From: Good Goats
The theology of Anselm leaves out some very important “good news” because it ignores other traditional and more compassionate understandings of the New Testament accounts. For example, parakletos, or the “Spirit of Jesus that judges us” could best be translated as “our defense attorney who justifies us,” (John 14:15; 15:26). Spanish conveys this well, since in many Biblical translations and church prayers it describes the Spirit of Jesus which judges as nuestro abogado, meaning “our defense attorney.”
The New Testament has many stories of Jesus as defense attorney. Two such stories are those of Saint Paul, (Acts 9:1-22), and of the adulterous woman, (John 8:2-12). In refusing to let anyone else stone or condemn her, Jesus is the adulterous woman’s defense attorney. Jesus does judge her, but as a defense attorney, not as a prosecuting attorney. Jesus recognizes and points out the woman’s destructive behavior (adultery), but he stands unreservedly on her side as a person. The people he seems most upset with are the stone-throwers, who are behaving like prosecuting attorneys, (John 8:7).
Jesus is also Paul’s defense attorney. One could imagine few harder-hearted people than Paul. As a Jewish Pharisee who could see the mistakes and errors in everyone else but himself, Paul suffered an addiction akin to my “German self-righteousness.” In addition, Paul behaved like a “rage-aholic” and a “control-aholic.” Paul wanted nothing to do with Jesus. He even actively persecuted Jesus, (Acts 9:4), and showed no signs of repentance.
What did Jesus do? Jesus loved and healed Paul. Paul’s punishing, Pharisaical image of God (much like Good Old Uncle George) changed to that of a loving God. In the moment that Paul’s image of God changed, Paul changed. Paul began to recover from his addiction to vindictive self-righteousness, violence, and murder because he discovered that God wasn’t addicted to these things either. And what had Paul done to bring about this healing? Nothing. God had demanded from Paul no prerequisites. No prior repentance, nothing.
The good news of Paul’s story and other New Testament stories is not: God loves the repentant sinner. Rather the radical good news is: God loves and heals the unrepentant sinner.
This does not mean repentance is unimportant or meaningless. But it is not the case that we first repent and then God loves us. Rather, it is just the opposite. Paul could repent only because God loved and healed him while he was still unrepentant. The only reason we have the capacity to move from unrepentance to repentance is that God has first loved and healed us, (1 John 4:19), while we were unrepentant. Thus repentance is important not in order to earn God’s love and forgiveness but rather, as in the case of Paul, to enjoy and fully incorporate into our life the healing that God has initiated.
Jesus does indeed judge Paul and tell Paul all that he’s done wrong including how he persecuted Christians, (Acts 9:4). But rather than condemn Paul, Jesus understands the “justness” or reasonableness of Paul’s life. Jesus as defense attorney can see through to Paul’s inner goodness. Healing comes whenever Jesus as defense attorney judges us in such a way that we know we are unconditionally loved.
The summation of Jesus’s entire life as defense attorney rather than prosecuting attorney is his final words on the cross. The cross demonstrates two profound realities: the depth of destruction caused by unloving behavior, and the even greater depth of love in God’s response. Jesus compassionately bestows his Father’s forgiveness on his unrepentant murderers with the words of a defense attorney: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing,” (Luke 23:34).