-a-pin debate.

Not to mention all the “ites” in the path of Joshua’s conquest. It would be hard (although some try) to argue that they received mercy.

MacDonald also writes:

He [God] cannot be just, and not always just.

Again I disagree. Mercy (which God gives to some, at His pleasure according to Rom 9:15) is not justice. Those who do not receive mercy–they receive justice. To my satisfaction, the best I have ever heard to encapsulate the tension between mercy and justice while not impugning God’s character is this: Some receive mercy (which is way better that justice), some receive justice, but nobody receives injustice.

Minor edit to soften up a bit… (and another for spelling.)


I tend to agree with Macdonald that punishment is corrective, not vindictive; and with my own parents being models of Christ’s love, I could not imagine God being anything different. However, I also liked the others’ inputs because of their good thoughts. I don’t think God’s going to bonk us on the head for not understanding everything here.


Nonsense. It is just the standard of sanity and common decency in civilized society. The same would make a claim like this, “Nobody in their right mind believes that that people are food animals like cattle, chicken and pigs, or that God expects people to offer up their children in human sacrifice.” It is of course quite possible that some might actually think this and perhaps they would feel an outrage like yours that other people would dare to impose their morality upon them. But the fact is that EVERY society MUST impose some standards upon its people. Not all religions are compatible with the ideals of a free society and their religious liberties must be denied because they do not respect the same rights of other. So I don’t care if you think your religion gives you the right to practice human sacrifice or cannibalism, I will deny your right to do any such thing and see you put in prison or even executed if you do such things.

Since I am not a universalist, your claim and argument is demonstrably incorrect. But what is possibly true is that I don’t put a belief in univeralism in the same category as cannibalism or even exclude this from the spectrum of Christian belief because I know that many of the historical Christian fathers actually believed this. It is also correct that I do not believe in a God of power and control which is indistinguishable in character from a devil, and will oppose such a monster no matter how hopeless it might be. I would rather scream in hell believing in my God of love and freedom, than become the witless craven worm who sacrifices all moral and intellectual integrity to a monster for promises of comfort.

Yes and of course, everyone is free to ignore the teachings of Jesus and 1 John about love and make the God of the Bible fit their own image, obsessed with power, control, and legalism, for whom wrath is sacred and must be satisfied, and for whom forgiveness is impossible without blood. They can worship a devil in exchange for their own comfort, power, or self-satisfaction, and even call this cowardice and psychopathic selfishness by the word “righteousness” if they choose.

But others have a gold standard in Jesus and see God through this lens instead, accepting that the harsh necessities for the survival in a world dominated by evil can be left behind us when a standard of selfless service to others becomes more the rule than the exception. For a long time there may still be a few “wolves” in people suits who see nothing wrong with cannibalism and human sacrifice, but with the selfless service of a few people dedicated to making the world a better place, we hope to hunt down these “wolves” and exterminate them. (“Wolves” is in quote because this Bible metaphor does a disservice to real wolves, which are a good thing and should be protected.)

Yes, I agree also. But this does not necessarily lead to universalism because sometimes there are natural logical consequences of the self-destructive habits of some people. The simple fact is that we see hell in the world made by people, for whom horror and the sacrifice of others has become a way of life and who they are – people who are addicted to tormenting both themselves and others. The one thing we cannot escape is ourselves and so some people will create a hell around them wherever they go, just as others create a heavenly feeling around them wherever they go.

God can be always just and merciful without this making universalism an inescapable conclusion. I think the point is to understand what “mercy” really is? It is not as some suppose just a get out of jail free card handed out to everyone because we squeemishly cannot stand to see anyone suffer no matter what. Mercy is actually a rational logical consequence of the fact that we learn by making mistakes. So we have mercy in order to help people do that. But the same reasoning means we have to check whether the person is actually learning from their mistakes, so we do not participate in the insanity of doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

1 Like

That gets to the root of the problem as I see it. Abortion, it could be argued, is now a standard of civilized society. Are we forced to conclude that since civilized society agrees, God should be re-interpreted so as to agree to a woman’s absolute control over her body to include disposal of the fetus? No, I think we should judge our standards by God’s revelation, not shoe-horn God onto our standards.

Um, well alrighty then. If you care to direct me to where I said anything along the lines of a claim that society can not impose standards, I’ll be happy to retract the statement. My complaint is not that society imposes standards, my criticism is when people morph the god of the bible to conform to their human morality, which by implication they view as superior. (FWIW, I’m a Baptist, and proud that we more or less invented the notion of separation of church and state, even if it was for practical reasons, i.e., that we kept getting our butts kicked in various theocracies or nations/colonies with official state religions.)

No, you have neglected the part where I opined they they must be taken to their logical conclusion in order to arrive at Universalism.

In addition to being one of the most crass false dichotomies that I’ve ever seen, I would chalk this up to false bravado. If hell is real, I suspect nobody would ever dig in their heels and stay if there was any deity, no matter how unpalatable, to whom they could bow down to in order to escape.

