(Editor's Note: This is a follow up question to yesterday's article)

Question: Thank you, Carl, for such a full and clear answer. Your final sentence suggests the answer to the often asked question: If God is omnipotent, why doesn't He do this or that (abolish evil, say)? Why did He not redeem our sins directly rather than by the roundabout method of providing Jesus as an offering to Himself? Your answer seems to be: God must obey the law that He has made. So in that sense He is not in fact omnipotent. The ultimate authority is not God but God's law. Do I have that right?

Answer: I apologize if my reply led you to the conclusion that God is not omnipotent; that he does the things he does because he is somehow compelled to function in such-and-such a way. That really couldn't be further from the truth.

The reason evil 'exists' (I put 'exists' in quotes because evil does not have an ontological status) is not because God cannot abolish it. God is omnipotent, therefore if evil exists, it exists because evil is part of God's greater plan to display his glory. This in no way detracts from God's goodness, as the atheist would claim. God's goodness and God's omnipotence are compatible with the existence of evil.

Similarly, the reason God didn't "redeem our sins directly," isn't because he is obligated to a standard outside of himself. For God to "redeem our sins directly" would be for God to violate his justice — God's love cannot violate God's justice. God's attributes do not conflict with one another, but rather work in a perfect harmony. In regards to man's sin, God's justice demands payment for the offense to his glory and honor. However, God's love motivates him to move in redemptive history to save his people from their sin.

If God were to somehow overlook our sin or act in such a way that would violate his justice, he would cease to be God. On the flip side, if God wasn't moved to save his people and graciously provide for their salvation, he would equally cease to be God. Keep in mind though that these 'motivations' in God that move him to act in such a way are not something external to his nature, but rather are his nature. The Law is simply a reflection of God's holy character. Justice and mercy are also part of his nature; and God cannot act contrary to his nature. This is not a limitation on God's omnipotence (as if acting contrary to one's nature was somehow a limitation), but is simply a way of saying that God will always act consistently with his unchanging nature.

With that in mind, we need to look a little more closely at the atonement. Let's consider this in terms of debt and repayment. Our sin incurs a debt against God, and the extent of the debt is determined by the nature of the person to whom we owe the debt. Since God is an infinite Being, a debt owed to an infinite Being requires an infinite repayment; which is impossible since we're finite beings. This is the scenario presented in Jesus' parable of the wicked servant (Matthew 18:21-35). In that parable, a servant owes his master a debt of 10,000 talents. Most modern translations include footnotes which inform us that a talent is equivalent to 20 year's wages for a day laborer. Assuming a lifespan of 60 years, it would take approximately 3,333 lifetimes to pay off that debt. In other words, it's an unpayable debt. Jesus uses this to illustrate the debt we owe God for our sin. The reason I know this debt is of infinite value is because hell is eternal punishment for our sin.

Now God's justice demands that the sin debt be paid — remember what was said earlier, if God violates his justice, he is no longer God. The only other way an infinite sin debt can be paid is if an infinite human being dies to satisfy the wrath and justice of God. That is why God became man in the person of Jesus Christ. As a human being, Jesus is qualified to stand in our stead. As a divine Being, Jesus is able to fully satisfy the wrath of God against our sin.

I trust this makes things more clear.