Virtually all of these questions exhibit the same confusion about the purpose of the law. As Paul tells us, the purpose of the law is to identify sin — or in the broader context, to identify behavior which is illegal. In the case of the 10 Commandments, the law identifies those behaviors which are destructive to sound relationships. And as I pointed out in an earlier blog, this applies to civil and criminal law as well. Whether it’s the enforcement of contracts or the prohibition against murder, the purpose of law is to maintain a healthy society. But law recognizes that sometimes statutes must be administered with wisdom. That’s why we have judges. Law is no mere calculation, if it were, computers could administer justice. But they cannot. With that in mind, we take up these questions in turn.
* Is justice, that is, the demands of the Law, served if an innocent pays the debt of the guilty? Is there any civilised culture that would condone such a practice?
Yes, there is a civilized culture which allows an innocent debate the debts of the guilty. We are living in it. If I failed to pay the taxes on my home, the state can eventually sell my home at auction. But if someone chooses to pay those taxes for me, the state is satisfied. In the question he uses the phrase “pays the debt.”
* How is justice served if the innocent goes free and another suffers the penalty?
It depends upon what justice demands. In the case of salvation, the guilty goes free on condition that they lived in faith thereafter. God’s law’s only demand in the end is that the universe be able to live harmoniously. The one who is part in either continues to live in faith and therefore becomes a part of that harmonious universe, or falls away and eventually suffers the second death. In either case, the purpose of the law is served.
* Does granting mercy to the guilty negate the demands of the Law? Does granting mercy in our legal systems today weaken the intent of the law or should we demand the full force of the law is applied without mercy to transgressors? or
* Is it only legalism that demands the sentence be meted out without mercy?
There are very few laws that are always and only meted out without mercy. In the US, the Governor of each state has the power to pardon or commute sentences. The president of the United States has unlimited power to pardon. Both are exercised.
*Do I misunderstand our understanding of the Cross? Or has the development of theology by a Church with a Western world view created a position contrary to the view of the Biblical writers?
As far as the questionnaire misunderstanding the Cross, I cannot say, except that many of us misunderstand the cross. I believe I have described the purpose and function of the cross in the previous blogs. To sum up:
Jesus died so that the “sons of God,” would have no doubt as to the consequences of sin, and so that the sons of men would realize that God could be trusted.