Hey, Father! Did Jesus really have to die on the cross to redeem us?
Why does the Church teach that Jesus died on the cross to redeem us from our sins when Second Isaiah states that God blots out our transgressions for his own sake and will not remember our sins?
– Art in Effingham
Many passages in the Old Testament (and even the New Testament) can have layered meanings; specifically, there can be an immediate fulfillment of the promise but also a greater completion that happens in the future. Even as Catholic Christians living in the New Testament, we experience this “already but not yet” reality of Jesus’ redemption. Jesus has already won the victory, but that victory has not yet been fully realized. Jesus has conquered the enemy, but yet we see evil. Basically, we are seeing the enemy and his kingdom lashing back as it is in the process of dying.
Another example would be the Mass. We get to participate in the life of heaven now at every Mass that is celebrated. We worship the Lamb who was slain just like those the Bible describes as in heaven worshiping the Lamb who was slain (see Rev. 5). However, we are not yet fully in heaven in the way that those who have died and are experiencing the beatific vision are in heaven. Jesus himself said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand (see Matt 3:2, 4:17, Mark 1:15).” Jesus performs healings, miracles, and deliverances to bring about the freedom and wholeness of heaven to earth, but this earth has not yet been made into a “new heaven and a new earth” as the book of Revelation describes.
When it comes to God promising to blot the transgressions of his people and not remember their sins, there may be a similar dynamic at work. One, this passage is only truly and completely fulfilled in Jesus. Only through Jesus can we be completely forgiven of our sins. However, when Isaiah wrote that in the Old Testament, there is still a sense the passage could be describing how God is going to show more mercy to his people and relieve them of the punishment of experiencing the consequences of their sins. The Isaiah quote is certainly capturing something true and real, but it is an expression of God’s mercy. God being infinitely all-knowing cannot literally forget something, but the expression of “God forgetting our sins” is an expression of how God does not hold our sins against us and cancels the debt of sin. It is through Jesus’ passion, death, resurrection, and ascension that we have access to his infinite mercy, which is particularly received through the Sacrament of Confession.
In conclusion, the Isaiah passage refers to how God at the time was going to show His people gratuitous mercy and favor and relent in punishment, but ultimately it points to the full forgiveness that happens through Jesus in the New Testament.
Fr. Michael Trummer is parochial vicar at St. Boniface Parish in Edwardsville and associate chaplain at Father McGivney Catholic High School in Glen Carbon