In 10 BC, Ovid wrote, “The result justifies the deed.” This phrase, which we now render as, “the end justifies the means,” is the core of the philosophical and moral school of thought called consequentialism. In other words, the success of any venture is determined by the destination, not by the route. Keep that in the back of your head for a moment.
On July 1, 1916, British and French forces began an offensive in northern France at the Somme River. The plan, conceived by General Douglas Haig, was that the offensive would serve to draw German troops away from the Battle of Verdun, in the hopes that the French could gain the upper hand there. The Allied Forces of England and France lost about 63,000 men in the first day, earning Haig the nickname, “The Butcher of the Somme.”
The Battle of the Somme lasted until November 18 of 1916, with combined total of 1.5 million casualties on both sides. Neither side could claim any real victory, with the British forces only advancing about two miles at the cost of 420,000 men, roughly two men per centimeter. The only real positive outcome of the battle was the devastation of the German army, leading to its defeat two later.
It begs the question, “Did the result justify the deed?”
I think that the process is just as important as the outcome it produces. I think it matters how you got there, not just where you end up. I think that if I want to finish well, I have to travel well.
When it comes to grace, the process mattered just as much as the outcome. Some of the greatest objections to Christianity come from questions like, “Why doesn’t God just forgive us all and call it good?” “Why did Jesus have to die?” “If God loves us, then why does He punish us?” While these questions are valid, they come from a position of consequentialism. “Why not do whatever it takes to accomplish the end?”
So what is the end? What is the point? I think that the whole point of God’s plan is reconciliation, the restoration of the Garden Reality, where the Divine and Humanity exist in unhindered relationship. Look at the text of Revelation 21.3 (ESV), “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.’” God’s goal is to bring us back to Him.
The process is the ugly part. How can sinful man find restored unity with a Holy God? If sin is a violation of life that can only be amended by death, how can I die and still have life with Him? The answer, to our shame and His credit, is a redemptive death. Redemption is the means, reconciliation the ends. Redemption is the “how,” reconciliation and relationship, the “what.”
God knew that the process had to be right in order for the outcome to be valid. If He just lets us off the hook, simply waving off our sin and disobedience, and cleans up our mess, how is that good? Our debt is just shuffled around, but never paid off. We face an Accuser, who seeks to render our eternal hope useless. God accounts Christ’s death as the punishment suffered in our stead, but suffered nonetheless. As Bonhoeffer writes, “Grace may be free, but it is not cheap.” With a compassion and love I cannot pretend to fathom, God looks at our situation and decides it’s worth it. The process strengthens and authenticates the outcome. Jesus’ suffering was not arbitrary or meaningless. Christ’s death and resurrection fulfilled every nuance of our broken contract with God, and we can access the terms of the contract in our favor.
We often refer to the “redemptive plan of God,” or the “redemption story.” In theological circles the events of the process are collectively referred to as “redemptive history.” But I think it is the Reconciliation Plan of God, the reconciliation story, and reconciliation history. The results and the process go hand in hand, in perfect alignment, with the means justifying the end, and both revealing the character of the Divine.