God in Christ: teleology and theodicy
There was an occasion when Christ was asked a question of theological curiosity—if the goal of salvation would include few or many. And His answer, nationally viewed, was disappointing—as if for Him such an inquiry was academic, or only inquisitive. He convened it at once into a religious occasion. He turned it into the central and primary theology, where we are not merely curious but concerned. He said that such inquiries could only be solved practically only if a greater question were first settled for our own soul; that eschatology was a matter of soteriology, and soteriology a matter of personal salvation; that we had no key to the eternal future of others except what we had for our own; that our interest in the saving of the world might be perverted to submerge our own salvation; that, in the desire to know, or even in our haste to effect, the destiny of the race, we might miss in our soul the certainty which was the root of all other.
‘Are the saved few?’ ‘Few enough to make you afraid you may not be there. See to your entry. The religious inquisitives may be eternal failures. So may the religious bustlers. You must taste salvation to discuss it. You must experience the world’s salvation to deal with the saving of the world’ (Luke xiii. 23). As if He should say: ‘Acquaint yourself with what God has done. Immerse yourself in it. The consummation will not come by man’s gradual organization under a law of love, but by the consummating Act and Gift of God in His Kingdom and its righteousness—by that and each man’s part in it.’
But that Act it was far from easy to take home. Grace is free but not easy. It was not in the growth of man’s delectable breadth and charity that Christ found the way to heaven; He cast His inquirers upon a narrow way ending in a strait gate. It was not to a wider knowledge or a larger vision that He looked for the central and final theodicy. The only final theodicy He knew was God’s saving Act, in which He Himself grew more and more straitened till it was accomplished. To know and taste that was everything. The world’s history did not make for Him the world’s final judgment; it worked up to such a judgment, where He is Himself on the bench. Love’s straightening for a tangled world was a cure for its sin – it was propitiation, the mercy of the Cross. ‘Herein is love—that He gave His Son as propitiation.’
Love that meets need finds that to be the chief need. Its first and last gift to man is the Cross. This Cross became not only a rescue from a strait but the principle and measure of the whole world. The Lord of the Cross is the final trustee of universal judgment. The whole purpose of history, if we are to believe Christ, was something more than the disentangling of a moral muddle, the evolution of a moral order, or even the growth of a moral personality; it was the redemption of that personality. Its final ethic is that involved in faith with its justifying, regenerating power. It was to bring every man to deal with Him as Savior, to plant every man at last before the judgment-seat of His Cross and Grace, to work in every man the supreme conviction of belonging to Him, and finding in Him his own new soul—new, yet his own. So that no man comes to himself till he come to Him, and the world does not’ arrive’ till it settle to rest in Him.
That is the Christian teleology of history, whether we accept it or do not. Christ, judge and justifier, is the one theodicy. The whole race says, ‘for me to live is Christ.’ Everything exists for Him—love, culture, war, tragedy, glory. He is the one moral touchstone of God and man for ever, the crucial point of the eternal and immutable morality of the Holy.
P.T. Forsyth, The Justification of God, 54-44.