Good Cop / Bad Cop
by Pastor George Van Alstine

This is a technique that apparently helps get key information out of people who are being investigated for crimes. The way it works is that the suspect is first questioned one-on-one by the “Bad Cop,” who comes across as tough, loud, harsh and accusatory. At a key moment, this first questioner abruptly leaves and allows the suspect to sweat and worry all alone. After a few minutes, the “Good Cop” enters, relaxed and smiling. He offers the suspect a cigarette or a cup of coffee. He may begin the conversation by talking about family, hobbies, baseball. When he asks about the case, it’s with sympathy and understanding of extenuating circumstances. Just when the suspect has calmed down and become comfortable, the “Good Cop” leaves and the “Bad Cop” re-enters, immediately resuming his overbearing, browbeating attack. After a few minutes of squirming, the “Good Cop” is back again with another cigarette. In theory, this alternating interrogation goes on until the suspect cracks and admits something important.

Sometimes it seems that the Bible’s picture of God shows him as the “Good Cop,” but at other times he comes across as the “Bad Cop.” He is presented as absolutely righteous and uncompromisingly holy, which means that we sinful humans cringe under his judgment and wrath — the “Bad Cop.” But he is also the all-merciful one, compassionately seeking his lost sheep, anxious to forgive our sins and restore fellowship with us — the “Good Cop.” God, the “Bad Cop,” scares and intimidates us. God, the “Good Cop,” draws us to his loving arms. In his dealings with us, how can God be true to the “Bad Cop” side of who he is (perfectly righteous and holy) and, at the same time, be true to the “Good Cop” side of his nature (forgiving, loving, embracing)?

Our first emphasis at ABC, during our Lent time of preparation, is on confession. Here is a Bible verse about confession that demonstrates both aspects of the kind of relationship God has with us:

“If we confess our sins, he who is FAITHFUL and JUST will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

FAITHFUL — He has committed himself to his people, and he
will never let them go.

JUST — At the same time, he stays true to his absolute
standard of perfect righteousness.

In the act of forgiving our sins, God is being both the “Bad Cop” and the “Good Cop” at the same time.

The mystery of how God does this comes to us through an understanding of what Jesus Christ did in his crucifixion and resurrection. Paul put it this way in his Letter to the Romans, where he explained how God could be just and still be justifier of sinners. The reason is the Cross. Here’s the passage:

“The righteousness of God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. . . All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, but they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. . . . This was to prove how he could be both just and justifier of those who have faith in Jesus.” (Romans 3:22-26, edited for emphasis)

Just and justifier, “Good Cop” and Bad Cop,” Righteous Judge and Gracious Savior — this is our God!