“Hell is one way to settle accounts with sinners and uphold His justice. But there is another way. The wisdom of God has ordained a way for the love of God to deliver us from the wrath of God without compromising the justice of God.
And what is this wisdom?
The death of the Son of God for sinners! “We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to the Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and wisdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:23-24)” (p.61)
Everyone has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. For anyone to be saved, that debt must be paid. And the wages of sin is death. But our death would be insufficient because of our sin. A perfect sacrifice is needed. That’s what Christ did on the cross for us. He lived a perfect, sinless life that we could not live, and died a brutal, humiliating death that we could not die. When He did this He imputed His righteousness to us so that we might be declared righteous and justified in the eyes of God. (2 Cor. 5:21)
But it can’t be overlooked what Piper is saying here, Hell is a legitimate option for God’s justice to be upheld. It is just that we should go to Hell. Every human who has ever existed knows that there is a God (Rom. 1) but we suppress that truth in our unrighteousness and exchange the truth of God for a lie. We worship the created thing (usually ourselves) rather than the Creator. For this rebellion we deserve an eternity in Hell. We are in a state of spiritual deadness as we are born into this sin (Eph. 2:1). We’re not sick, we’re not weak, we’re dead in our sins and trespasses. Thankfully, Ephesians 2:4-5 has the sweetest most hopeful words that have ever been expressed. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.”
I love how the note in the ESV study Bible expresses the importance of this verse. “Just when things look the most desolate, Paul utters the greatest short phrase in the history of human speech; “But God!” rich in mercy. God’s mercy on his helpless enemies flows from his own loving heart, not from anything they have done to deserve it.”
It would be unjust for God to just shirk His own law and simply “let everyone into heaven anyway.” For Him to overlook His own law would be unjust. But He knew we could not pay the debt that was owed. So He did it Himself, in the second Person of the Trinity. God the Son, the Word became flesh to dwell among His creation. He humbled Himself to the point of a shameful death on a cross.
I’ve heard this illustration and it has always stuck with me as a picture of how God pays the debt for us. Imagine this; a young man was caught speeding in his car. He goes to court and the judge says, “You’ve broken the law, and the law says you owe this much for the fine.” The young man cannot pay the fine. So the judge steps down from his seat, opens his wallet and writes a check to pay the fine. The judge is the young man’s father.
The young man broke the law, the fine must be paid. The judge cannot say, “Well, you’re my son so you can just bypass the law and get off free.” No, the fine must be paid for the judge to remain perfectly just. This is what Piper is talking about. God, in His infinite wisdom, in the perfect amazing story He’s writing in human history, has made a way for us fallen sinners to be reconciled back to Him, all the while remaining just and perfectly good, and satisfying His wrath against sin.