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There cannot be mercy without wrath

By Scott Tibbs, May 8, 2006

In the "Spider-Man" film a few years ago, Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider which gave him superhuman strength, speed and agility. Parker originally sought to use his newfound power for personal gain. Thinking only of himself, he refused to stop a thief. That thief would murder Parker's beloved Uncle Ben, teaching him the lesson that "with great power comes great responsibility". Later on, multi-millionaire Norman Osborn would become the super-powered Green Goblin and menace the city. Only Spider-Man had the power to stop the Goblin.

Now, imagine what it would have been like to see that film with the bad guys removed. There is no thief to ultimately kill Uncle Ben, and Norman Osborn never becomes the Green Goblin. Instead, Peter Parker becomes rich and famous and never learns the moral lesson that made him Spider-Man. All of the exciting fight scenes between two super-powered adversaries never take place. It would be quite a boring movie, wouldn't it?

In the same way, you cannot separate God's mercy from His wrath. When we sin against Him, a just and holy God cannot have fellowship with people who rebel against Him and refuse to obey His commandments. However, God was loving and merciful enough to send His son to die on the cross for our sins. Crucifixion was one of the most painful and cruel methods to execute criminals, and that does not even count the humiliation and torture inflicted upon the Lord leading up to the point where he was nailed to the cross.

If there is no wrath to be appeased, why did Jesus Christ have to die on the cross? God requires payment for sin. If it were not for His wrath against sinners, there would be no need for His mercy for those who cry "Abba, Father". But surely God would not allow a "good person" to go to Hell while allowing notorious sinners to enter paradise through the substitutionary atonement of His Son. That argument does carry some logical weight. However, as human beings, our perspective is warped by sin. Romans 3:10-12 lays it out for us:

As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.

It is not possible to get to Heaven by being a "good person" because there is no such thing as a "good person". I am reminded every day of how helpless I am before a righteous God. I am completely unable to save myself or provide anything of value to God. I am completely helpless to even have any true righteousness without the help of the Holy Spirit. I truly "bring nothing to the table" as it were. I can only cling to the cross and the shed blood of Jesus Christ for both my justification and my sanctification.

It is easy to understand that a hero in film or literature is defined by his enemies. There can be no triumph unless there is something to defeat. Why is it so difficult to understand how that can be compared to the character of a just and holy yet loving and merciful Creator? I have seen who the villain is in this story, and it is me. Thankfully, I do not have to pay the price for my crimes because that debt has already been paid. The victory was won when Jesus rose from the grave, all I have to do is accept it.