Some say the holiness of the Christian God is severe.
God is regarded as being too remote, too perfect (or, as some accuse, not perfect enough), too much separated from humanity to be of any good to us. Some say, that God can’t be very holy because He is violent. “Look at the Old Testament!”, they cry.
Indeed, there are some very graphic scenes of God’s holy judgments against wickedness . For example,
* God’s wiping out the entire world with a global flood (save Noah and his family and a percentage of all life) in Genesis ,
* God’s judgments against entire nations (Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites in Deut. 20:16-17 and the Amalekites in 1 Samuel 15:2-3) demanded that they be “wiped out”, a seeming genocide.
When we consider what the ancient world and the Canaanites were guilty of (e.g., violence, abuse, murder- Genesis 6:11-13, burning children alive in the flames of their gods – Leviticus 18), however, we may have a different feeling.
Suffering is Personal
This is deeply personal. While the ancient world lies buried in the mists of time, and the Canaanites are hardly conceivable or seemingly relevant to the modern mind, the ravages and trauma of dementia for my late mother are fresh in my very recent memory. Death, especially prolonged death, is not normal in light of the eternal life God planned for us. We feel this is true, whether we believe in God as real or not. We see evil and we want to rail at someone to come make it right! We are angry when we see abuse and the aftermath of trauma, and rightfully so!
I have lost much in this life and I feel the loss grievously. We all are forced to let go of deeply valuable hopes, expectations and people in this life. COVID taught us that suffering knows no partiality to gender, geography, race, culture, or religious affiliation. My old pastor (his family were refugees from Armenia) had a well-used motto:
“It rains on the just as well as the unjust” (from Matthew 5:35).
I, too, know the trauma of such paralyzing helplessness in the face of senseless and horrific tragedy, and of recurring “reverberations” from trigger events. I, too, have had to receive Job’s same counsel for asking the agonizing “Why?!!” questions (Job 38-42). We say, “I would rather bad would happen to me than for it to happen to those I love” with bravado, but that would not make it any less answerable. I can attest to it.
The finality of tragedy is stunning. We are left to deal with life “as is” and there is no return, no replays or resets, no waking up from the dream to a life with no anguish. That is the human condition we are in since Adam and Eve’s fall. We sin, and then we suffer—if not from our own sin, we suffer from the sin of others around and upon us. Take a look at the headlines: we suffer.
A Lesson from Old Testament Retributions
When we consider that God created all things “good” (Genesis 1-2), we can see that “good” is the desire of God for His creation. It angers Him, too, when that “good” is corrupted (Gen 3-6). On my own, I am powerless against evil. But God’s anger over evil tells us something of the righteousness of God that He is willing to eradicate anything that destroys this “good” —for us.
“The standard process” for invading a wicked nation or culture and instituting God’s righteous “seed” was set in Deuteronomy 20:10: “When you draw near to a city to fight against it, offer terms of peace to it.” This gives us an idea of the mercy of God, even to the wicked nations. However, and this is cautionary to all of us, there comes a time when wickedness reaches such a height that negotiation with God is no longer possible. The ancient world, and then these wicked kingdoms hit this level. This is sobering for each one of us! God does act against evil!
Even still, there were boundaries: geographical and ethical. Israel was limited to only that which God directed. Israel acted only as God’s servant by His explicit command, and not on their own (mood, whim).
And we must remember that the Flood of Noah’s day was remembered by all of Noah’s descendants: all of the Canaanites of Abraham and Joshua’s day were Noah’s descendants, too. They should have taken seriously the judgments of God, for they were not secret. They were warned. [i]
From Ancient to Modern Times
And there are boundaries in our modern life’s tragedies, too, if we are honest enough to see them. During the years of my mother’s dementia, through the personality changes, the confusion, the fear (hers and mine), was a woman who still loved, still had the presence of mind (or a conditioned heart) to think of others before herself. Radiant aspects of my mother’s personality came through the heart-gripping haze with shining clarity. I see in my memory the sense of lostness in her eyes even still, and then I remember the grace of her knowing warm embrace. Suffering, but seasoned with solace. And as I rail at the senselessness of her sudden and seemingly preventable death, I also saw the boundaries of God in that she didn’t suffer the effects we had most feared. And it is appointed to all mankind to die once (Hebrews 9:27). Death is reprehensible and ugly; and yet her spirit was at peace under Christ. Beauty for all the ashes.
This is not about positive thinking. It is about realizing that when we look at evil—we are staring evil square in the face with current world events—we can only see the parts that are terrifyingly visible. We cannot see the full extent of the evil that is possible and is yet restrained. We cannot see the victory that our Lord has already achieved for us in the heavenly places. It staggers the mind to consider the alternative! What we see is horrifying enough! We do not see the restraints that God is placing on evil, because of our suffering. But we can see through the lens of scripture what is the truth we cannot see.
Not only is evil restricted, but just as the ancient world was warned, we too are warned that God does act against evil and it is humbling to see, even when it is against our enemies. God has acted in the past (we can read the scriptures and our history books), and has warned us through many, many events in our day that He is a just God and will punish evil in His Sovereign timing. But we only want the unpleasantries abolished. We don’t really see ourselves as the source of the evil around us. Therefore, we don’t take heed to His fatherly caution. If we saw ourselves as responsible, we might take these warnings more to heart and change our ways and pray for God’s mercy rather than only His “justice”.
