God Solved the Justice/Grace Problem

Author Amy K. Hall Published on 03/30/2010

While it’s still unclear how LOST will ultimately end up, some recent developments seem to provide a good illustration of one way people have chosen to resolve the problem that has plagued humanity throughout history: Deep down, we know we deserve justice from God, but we want grace. How can we who know we are guilty get mercy from a perfectly good and just God?

Justice and grace seem to be irreconcilable. We want God to be good. But if we deserve punishment, then for God to be truly good and just, He must punish. We long for grace. But for God to show us grace it would seem He must violate perfect justice, and therefore He would not be truly good.

One way to resolve this is to split God into two and reject one half.

We love a god of mercy, but fear a god of justice. Therefore, deny His justice and suddenly God loves us no matter what, and it doesn’t matter what we do. There is no justice to face. But is this a good god? Is a god who doesn’t right wrongs, who ignores evil and sweeps it under the rug, who tells you, “Hey, just learn to make your own kind of music—it’s all good,” is that a god worthy of our respect? Justice is real and good, so a god who allows evil and injustice to remain is less than good.

Then there are those who grasp the idea of God’s perfect holiness and the goodness of destroying evil, and so they despair of mercy and live in fear. These people hang on to God’s righteousness and reject the possibility of grace.

God’s answer to this problem is beyond brilliant:

But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

God did not lay aside His good and perfect desire to completely wipe out all evil, and yet neither did He lay aside His grace—He became both just and justifier, righteous judge and gracious redeemer. He satisfied His perfect justice and upheld His righteousness by demonstrating His wrath against evil on the cross. Now grace is freely given because it’s no longer in conflict with justice. Rather, it’s because of the justice fulfilled through Jesus’ willing sacrifice that the full beauty and power of grace is revealed, for we see the real price of it.

This is the true, complete God. The true story is not one where justice and grace are forever at war with each other, but one of redemption through a justice-satisfying, grace-enabling, costly sacrifice by a good judge who has the right and authority to convict.

This is the Gospel, yet I’ve found that many people who hear the Christian story are only able to hear the part about the perfect judge who they know will destroy them when all wrongs are punished in the end. They can’t see past God’s righteous wrath to the cross. And people who recognize their own guilt and know nothing of the cross will either acknowledge God’s unbending justice and hate Him, or deny His justice and live with a morally weak god.

This is what seems to be playing out on LOST (spoilers ahead). The writers would like to embrace grace, as they did so powerfully in the episode “Dr. Linus,” but at the same time deny the goodness of justice by associating judgment with the apparently devilish Man in Black. They can’t see that by denying the value of judgment they remove all power from grace, making it weak and meaningless. For if “God” wants us to make our own way morally, and does not judge evil, then there is no guilt to be released from, no grace needed. It’s just to be expected that someone would say, “Eh, your lying, manipulation, and murder is no big deal. Let’s just move on.” That is neither good nor powerful.

The creators of LOST can’t see a way for righteousness and justice to be truly good and desirable at the same time that grace is possible, so they jettison judgment in favor of grace (or so it seems for now). Without a cross by which justice can be done and grace given, they must split God into two, putting His grace into Jacob and His condemnation of evil into the manipulative Man in Black. And so it becomes Jacob vs. Man in Black, grace vs. judgment, “Jesus” vs. scary “Old Testament God.” And in this way, they lose both justice and grace.