Appendix 2

God and the Debt: a framing consideration in the theodicy of the cross

A discussion of the Jubilee motif as a major factor framing Jesus’ self-understanding and mission – a mission in which we are called to participate – suggests consideration of Jesus’ atonement as the cancellation of debt.

The idea that Jesus’ life, as the God-man, has infinite merit so as to pay the price of sin has value, inasmuch as Jesus came to understand his life and its mission as Yahweh come in human being to (God’s) people to save them and bring creation to culmination.[1] We shall take that understanding as right understanding, where “understanding” is a factive, what G.E. Moore – with others – has called a success word. God was/is “well-pleased” with Jesus.[2] The biblical text of the New Testament both indicates and expressly asserts that Jesus’ covenanting faithfulness, faithfulness to death on a cross,[3] was such that it is salvific.[4]

With respect to the saving liberation wrought by Jesus, note the Jubilee echo in Paul’s language in Romans 6: particularly in verses 22 and 23.

… you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Therefore, it is proper to assert that, in Jesus, God paid the debt, the price, for our falling short, and so our alienation, our sin, in all its complex manifestations. The debt to God is paid by God incarnate. But that then raises the questions, “Why and how is God’s debt-paying appropriate and efficacious?”

The following attempt to imply a radical answer to the questions above boils down to, “Because ultimately God is responsible for all things and if God did not pay the price of the debt, God would be guilty”, guilty by God’s own standards, standards that arise out of, or are of a piece with, who God is, who God chooses to be – and God chooses to be faithful, entailing a faithfulness to Godself.

God is responsible for what God creates
God is ultimately responsible. Here are some key points.

  • From the beginning, and in the end, this world, this kosmos, is God’s creation. Ultimately, as the creator and sustainer of all, God, owns creation[5]and, as its owner, God is finally responsible for it.
  • God is responsible for what God creates – ultimately responsible. Since there is no other creator but the god named Yahweh, Yahweh is ultimately totally responsible for all things, and for all that happens in, to, by all things. This is not to assert a direct divine determinism; indeed it is not to assert any form of determinism. But it to say that God is ultimately responsible for all, including all light and darkness, all prosperity and disaster, all good and evil.[6] There is no other god but the god named Yahweh. That god is ultimate.[7]
  • Yahwehhas covenanted with humanity making God’s covenant with all creation explicitly known – God’s covenant is completely consistent with who God is.
  • Yahweh gave the Torah (Law) to the people of Israel in order to understand and express God’s character in terms of human community. Torah is a key expression – albeit contextual – of Yahweh’s character and will.[8]
  • What God wills is completely consistent with who God is.

Image and character of God
The connection between human community and who God is, turns upon the understanding that human beings are created in, for, and because of, the image of God.

Further, our image-bearing, our showing-forth who God is, is a communitarian matter.[9] The Torah is an authoritative guide to the character and will of Yahweh, for the people God are called to evidence explicitly Yahweh’s character to the world in their interpersonal and social relations.[10]

Although necessarily culturally-framed, the Torah is a key expression of Yahweh’s character and will.

We do well to reflect upon the understanding that a person’s character is entailed by what they truly will to be the case and will to do, and that a person’s will is inseparable from the person’s character which is of a piece with the person’s is-ness.

Perhaps, for all persons, what the person wills is synonymous with who the person is; but it is certainly the case that what God wills is synonymous with who God is.[11] To put it in metaphysical language, God’s being is identical to God’s will.[12] It follows that what God wills is completely consistent with who God is.

The consequence of consistence
Now, here is where it gets interesting.

  • What God wills is completely consistent with who God is.
  • God wills the imperatives of Torah, albeit that at least some of those imperatives should be taken as pertaining to particular historico-cultural contexts.
  • Therefore, God must be consistent with the imperatives of Torah.

The unpacking of the Torah in the books of Moses ensured that the people of Israel understood their responsibility to each other and to God. Part of the unpacking of the Torah deals with a number of specific issues intended as paradigms for case-based reasoning (casuistry) about right and wrong conduct, obligations, values, etc., within the cultural context of ancient Israel.[13]

One such case concerns the owner of a creature that runs amuck. The Torah states that the owner is culpable for the damage his creature causes. In Exodus 21:28-29 we read:

When an ox gores a man or a woman to death, the ox shall be stoned, and its flesh shall not be eaten; but the owner of the ox shall not be liable. If the ox has been accustomed to gore in the past, and its owner has been warned but has not restrained it, and it kills a man or a woman, the ox shall be stoned, and its owner also shall be put to death. If a ransom is imposed on the owner, then the owner shall pay whatever is imposed for the redemption of the victim’s life.