I can’t see the relevance of your fixation on cannibalism and human sacrifice. Are you referring to communion and the penal substitutionary atonement, or am I missing the boat as I often do?

1 Like

Yes, this is at the root of many problems. Women’s rights, it is agreed, is now a standard of civilized society. We do indeed conclude that the Quran should be interpreted to agree that woman should not be murdered for refusing to abide by the perverse ideas of religious wackos. Yes, I think the devil worshippers need to be put on a leash and not be allowed to do harm to others because their demon god tells them to do things to people. This includes forcing their weird philosophies equating zygotes with people on others. Nobody is forcing them to have abortions, or to restrict their diet to vegan, or to pray five times a day to Allah, so they too can keep their personal philosophies and primitive superstitions to themselves.

My complaint is not that people decide to worship whatever god, demon, or devil they choose, but that they conform their behavior to the standards of civilized society which does not punish innocent people in place of the guilty, or advocate cannibalism or human sacrifice because their devil god demands it.

No, you have neglected the part where I explained why this is not a logical conclusion.

I would chalk this up to sharing the mentality and morality of the mafia and bank robbers who employ the same rational that their victims deserve to be murdered for refusing to obey their instructions. They just cannot understand the courage to stand up for what is right no matter what the mob-boss gods and other tyrants dictate in their pretended fatherly love of those whom they rule over with fear and cruelty “for their own good.”

The relevance remains the standard of sanity and common decency in civilized society which also declares that NOBODY in their right mind really believes that a guilty person should go free just because an innocent person was punished for the crime. No sane person today supports a system of justice like that.

1 Like

This is apropos nothing I wrote, and yet still manages to make the same mistake, while using a silly and gratuitous example. Once again, the question is not whether we should have societal standards, the question is whether God must be reinvented so as to endorse or be aligned with such standards.

Apart from your rather ugly way of making your point, we are in agreement that nobody should be allowed to harm another because their god tells them. (Fortunately the true god is no longer in the business of instructing attacks on others. That was a difficult part of redemptive history. But redemptive history is complete with the finished work of Christ. We’re all just waiting for the end of history.) We are in disagreement, apparently, about whether that protection against harm should extend to the unborn. You slanted the argument by using the word zygote. Of course elective abortions are not directed at zygotes. Anyhow that is not the issue. Once again it is this: The immutable God, for all time, either opposes abortion or he doesn’t. His disposition toward the procedure does not depend on the past, current, or future position of civilized society. That does not imply that, as a Christian, I have the right or responsibility to work (beyond voting, if I choose to do so) to impose God’s morality on society (in fact I’m against even the attempt), but nor does it imply that I have to proclaim that since civilized society approves, God approves.

And… again. Let me make this very explicit:

The premise, in which we are in agreement, is that society should not punish the innocent in place of the guilty. You then conclude, correct me if I’m wrong, that given that even we don’t do it, surely God would not do it. To which I respond: like it or not, that’s exactly what God did, at least according to the bible.

Again you are imposing human morality on God, if indeed this is an argument against the penal-substitutionary atonement. Even then you are not being fair or accurate. If you want at least to compare apples to apples then IMO you should write:

NOBODY in their right mind really believes that a guilty person should go free just because an innocent person freely volunteered to accept the punishment for the crime.


Incorrect. The question is whether or not you have a gold standard in Jesus and see God through this lens. There are, of course all kinds of gods which people have worshiped including those demanding human sacrifice and even cannibalism. You are of course free to worship whatever Aztec, Indonesian, Sicilian or whatever god you want. But like I explained I don’t care what threats or promises your demon mafia god cares to make, I will not worship or serve such a creature regardless. You can accuse Jesus and John of reinventing God according to standards of civilized society and I will not object because I do not really care for it is ultimately irrelevant. No matter what may exist and no matter what may happen to me because of it, I will not be a craven worm serving an evil god.

That would be another difference between you and me. I am waiting for no such thing. Living in faith and doing what is right requires working for a better world and talk of waiting for an end of the world just will not cut it for me. The world certainly can end tomorrow for millions of things which we have no control over – life is fragile. But faith in the love and goodness of God requires that we oppose the doomsayers and destructors as best we are able.

I think we have already established that I do not believe in and will not serve this intractable god of yours who cares nothing for common decency and civilized morality. Nor do I believe in this God made immutable by enslavement to theology. I believe in a God who can use time, who can take risks, who can make sacrifices, who can give privacy and responsibility to others, and who can choose love and freedom over power and control. And I believe in the God taught in the Bible (book of Genesis and Jonah) who can change his plans according to the choices of His children.

Right because NOBODY believes in such a twisted system of justice.

What I conclude is that that making this one of several metaphors for the atonement into some literal bizarre system of justice is just plain wrong!

This addition is accepted and I uphold this version also. Frequently people confess to another person’s crime willing to be punished in their place but we do not and should accept this. When the guilt of the correct perpetrator is determined the punishment of the innocent person who confessed is utterly irrelevant and the actual perpetrator will and should be punished for their crime regardless.

And I’ll stop here, Preferring to leave people with the last word.

