The idea that God as a just judge sentences sinners to eternal death is a difficult one for us who live in countries which have abolished the death penalty for even the most serious crimes. But a recent case in my home town, Chelmsford, has reminded me that here in Britain we still have the death penalty – for animals! And we probably need it – for, despite this posting, I am not an animal lover.
The story, reported in the local newspaper Chelmsford Weekly News (29th June), is about Casper, a beautiful Weimaraner German hunting dog. Casper had bitten boys on three occasions, and his owner had failed to muzzle him after the first incident. The owner was fined and banned from keeping a dog. But, because there was no other home for Casper, his sentence was to be death – until at the last minute a court officer personally offered him a home, and the judge accepted this.
This is perhaps a model of the Atonement, or at least a picture of how it works. We, all humans, had a bad master or owner, Satan, as Casper had, and are guilty of wrongdoing, as Casper was. The penalty which the Law prescribes for us, as for Casper, is death, and our Judge would be just to apply this penalty. Casper was saved by a last minute personal intervention by a court officer; we are saved by the personal intervention of the Judge himself, not at the last minute but as part of his eternal plan. Casper was taken from his old owner and given to a new master, the court officer; we have been set free from slavery to Satan by our Judge, who has himself become our new master or Lord. Casper received a new home with his new owner; we have been promised a new home where God himself will care for us for ever.
Of course this model is not complete; there is no sign that Casper repented (although the problem may have been more with his old owner), and the court officer did not have to die (let’s hope Casper doesn’t draw his blood!), whereas Jesus had to die for us to be saved, and we are expected to repent. Nevertheless, this is an interesting case as a real example of how a life was saved by a personal intervention in a court, in a parallel with how we have been saved through Jesus Christ.