The key here is that the owner of the creature is deemed to be able to control what is his. Failure to control the creature, when one has the ability to do so, makes the owner culpable.

The point is that God, as creator, is deliberately, intentionally, responsible for creation and, as owner of creation, God is deliberately, intentionally responsible for the freedom (albeit relative freedom) that creation has.

Further, arguably, at least some aspects of creation have run amuck.

The sharp end of the matter is this. God deliberately and knowingly[14] left the gate open as it were. It was God’s deliberate purpose to create us in God’s image with a significant measure of freedom, the real freedom that God enjoys maximally.[15]

Surely, God knew what distortion of that image, what evil and suffering would be the consequences of such freedom.[16] Yet, God knowingly, deliberately left the gate open.

This deliberate leaving open of the gate means the evil that God makes possible and for which God – as sovereign “owner” of creation – is responsible, is apparently without excuse. Such intentional action is truly awful/awe-full.

Further, since the Torah expresses God’s character and God’s will, the force of the Torah is surely binding upon God. What God wills is completely consistent with who God is. God wills Torah. God is then the one who must pay the price for deliberately leaving the gate open – that is what God’s law requires.

Further, because the Torah is an expression of God’s will, God’s willingness to pay the price is not a response on God’s part to an external demand. Rather, it is a matter of God’s consistent self-choice to be who God is (cf. Exodus 3:14).

The application of Isaiah 42:6-7 to Jesus as the servant (ebed) of Yahweh who is “a covenant to the people”, can be taken with Genesis 15:1-20, with its image of a smoking fire pot with a blazing torch that ratifies the covenant even as the human partner sleeps. It may be suggested that these biblical motifs taken together indicate that God alone, indeed God in Jesus, is the ultimate covenant and covenant keeper. This move indicates that God’s consistent self-choice, God’s covenant, and the cross of Christ are of a piece. Jesus is God’s self-consistency, just as it is God’s consistent self-choice, in Trinity, to be who God is, indeed to be – for the sake of covenant – God incarnate in Jesus, God with us, and for us.

In the end, God is God, and God alone is God’s own justification. God has/is God’s own justification for creating such that, in doing so, weal and woe are not only allowed, but became foreknowingly actualised.

But – and this the big “but” – that divine self-justification is not an arbitrary dismissal of what might be culpability if the matter were to remain unresolved. This is not a matter of a self-excusing caprice, a mere dismissive pronouncement of a voluntarist sort of divine fiat. Rather, it is a taking on and working through the awful consequences of responsibility and freedom in a truly awe-ful and tightly consistent manner, a manner that both preserves justice and justifies. Because of the divine incarnation in Jesus, and its entailment of the full identification of God with us on the cross, what happens to the covenanting God with respect to God’s judgement and God’s justification happens to humanity as God’s covenant partner, indeed happens to all creation through the Last Adam. We are justified through God’s justification. But the other side of that coin is a terrible consequence – God’s “fate” is nailed to our response to God’s sacrificial love. Creation and cross must be seen to be justified to be justified.

So, this is no abstract justification, and no justification by sheer will; it is not a matter of “I am justified because I say so.” Rather, God’s justification is concrete. An understanding of this justification involves one in recognising that God is not (God) apart from the suffering, cursed, cross of Jesus of Nazareth.

Gift and debt
It has seemed to Jacques Derrida that all human gift-giving comes with an obligation, with a price. Jean-Luc Marion has responded to Derrida by contending that the Gift begins when the potential giver suspects that another gift has already preceded him, to which he owes something, to which he owes himself to respond.[17] We can assert that the prior Gift is the gift of Godself, in Jesus Christ, the Lamb that was slain from before the foundation of the world, cf. Revelation 13:8.

In the justification of God, which is God’s justification, we may intuit that the Gift does come at an awful, and awe-full, price. But the payment of that price – within the participative, perichoretic, eternal life of the Trinity, by the cross of Christ, – makes the Gift utterly free as Gift.

This economy of God then points to a theodicy that comports with Paul’s talk of “the justification of God” in Christ.– this is to say that the justification of humanity and the renewal of God’s covenant with creation is of a piece with the faithfulness of God in Jesus Christ, cf. Romans 3:22; Galatians 2:16, 3:22; Ephesians 3:12; Philippians 3:9, etc.[18] The faithfulness of God in Jesus Christ, the covenant-ensuring will of God to ground, keep, and finalise the wellbeing of all creation is, through the incarnation of God the Son, inseparable from the fate of humanity. In incarnation and cross God nails Godself, God’s reputation, to our fate, and our fate entails what we do in response to God’s faithfulness, in response to God’s Gift that pays and therefore cancels all debt. It is in this foreknown ontological payment and cancellation of the Debt that God’s creational providence is grounded and out of which God’s justice flows.

