Sunday, August 27, 2006

A Divine Theodicy

Having proven himself incapable of attaining righteousness in the ordinary way (by obeying the law), fallen man must now receive that same righteousness as a "free gift" (Rom. 5:15-17). While the "doer of the law" in Romans 2:13 is recognized as righteous by virtue of his own righteous behavior, the "sinner" of Romans 5:8 is reckoned as righteous in spite of his bad behavior. As Luther famously put it: Simul iustus et pecator.

But this reckoning of sinners as righteous – which Paul calls "justification" – causes a problem for God. How can he just turn a blind eye to sin and transgression and retain his own righteousness?

To answer such a question requires a theodicy, which is a word that combines the Greek terms for "God" and "to justify." A theodicy, then, is a defense of God's behavior (as ridiculously presumptuous as this is).

Now most theodicies are put forth in order to solve a different problem, namely, how God can allow horrible things to happen to people as wonderful as we (this, however, doesn't appear to weigh too heavily on God's conscience). But the one place in the Bible where God does seem concerned about defending his behavior is in relation to his allowing wonderful things to happen to people as horrible as we.

Enter Romans 3:21-26.

In this passage, God's own "righteousness" is demonstrated by his putting forth his Son as a propitiation to quench his own wrath. Instead of merely overlooking wrongdoing, God postponed his just sentence until it could be directed at the sinless Savior instead of being poured out upon those whom he represents.

As in Romans 1:17, God's "righteousness" here is that salvific activity by which his commitment to uphold the right is vindicated at the same time as sinners who believe the gospel become righteous. Thus in his justification of sinners he himself in justified, and in his vindication of transgressors he himself is vindicated.

And as far as justifying himself for the rest of his behavior, God just doesn't seem interested....