Evil happens to those who committed no direct wrong, as well as to those who “deserve” their punishment (so we say it). And yet, according to scripture, we have all sinned and come short of God’s will for us to worship Him and heed His instructions for life and his warnings against death. In my grief, there were horrifying memories for which I was not responsible, and my brain knew it. I’ve lived long enough to recognize false guilt from true guilt and they feel the same. But I was relieved to finally come to the conclusion that it was my nature of sin that caused this world to contain the devastations of dementia. Oddly enough, I was able to take the responsibility my heart and mind had placed on myself. It felt right, because it was true. And there was a cure for that true guilt. But I get ahead of myself!
My point is that it is easier to blame God than it is to see the sin inside our own hearts and our own decrepit and unreliable (now broken) reasoning. And yet, God in His love has limited the evil around us, and is constantly warning us of the timeline for the existence of evil.
Here is a dichotomy: If God is good, then of course He would eradicate evil; if God is holy, then that holiness demands that He would be good.
How could holiness include debauchery, cheating, lying, stealing, murdering, raping, child abuse, sexual abuse, slavery, racism, fraud, extortion, torture, euthanasia of the elderly and the handicapped, abortion, hatred, gossip and slander, arrogance, and greed, just to name a few of our human ills? Yet there must be a goal in the eradication, and that would be to provide for us a way to reconcile with God and to restore that which is good; to redeem that which was of value to God by paying the price to win us back.
Join us tomorrow for this good news (post already scheduled for publishing).
God’s Promise of Reconciliation, Restoration and Redemption
The good news is that God has done and is doing this very thing through the promise and coming of a Redeemer.
As far back in the story of mankind as we can go, God promised Adam and Eve (and the present, cursed serpent) that He would send a deliverer from the seed (DNA) of woman (Genesis 3). This deliverer, though mortally wounded by the serpent of evil, would yet crush the head of the serpent (the seat of all evil) (v15).
All through the Old Testament, God developed His people to be the priests of this earth, revealing Himself through His dealings with them and through the Law of God. The Old Testament is a record of the people of God waiting for the coming Messiah. This Messiah would deliver not only them but all mankind from the curse of sin and death. He would restore all mankind to a right relationship of fellowship with Himself. God’s plan for restoration is good.
Waiting for the Messiah
The books of the Old Testament teach us what life was like as God’s people wrestled with their faith in the midst of the waiting for this Messiah. Did they still believe? Or did they grow casually uncommitted to the Promise, thinking that since He hadn’t come yet, that He would never come?
The Book of Psalms, with all its songs of laments as well as its songs of deliverance and rejoicing, is full of the anticipation of the Ambassador of the Holy One. The books of the prophets foretold His coming. In every book of the Old Testament, symbolisms and real life stories capture the teaching of who God is (holy) and who the Messiah will be (our Redeemer).
A Promise Fulfilled
The New Testament Gospels (the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in the Bible) each tell the glorious story of the birth, life, death, resurrection and bodily appearing, and ascendancy of Jesus Christ to sit at the right hand of God. Most people know from casually hearing about Jesus that he was a historic peron (i.e., he really lived), and that he is the foundation of the “religion” of Christianity, that he was a good man, teacher, prophet. Most people have no problem with Jesus as a historic person. In fact, people will defend Jesus even as they deride the body of his believers. Jesus was good. We can pretty much agree on that. He was out to help the poor and the oppressed, and that sounds good. He nailed the fakers, and that is also good. He is purported to die for a good cause, and that is good. We’re okay with Jesus.
It sounds like we have ideas about a God who is austere, remote and punishing contrasted with a Messiah who would be merciful, powerful, and loving: two distinct and ununited personalities. We seem to want to love the Messiah as a “good man”, but we are afraid of God and hold Him distant. We accuse God, deny the power and authority of the Law of God, in favor of a milquetoast idea of the love of Christ in dying for our sins to perhaps “get around” God’s holy Law that warned of death for sin.
But we have forgotten something about God.
The True Character of God
“For GOD so loved the world that HE gave His only Son, that whosoever believeth on Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life. 17For GOD sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved.” (John 3:16-17)
Who sent this Messiah? God did.
Why did God promise and then indeed send the Messiah? That we should not die (for sin) but that we should have eternal LIFE; that we should be saved from sin’s curse. Specifically, God did not send the Messiah to condemn, but to save.
Who is this Messiah? God’s only Son.[ii]
Who are saved? Those who believe in His Son (His sacrificial, atoning death and necessary resurrection).
Behind Jesus is the Father to whom Jesus was obedient to the death. It was God Who designed our rescue. Even from the very conception of our sin, God had already provided a way of escape.
Could it be that God’s holy goodness brought us near through the willing sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ, and then left the decision to accept His way of escape to us?
God lays out the facts: we are not holy, but sinful. We can no longer approach God in His holiness. God provided our way of escape and of rescue, a way for us to draw near to Him by His drawing near to us while we were yet sinners and under the penalty of death.
But there is more…so much more!
Join me again tomorrow to hear more about God’s goodness and His Good News.
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[ii] The term “only” or “only begotten” does not anywhere imply that God had daughters. Further, the term “begotten” means that God did not “make” or “create” