Would God shrink back from justice?
The Polish countryside was flying past when suddenly beneath us there was a great bang! Our coach was old and a tyre had burst. The driver, having inspected it, jumped back in and carried on driving; thump, thump, thump – we edged on at about twenty miles an hour. Eventually he pulled over and we all changed onto a replacement coach. Soon, we arrived at Auschwitz.
We had a guided tour of the original concentration camp, where the housing blocks are now used to display evidence of the Holocaust. It is numbing to see a huge pile of shoes, or combs and brushes – personal possessions removed before their owners were killed in the gas chambers.
We walked around the smaller gas chamber, quietly imagining the horrors that took place. At the larger camp (Birkenau) we went into the huts where the prisoners were kept in squalid conditions.
The tour guide left us at the far end of the camp by the memorial which reads: ‘For ever let this be a cry of despair and a warning to humanity, where the Nazis murdered about one and a half million men, women and children, mainly Jews from various countries of Europe’.
Is there no justice?
How should we react to such evil? Is there no justice? After the war, the commander of the camp, Rudolf Franz Hoess (not to be confused with Rudolph Hess), was captured and found guilty. He was brought back to the site and publicly executed.
The perpetrator of such outrageous evil deserved the sentence of death. Justice demands that those who do evil should be punished. To shrink back from justice is to open the gate to evil.
Centuries earlier, the apostle Paul wrote: ‘Now we know that God’s judgement against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere man, pass judgement on them and do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgement?’ (Romans 2:2-3).
Few people in history have perpetrated evil on the scale of the Holocaust, but nobody is without sin. And if we are able to judge those who commit great evil and say, ‘They are worthy of death’, should we not also recognise that God’s judgement lies upon us all? God looks down from heaven with perfect justice – and accounts us all guilty and worthy of death.
Of course, we do not consider ourselves to have committed any great evil. We don’t think ourselves worthy of the death sentence. Yet it is sobering to reflect that those who committed great evil found excuses and silenced their consciences. Is it not possible, then, that by God’s perfect standards we too have committed great evil? Haven’t we also silenced our consciences, whispering to ourselves ‘no one is perfect’?
God is a just Judge and will not shrink from upholding justice. We know God is right to demand justice, and yet to acknowledge this seems to seal our fate. If we admit we are not perfect we admit we are guilty – sinners under God’s just condemnation. We are in a hopeless state, but yet there is hope.
Where? In the death of God’s sinless Son, Jesus Christ, upon a criminal’s cross outside Jerusalem. Jesus took upon himself the death sentence that we deserved. He bore the demands of God’s justice against our sin.
Separating sinners from their sins
What, then, is the significance of Jesus’ death on the cross?
Simply that God ‘forgives us all our sins, having cancelled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross’ (Colossians 2:14).
Jesus’ death means that while God exacts justice against our sin, he also provides forgiveness for us the sinners. The power of the cross is to separate the sinner from his sin. It removes the guilt that condemns us and cancels the sentence of death that was against us.
This is really great news! It is also the only solution. God has resolved the problem of evil in the cross of Jesus Christ. God’s justice is upheld because our sin is punished in the sufferings of Christ. But God’s love is displayed because condemned sinners are pardoned thereby.
Have you experienced the power of the cross? We must simply come to God and confess our sin, seek his forgiveness and yield ourselves to him. It is simple but it is not easy.
First, we must let go of the confidence we have in our own moral uprightness. We must renounce the false comfort of thinking, ‘I’m not that bad a person’ or ‘God knows I do my best’. We must abandon confidence in self and confess our sins and our failure to honour God.
Having let go of ‘our own goodness’ we can then grasp hold of ‘the goodness of Christ’ – putting all our confidence in Jesus because his death and resurrection are the only basis of acceptance with God. Undeserved forgiveness in Christ is our only hope.
Second, with his help, we must cease to live our own way, independently from God, but instead commit ourselves to his rule, obeying Jesus Christ as Lord – for so he is.