Gen. 18:25--Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?
Deut. 32:4--The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he.
Job 8:3--Does God pervert justice? Or does the Almighty pervert the right?
Yet, the central element of the Penal Substitutionary Theory (PST) of the atonement is that of punishing an innocent person for what the guilty deserves. This is itself an unjust act.
Oliver Crisp, whom I posted about earlier, argues in a recent paper that hell is necessary because God must demonstrate his justice and since he admits that the punishing of Jesus on the cross was not an act of justice, since he did not deserve to be punished, hell must exist as a demonstration of God's justice. He writes:
Were Christ to be the only human person upon whom divine justice was visited, as a vicarious substitute for sinners, this would not have the right connection to desert because Christ does not deserve to be punished – he acts vicariously (and sinlessly)on behalf of sinful human beings deserving of punishment. There has to be some connection between the display of divine justice and the idea that(at least some of) those upon whom divine justice is visited are deserving of punishment ( "Is universalism a problem for particularists?", Scottish Journal of Theology 63(1): 22).
Leaving beside the whole problem of the injustice of infinite punishment for a finite crime, the fact is Crisp fails to acknowledge that to punish someone that doesn't deserve to be punished is a crime in and of itself. It is itself an unjust act.
How could an Evangelical Christian attempt to answer this problem? Well that is essentially what I have examined in all of my posts on various attempts to defend the PST.
Let's look at a couple of possible answers:
1. The death of the innocent Jesus in place of the guilty sinners is an act of grace and not of strict justice.
While it might be grace and mercy on the part of Jesus to voluntarily take the punishment, the fact still remains that for the judge to inflict the punishment is unjust. Can injustice be considered grace? I don't see how. Paul's whole argument in Romans 3:21-26 is that somehow the atonement results in God maintaining his justice while at the same time being able to justify sinners ("that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus," Rom. 3:26).
2. Jesus actually deserved to be punished in a sense because the sins of mankind were imputed to him.
This imputation argument results in a "legal fiction." In other words, Jesus is not really guilty of mankind's sin but God considers or regards him as if he were. But that would be contrary to truth. How can a God of truth, who cannot lie (Tit. 1:2 and Heb. 6:18), operate on the basis of a fiction? Of course some have tried to skate around this problem by saying that while the demerit or fault (reatus culpae) of sin was not imputed, the penal consequences (reatus poenae) of sin were. But as I have shown repeatedly, you cannot have penal consequences without being guilty of the crime. You cannot separate fault and punishment. Fault is the cause and punishment is the effect. Punishment without fault makes no sense and is unjust.
So, if the PST is correct, then the Christian God is not a just God.