One familiar story is that of King Arthur, Guinevere and Camelot. It’s a utopian setting until a bit of evil enters the scene in the form of temptation. The queen is seduced by Lancelot, the king’s best knight. When the king discovers their infidelity, he is faced with a painful choice: abandoning the law or the death of his beloved Guinevere. But he knows her death is the only action that will satisfy the law and serve justice.
The tale of Arthur and his queen comes in many versions, but parts of it remain constant: just as Adam and Eve did in the Garden of Eden, Guinevere gave in to temptation, messed up and needed to be saved.
But here’s where Camelot diverges from the original story and the truth. While Arthur agonized over the decision to let the love of his life die and serve justice or let her go and negate the law, God’s decision and plan were clear from the beginning. Unlike Arthur, God is not subject to the law— rather, he created it. He in no way agonized over balancing the scales of justice because he himself is justice. His plan to die in our place wasn’t about fulfilling any requirements of the law.
Some look at grace and see a great balancing act, with mercy on one side and God’s holiness on the other, as if he has set limits on how much he can forgive. What Jesus did is sometimes called the Great Exchange, which makes it sound like a business transaction instead of the greatest act of love ever performed.
Humanly speaking, we think everything has to work out evenly and be fair. Remember the parable of the workers in the vineyard who began at dawn? They received the same pay as those who showed up at the end of the workday. To us, this seems unfair and even extravagant. But God does not use scales of justice like humanity does. God’s love and grace are outrageously unfair. When Jesus went to the cross, everyone was forgiven. Everyone was invited to the eternal banquet with the Father, Son and Spirit. No sin is too great to be wiped out. No one is beyond help. No one is out of his reach and no one must be punished as a way of balancing grace and justice.
If God were to use scales, one side would be up in the air and the other resting on the table. How can grace be so lopsided? His love and grace far outweigh even his own laws to the point of seeming like the ultimate lack of balance. Lucky for us and unlike King Arthur, God is more powerful than the law. He uses a different scale, a scale of mercy balanced only with more love and grace.