Relation of Forgiveness to Justice?

This quote is from an excellent paper “Justice: The Foundation of a Christian Approach to Abuse” (presented by Rachael Denhollander at the 70th Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society)

[bctt tweet=”…Forgiveness is not the foregoing of the claims of justice, but a recognition that in Christ, through the cross, the ultimate claims of justice have been fulfilled.”] [bctt tweet=”Forgiveness is made possible because the very real debt which did exist, was paid.”] In every possible scenario in Christian theology, the reality of evil and need for justice is upheld. Either divine punishment will be meted out on the individual who has done the wrong, or it is taken up by God upon himself, but even perfect, divine forgiveness rightly seeks and upholds the need for justice.

Nicholas Wolterstorf objects to this, arguing that under such a satisfaction model, “it’s not forgiveness that is taking place but vicarious punishment.”21 However, the fact that God takes punishment upon himself, not foisting it onto a third party, entwines vicarious punishment and forgiveness together. [bctt tweet=”A banker cannot be said to have forgiven a loan when a third party pays the loan on behalf of another; however, when the banker himself pays the loan on behalf of another, this is both satisfaction of the debt and forgiveness.”] As Augustine wondered, “Thou payest debts while owing nothing; and when Thou forgivest debts, losest nothing.”

This powerful theology is at the very heart of the Forgiving Path. We humans pit justice and forgiveness against each other. To forgive is to give up your right to justice. May God forbid. Justice and forgiveness are held together in the heart of God and of course expressed in the co-existent, greatest work of justice and forgiveness ever, the Cross.