Mike Anderson led a fairly normal suburban life. A small business owner from the Midwest, he worked hard to provide for his wife and kids, he served at his church, and coached his son’s football team. From nearly everyone’s perspective (including his wife’s) he was a model citizen. Then one day the past that haunted him for over a decade came striding back in the form of police officers arresting him at his front door.
I heard this story on a recent episode of This American Life. Mr. Anderson’s public story begins with an armed robbery for which he was caught, convicted and sentenced to thirteen years in prison. The unique part of the story is he was never called to serve the sentence due to a clerical error. Instead of turning himself in, he lived his life becoming a model citizen and father. When the error was finally discovered thirteen years later, he was immediately taken to prison.
This story struck me with how closely it mirrors our attempts to earn God’s favor, and how far it is from the justice God provides. Every other religious system offers an opportunity to right the wrongs we commit, whether it be through karma, or sacrifice, or doing more good deeds than bad, or our sincerity of belief, but the God of the Bible provided a radically different way to atone for our sin.
According to God’s Word, there is no deed we can perform to erase our sin in the eyes of God. But the perfect justice of God requires that sin be dealt with. As a society we can grant forgiveness to Mike Anderson for violating the law because he made amends, he changed the life he lived. God however is not like us. He is not a fellow sinner that can offer some way of appeasement. God’s nature is holy perfection. If the crimes Mike Anderson committed were something much more heinous we would not be so quick to ask for pardon. Just as we are not willing to overlook some sins because of their nature, God cannot overlook any sin because of who he is.
God is not content to overlook our sin, to pretend we are whole. Yet he is too gracious and abounding in love to leave us without hope. God made a way: Jesus freely gave his life, taking the penalty of our sin at the cross. At the cross the victim paid for the crime. At the cross the perpetrator was given restitution he could not earn. The cross changes the heart, something deeds can never do.
As of May 5, 2014, Mike Anderson is a free man. The judge in the case released him, saying, “You've been a good father. You've been a good husband. You've been a good taxpaying citizen of the state of Missouri. That leads me to believe that you are a good man and a changed man.” I agree with how justice was handled in this case. We are far better served as a society if he is allowed to love and serve his family and community well rather than serving his sentence in prison. In contrast to this pardon, I am so grateful to serve a God who has dealt with my sin justly, and that my sin was dealt with in an entirely different way. When Jesus died he did not simply ask the Father to excuse my sin in return for good deeds. He took my sin, bore it and dealt with it at the cross providing a way. I am right in the eyes of God, independent of anything I could ever do. “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10).