You raise good points here. If this physical world was the only possible venue for all justice (as per any materialists present, which I know doesn’t include you or me) then I think it fair to agree with you that many have come and gone from this world without anything we could recognize as justice. But playing “MacDonald’s advocate” for just a bit, we should note that Macdonald would insist that the next world has a key role in bringing about redemptive / purifying justice which in his thoughts could even include hell.

When you note that God is not always just, I still think Macdonald has the upper hand here of scriptural support insisting that God is, and must always be just. I don’t think the passage about God’s discriminatory mercy precludes the possibility that in the end both God’s justice and mercy will be all-encompassing and all-conquering. If it was just for this world, then such a program would have already obviously have been shown to be failed, as Lazarus from just outside the rich man’s gates would no doubt testify. But to then insist that part of Lazarus’ satisfaction must be derived from pleasure at the thought of the rich man’s agonies is to fly in the face of what Christ has shown us of God. And that those agonies would be eternal, and so infinitely incommensurate with the brief injustice the rich man enjoyed here, is (I think) to build too much into a few proof-texts of Christ’s teachings at the expense of his over-all message about God’s character in continuity with the trajectories set by the law and the prophets.

Since you disagreed with almost everything in that sermon, and would have ample company from much of today’s orthodoxies in that dissension, I think this is a very productive disagreement to flesh out. Because we do share a high view of the Bible and want to get things right. If Macdonald is right, then this should in the end be shouted from the roof tops, both for the sake of Christendom as well as for those being driven forth from it with a heavier yoke contrived than the easy one they should have from the Savior himself. If he is wrong, and God is not a consistently just God, then the atheists have been right about us all along, no?

From Robert Heinlein:

“A long and wicked life followed by five minutes of perfect grace gets you into Heaven. An equally long life of decent living and good works followed by one outburst of taking the name of the Lord in vain—then have a heart attack at that moment and be damned for eternity. Is that the system?”

Thanks for softer, kinder words! You are a good example to others here. I don’t want my words to be unnecessarily harsh or contrarian either. As seen on a poster: “Lord may my words be soft and sweet because some day I may have to eat them.”

[with edits of my own again, to shorten for clarity]


Ok… I will take the last word then. But this is because you pushed me to defend one side of this and now I want to set the record straight by pointing out the other side.

First of all, the main point of the post you respond to but ignored was not just to confirm my agreement with the OP on this distorted idea of justice, but also to explain the validity of the original metaphor in the Bible. It is just like when we say people paid the price for our freedom, which is not about some kind of legal exchange. So we also say Jesus paid the price for our sins and that He died so that we would turn from our sins and make the effort to live differently. It is not about some weird system of justice. It is just the plain facts about what it takes to make people change.

Second… There are different standards derived from the responsibilities involved and thus it makes no sense to vilify a surgeon for cutting people open. Likewise, since God is the creator of life itself, it makes no sense to judge God because of the things which the existence of life itself requires. To be sure the responsibilities are vastly different from ours. But I just don’t agree that this means quite what you claim that none of the standards of decency and civilized behavior apply to God at all.

Sorry, giving you the last word applied to the previous post–not if you take the opportunity to come back and twist my words. This wording you supplied could be taken to mean that I don’t believe God behaves in a decent manner. May it never be. My argument was, quite clearly I think, that we cannot force God to conform to what we, at this fleeting moment in civilization, consider the standards of a civilized society. I can imagine a scenario, not too outrageous, where civilized society comes to the point where eating animal flesh is considered immoral. That would not mean that we as Christians are obligated to distort scripture to teach that God is a vegan.

But sometimes there is alignment. Not counting infants in the womb, we can stipulate that decent behavior in today’s society means that you don’t murder. That’s aligned with God’s morality. That, to use your expression, “applies” to God. But it is because, at least on this plank, we are conformed to God. God has not decided that, hey, civilized human society has come up with a pretty good idea regarding the sanctity of life, I think I’ll tag along.

1 Like

I don’t think mercy and justice are zero-sum character traits of God. Consider Isaiah 30:18:

Therefore the LORD waits to be gracious to you;
therefore he will rise up to show mercy to you.
For the LORD is a God of justice;
blessed are all those who wait for him.

This sounds like it is because God is just that God longs to be gracious and merciful.

A lot of arguments, pressed to their logical conclusion, seem to lead there. The only way I could understand Calvinism (leaving aside views with an amoral God more akin to the Godfather) is if God elects everyone. If God’s will is all that matters in who is saved, and God desires all to be saved, and God is able to save all, then all are going to be saved. Most Calvinists suggest, regarding children who die young, that only the elect are saved – but God elects them all. They also claim it is entirely in God’s power to elect them all. I would have to say the same about elect adults… if I were to become a Calvinist.


And the word yom with an ordinal always refers to a 24-hour period. :wink:


Yes and I explained why above. Most of the time we learn by making mistakes. But if every mistake is a “game over” then when can we possibly learn? So a better justice incorporates mercy to take this into account. This most certainly does not negate justice when the question of whether one is actually learning from ones mistakes is also taken into account.

1 Like