Here's my response to this week's challenge:
This week's challenge, God is only forgiving when He smells fresh blood. Right? The challenge is that God requires sacrifice in order to forgive. This seems savage on His part. Why is this necessary? Well, here's the first thing that I think we have to do with this challenge is we have to embrace it. As followers of Christ who take the Bible seriously, this is what's communicated in scripture. Hebrews 9:22 says there is no forgiveness without the shedding of blood. This is not a challenge that we can downplay or dismiss. I think we can move towards this challenge, and answer it in a satisfactory kind of way.
Now, the first thing that we have to do is we have to get clear on who God is. What is God's nature? The challenger who wants to raise this ... I guess I want to ask him some questions. What do you understand about the God of the Bible? What is His nature? What are His characteristics? What are His attributes? Because that is going to be important in understanding this issue of atonement and sacrifice. When we look at God and who He is, we understand that He is the moral law giver. From His very nature of goodness, flow moral laws. From His moral nature, He issues moral commands that then form our obligations. We have obligations to follow these commands. He is the moral law giver.
But He is also at the same time the just judge. He's the one who is responsible for executing justice. When moral law is broken, justice requires that there is punishment. Of course, in the Christian worldview, when you have the holy God of the universe issuing moral commands, you have human beings who are sinful and evil in our response, and ultimately, we rebel and we commit the greatest sin imaginable, and that is to reject our creator. This then helps put some context to this challenge. The appropriate response of the holy, just judge and moral law giver is death. For human beings, the appropriate price that we pay is death for the greatest sin imaginable.
With a proper understanding of God now, we're in a place to then kind of look more carefully at the idea of blood atonement and sacrifice and make sense of this. You have this perfect holy just judge who is responsible for executing justice. The price of sin ultimately is death, but He is also merciful so He wants to provide a way out for us in His love for us. What does He have to do? Well, think about a human judge. You've got a human judge who ... Let's say he's going to allow me to take the place of some criminal. There's a criminal on death row. He says "All right, Brett, I'm going to let you be the substitute for him." I say, "Okay, here's $5." It's going to cost me. It's going to cost me $5. Let the guy go and we're good.
Of course, the judge is going to look at me and go "No. It doesn't work that way." If I'm going to be the substitute, then my punishment is going to have to be equivalent to the punishment that is required of the criminal. The criminal who is on death row, I can't pay $5 and say "Yeah, let's count it even." There's not an equivalency there. In the same way, if death is the cost for our sin and our rebellion, then it seems to me that you have to have an equivalent. For awhile, you had blood sacrifice standing in the place for the ultimate blood sacrifice to cover human sin.
Then ultimately, God takes the punishment on Himself. Not just an innocent man, Jesus, because Jesus is God in human flesh. He takes a punishment on Himself and sacrifices Himself, Christ on the cross, in order to pay for our sin. To be that substitute. Instead of our blood being shed, Jesus blood is being shed. There's an equivalent sacrifice or substitution, so the shedding of blood is a substitionary act that is required in order to actually pay the penalty. It's not this negative way of putting it, that God is just ... He's blood thirsty. Or He'll only forgive if He smells blood. No. He's a just judge. The price of sin has to be satisfied. The punishment for sin has to be satisfied if He's going to be a just judge.
Let me also add this. I think the shedding blood communicates some other things that are important, that maybe help us to wake up to the severity of the problem. The shedding of blood communicates the severity of sin and human rebellion. If you think about the subjection, it kind of takes the blame and puts it on God rather than accepting the blame for our own evil. So, we say "Well, God, you can't just forgive people? You got to require blood?" It shifts the blame to God, but what about our own evil? I think the idea of the shedding of blood communicates the seriousness of our evil.
Think about it. The person who often will raise this objection will often raise that the problem of evil and say how can God be good and loving and just and all this if He allows evil? Well, He's going to deal with evil, and He's going to deal with it as a just judge. Now you're not happy with that. I think the whole idea of the shedding of blood communicates the seriousness of sin. It communicates the seriousness of our rebellion, and it helps us to see how sin and death just do such damage to humanity and to God's world.
Let me close with Hebrews chapter 9 verses 11 through 14 because this really helps capture a proper understanding of the sacrifice of animal, and ultimately the sacrifice of Christ. "But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, he entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle. Not made with hands, that is to say not of this creation, and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through his own blood. He entered the holy place once for all having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls and if the ashes of heifers sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ who through the eternal spirit offered himself without blemish to God. Cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God." The good news is blood atonement. The good news is that Jesus took our place on the cross. He was a substitute that paid the appropriate price for our sin. That's good news.