Nicholas Wolterstorff said something I had never heard before when he gave a lecture here in Belfast during the summer. Without knowing the exact quote, he said something along the lines of, Why do we think that God has to punish every wrong deed?
Without presuming to know what he was getting it, it struck me as I was reading on the nature of grace that at the control centre of the universe we have placed punishment in the hotseat. Punishment is the default divine response to wrongdoing. Punishment gets the first word. Punishment is primary. Without this arrangement, we live in an immoral universe.
So the story goes.
But what if grace is in the hotseat? What if grace is the default divine response to wrongdoing? What if grace gets the first word? What if grace is primary?
In Christian discourse, grace is mostly talked about in punishment's shadow. Grace is what happens when the primacy of punishment is foregone. God must punish us to bring balance to a moral universe. God has no obligation to be gracious to us.
But the moral universe is not subject to an adapted form of Newton's third law of motion, with grace as the occasional exception to the rule. Rather, the moral universe is subject only to the rule of God.
And at the core of this rule is not lex talionis, but love.