I love the doctrine of justification, but to be honest, I don’t always feel it. I am sure part of the reason is my lack of easy familiarity with the dense theological terms which buttress it. And so, while I sit in the loan officer’s office, experts works out all the details (using jargon like expiation or propitiation or imputation and other such terms that don’t exactly roll off the tongue). I believe it all, to be sure. Just show me where to sign and initial and I will enthusiastically do so. But at times, my deep soul engagement with justification is somewhat lacking. Lacking, that is, until I read something like Colossians 2:14: “Having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.”
Yes, there is quite a bit of weighted syntax to wade through on my way to emotional breakthrough. Here’s my quick attempt: My itemized bill of sins created an astronomical promissory note owed to God. But this “charge” or handwritten record of debts was “canceled” or wiped away by Jesus. My record of shameful sins and unthinkable costs have been erased. But how was it cancelled? It was transferred, actually — “taken away” from me and nailed to the cross.
Recently, I had a chance to imagine just what it might feel like to wear that “charge” around for a while. I am reading through Dickens’ David Copperfield. (Yes, I’m only about 17% through this massive book, and yes I’ve abandoned ambitious reading projects like it too often in the past, even if this one is a “guilty pleasure.” But Richard Armitage’s engrossing narration may help push me across the finish line).
At any rate, young Master Davy’s having quite a go at life. His father dies before he’s six months old, and his pretty, weak mother marries the evil Mr. Murdstone (Dickens knew how to name ’em!). Davy can do nothing right in the Murdstone house, and his stepfather hands out the discipline (or “firmness”) like a mob boss. One fated day, when Davy could not produce a high enough degree of accuracy on his homework, Murdstone grabs his cane and walks Davy up to his bedroom for his punishment. Davy protests, the two grapple, and Davy manages to bite Murdstone’s hand before his eventual beating. Some days later, Davy is shipped off to a low-rate boarding school. As he walks through the school, he sees a “pasteboard placard” with the words: “TAKE CARE OF HIM. HE BITES.” When Davy asks what poor dog has to wear that sign, he is quickly and sadly corrected:
“No, Copperfield,” says he, gravely, “that’s not a dog. That’s a boy. My instructions are, Copperfield, to put this placard on your back. I am sorry to make such a beginning with you, but I must do it.” With that he took me down, and tied the placard, which was neatly constructed for the purpose, on my shoulders like a knapsack…
Thanks to the advanced warning sent from Mr. Murdstone, Davy now greatly “suffered from that placard,” never knowing who was reading it, forced not to conceal it, and jokingly treated like a wild dog among his fellow students.
There it is. Take any one of my deeply embarrassing sins, type it out in all caps, and force me to wear it around like a backpack all day, unconcealed, before companion and stranger alike. Let everybody see me at my worst. Let me feel the scorn I rightly deserve, for any single embarrassing act in my past. And then, let someone swoop in and take it, and all the other signs — all of them — and nail them above my Savior’s head, just beside the INRI. Now that I can feel.