Saturday, 21 September 2013

Escaping the fine when caught without a ticket

There was a ticket checking on the train.
A lady behind me was caught for not having her student card on her, but was let off. The policeman who was checking the tickets was kind. He explained to her the rule about carrying the student card when traveling on a student fare, even though she probably knew that anyway, and he said he would let her off this time. He was not speaking in a manner that was disrespectful or condescending. He was serious but not overbearing. I was slightly impressed with his dealings and quite pleased with the outcome.

And then I thought, "hey, this is a good illustration of grace. She was caught for breaking the law, but was forgiven and was let off from bearing the consequences of her crime." But soon I realised it wasn't. This wasn't a good illustration of God's grace. Several reasons could be laid out, but I list just two.

Firstly, the breaking of the law was not committed against the policeman. He was only an enforcer, not the offended. This is a huge difference. God is not simply a law-enforcer. He is the "victim" of every sin we commit. All sin is primarily against God. Hence, the grace of God we receive as sinners is forgiveness, not just "being let off." Only the offended can forgive, an enforcer can only let off.

Another big difference is "how" the offender was spared of the punishment. The policeman let her off at no cost to himself. It cost him practically nothing to let her off. I am no law expert, but I'm pretty sure that, as a policeman, it was his prerogative to issue a warning instead of a fine. So he was not risking anything. When God forgave us, it cost Him. It's hard to imagine how anything could cost God, the Almighty being. But the bible tells us clearly how costly God's forgiveness was. It cost Jesus. His suffering and death. It may remain as mystery how God could suffer, but the fact that He did suffer is no mystery. Our God did not dispense His forgiveness in a cool, distant way. He clothed Himself in human flesh and hung on the cross. If the policeman's action were to be any closer to the real meaning of God's grace, he would have had to issue the fine and then pay it for her himself. It still doesn't come much closer (of course not!), but it would be closer than just letting one off the hook.

If a policeman caught you for not having a train ticket, or speeding on the road, and he let you go with just a warning, you'd be quite happy. I'd be very happy and even feel somewhat thankful towards that policeman. Now, then, hear this. Because of our sins, our rejection and rebellion against God, we are headed for judgment. But God has given us His Son, Jesus, so whoever trusts Him for safety and forgiveness would be spared of His judgment. That's what makes my heart sing. This is why I can look forward to the future. How about you?

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