Exodus 34:6-7 "Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; 7 who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.”
The Dilemma of Divine Justice and Mercy
The above verse state two significant truths about God that on first glance appear contradictory. On the one hand, God desires to forgive sins and to acquit the guilty. On the other hand, we find God justly condemning the guilty because of their sin. In short, God's love and mercy are stated alongside His justice and holiness, presenting what appears to be a "Divine dilemma". How can this be a Divine dilemma? Some reflection on other scripture and how proceedings go in a court of law reveal an immense Divine dilemma that could only be resolved by God.
For instance, Proverbs 17:15 reveals the problem at hand: "He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous, Both of them alike are an abomination to the LORD." Some short reflection on any court of law will define for us the following type of injustice: to justify, or "declare" innocent a guilty man while condemning a clearly innocent man. This example represents the most severe form of injustice. We unfortunately have heard of such cases of innocent people serving long prison terms. Likewise we have been equally angered over guilty criminals getting off the hook over supposed "loopholes" in the law.
In the scriptures, showing mercy to guilty men and punishing innocent men are uncalled-for-realities in human courts of law, let alone Divine Justice. Yet when we look at the heart of the Gospel, we see this very act in the work of Christ on behalf of sinful human beings - a seeming Divine Dilemma of biblical proportions! Romans 4:5 states: "But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness". The Apostle Peter writes in 1 Peter 3:18: "For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit". For what has been called by many the "scandal of the Gospel" is the very thing that makes the Gospel so powerful! Holy God, in the giving of His innocent Son, could acquit sinners by the sole means of their trust in the Son's accomplished work on their behalf - gets us to the core of the Gospel.
Why God alone can both be just and issue forgiveness to sinners who believe by grace through faith alone
I hope by now the reader can sense the tension of this "Divine Dilemma". How could God, who is Holy and perfect, give His innocent Son on behalf of clearly guilty sinners? Author Kris Lundgaard in his book: "Reflections on Christ That Change Us Through The Looking Glass" notes on page 133: