In the depths of his misery, the Biblical character of Job utters this complaint: “If I sin, what do I do to you, you watcher of mankind? Why have you made me your mark? Why have I become a burden to you? Why do you not pardon my transgression and take away my iniquity?”
In Islamic doctrine, Allah determines a person’s merits to enter Paradise by balancing their good deeds against their sins. So long as their merits outweigh their faults, Allah can grant them access to eternal reward.
This is essentially the kind of act Job is requesting of God: to give a blanket forgiveness his sins. One might argue, as Job is, that if God is so powerful, he could simply determine to let a sin go unpunished.
What this argument misses is that God is being placed in conflict with himself. The portion of God's nature that requires him to justly punish all sin and destroy all imperfection is no less powerful than the portion of God's nature that requires him to love and to forgive. If God were to forgive a sin without punishing it and righting the wrong committed, he would be compromising his own character, making himself less than God.
The book of Exodus records an event that occurred at My Sinai wherein the children of Israel committed an act of gross idolatry. Immediately Moses pleads with God on the people's behalf to prevent God from annihilating them in his wrath, then turns around and enacts punishment on the people.
In so-doing, Moses fulfilled both the functions of the Law (punishment for wrongs done) and Intercession (pleading for forgiveness on behalf of the sinner).
These distinct roles are evidently very important to God as illustrated by another event from Moses' life.
On two separate occasions, the Israelites were at a point of dehydration, and complaining about their need for water. In the book of Exodus, God responded to this complaint by instructing Moses to strike a rock. Moses complied, and water gushed forth from the stone. In the book of Numbers, under the same circumstances, Moses was told to speak to the rock. In anger, Moses disobeyed and struck this rock as well. This seemingly slight infraction was serious enough in God's eyes that Moses was punished by being forbade to enter the Promised Land.
While the punishment may appear disproportionate to the crime, the fact of the matter is that in each of these circumstances, Moses was expected to represent the two key channels of God's interaction with humans: judgment (striking the rock) and intercession (speaking to the rock). When Moses failed to represent both, he sullied God's image, or as God put it:
"And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.”"
Moses was the last Old Testament figure that held both the judicial and intercessory roles. After Moses, those roles were separated; judgment belonging either to Judges or Kings, and intercession belonging to the Priest.
On several occasions, a King overstepped his bounds, and attempted to offer sacrifices for the people. In each of these instances, the King was judged severely for his impertinence.
It is understandable why it would be unwise to allow the person responsible for justice and punishment to hold the keys of grace. The temptation would be to withhold intercession as a form of punishment. The Priest was required by his office to intercede for everyone. In fact, the priest Samuel made it clear that it would be a sin for him not to pray on behalf of the people.
It is possibly for this reason that God assigned a genetic component to both stations. The legitimate king of Israel would always be from the tribe of Judah and the descent of King David, while a Priest would always come from the tribe of Levi.
In the New Testament book of Hebrews, the author makes the argument that Jesus Christ was both the perfect King and the perfect Priest - able to intercede and to judge – and to do both of these things in an unbiased and legitimate fashion. The argument, in brief, was that Jesus as priest offered himself up to the Father as the ultimate and perfect sacrifice, once and for all cleansing the sin of all mankind. This grace was extended to all who would choose to accept it. For those who chose not to accept it, they would be judged according to the Law of God by Jesus Christ as King.
The problem the author of Hebrews faces in advancing this argument is that, as a direct descendant of David, Jesus had the genetic right to kingship, but not being of the tribe of Levi, he did not have a genetic claim to the priesthood. The author addresses this potential objection by siting the Old Testament figure of Melchizedek.
Melchizedek was a character mentioned very briefly in the book of Genesis who was said to be both a king and a priest of God; a man to whom Abraham offered up tithes. The author of Hebrews makes the point that Melchizedek was a legitimate priest and king who pre-dated the genetic line of Abraham and was appointed his station by God. Nor was Melchizedek simply a priest to a specific people group like the sons of Levi. This, the author says, sets a precedent for God appointing a priest outside the tribe of Levi.
Because Christ’s station as priest was given him directly by God, rather than an inheritance, he could intercede for all people, not simply for the Jews. And so, unlike Moses, Christ was able to both intercede and to judge in a way that married the two aspects of God’s nature – his justice and his mercy – and to do so perfectly and without bias.
This vision of justice and of grace, of kingship and intercession, is a theme of panoramic scope that literally extends from the very first book of the Bible to the very last. It engulfs both the interesting parts of scripture and the boring genealogies and rules. The portions of the Pentateuch devoted to law are equally dedicated to laws of justice and laws of sacrifice.
If the supposed contradictions in Scripture are valid arguments against its truthfulness, then the amazing consistencies should also be considered as valid proofs for its legitimacy. If the origins of the universe and abstracts such as morality are keys to Theism, this balance of law and grace is the key to Christianity.