Our response, our responsibility is to further justice and Shalom. Jesus’ followers are to understand participation in his mission to be a life and death matter entailing: feeding and refreshing the hungry and thirsty, taking in the stranger, clothing the naked and inadequately clothed, caring for the sick, visiting the imprisoned, etc.[19] Since on the cross God nails Godself, God’s reputation, to our fate, and our fate entails what we do in response to God’s faithfulness, we must work out our salvation[20] communally, ecologically, economically, in ways that understand the great gravity of any failure to do so.


1Cf. In addition to N.T. Wright’s well known contention – see, for example, N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, Christian Origins and the Question of God; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996. – see Margaret Barker’s original insights in, “The Time is Fulfilled, Jesus and Jubilee”, Scottish Journal of Theology, 53.1, 2000, 22-32. The article is also found at

2For example, consider together Psalm 2:7; Isaiah 42:1; Matthew 12:18, 17:5; Mark 1:11, 9:7; Luke 3:22, 9:35; John 5:20, 5:37, 12:28; Ephesians 1:6; 1 John 5:9.

3Cf. Philippians 2:5-11.

4Cf. endnote 90 in “The economy of God and Jesus’ missional imperatives – Jubilee, Jesus, and the Gift” for a discussion of the saving faithfulness of (God in) Jesus as it arises in consideration of the Pauline expression pisteos Iesou Christou.

5Cf. Psalm 24:1-2.

6Cf. Isaiah 45:5-7.

7Certainly, we may hold with Augustine of Hippo that evil is ontologically dependent, parasitic, upon the good, that evil has no distinct ontological independence (such as the good creation has), that evil is an absence of good, a hole in the good. Further, we may assert that no one can directly create an absence, we may hold it follows therefore that God does not actively will evil, only the good. But it remains that, in passively allowing for (the possibility) of evil, God is ultimately responsible for what actual evil results. The indirect ontological remove of evil from being an object of God’s active will does not count against the all-able God’s responsibility for evil; that responsibility entails the ultimate responsibility to deal with evil and deal with it in a way that transforms the consequences of even evil into good.

8Cf. Exodus 19:3-6; Leviticus 19, Isaiah 42:6,7; 49:6. See also Luke 2:28-32.

9Cf. Genesis 1: 26-27

10Leviticus chapter 19 is pivotal in this.

11Cf. the discussion of divine and Israelite identity presented in Exodus chapter 3.

12This is not to affirm voluntarism, but it is to assert that God wills to be who God will to be (cf. Exodus chapter 3), and that what God wills is consistent with who God is.

13That the imperatives of Torah are culturally conditioned and contextual does not falsify the contention that what God wills (at any time and in any place) is finally consistent with who God is, with God’s character, with God’s total faithfulness. That faithfulness, which includes creation, and so humanity, is first and finally God’s faithfulness to Godself, in the freely and eternally-chosen life of the triune godhead.

14Since God’s knowing and intending is divine knowing and intending, and since that is true if and only if – whatever the proper, divinely-given bounds of divine knowing and intending are – they do not make a nonsense of what one might reasonably expect divine knowledge and intention to be. Hence, knowing must entail a significant, responsibility-making capacity for knowledge – even if that foreknowledge and intention is probabilistic and dependent upon the divine capacity to interact faithfully in and over all contingencies, rather than being abstractly absolute.

15By “real freedom” one means the sort of ontological freedom that grounds the real freedom of human will (created in the image of divine freedom). Such freedom is incompatiblist freedom; that is, it is incompatible with determinism, cf. Alvin Plantinga “Free Will Defense”, in Max Black (ed), Philosophy in America, Ithaca: Cornell UP / London: Allen & Unwin, 1965.

16As noted, this is so even if that (fore)knowledge is probabilistic and dependent upon the divine capacity, rather than being abstractly absolute.

17Cf. Jean-Luc Marion, “Sketch of a Phenomenological Concept of the Gift” in Postmodern Philosophy and Christian Thought, ed. Merold Westphal (Indiana University Press, 1999), 133.

18Again, see endnote 90 in “The economy of God and Jesus’ missional imperatives – Jubilee, Jesus, and the Gift” for a discussion of the saving faithfulness of (God in) Jesus as it arises in consideration of the Pauline expression pisteos Iesou Christou.

19Matthew 25:31-46.

20Cf. Philippians 2:12, framed within the context of verses 1 to 12.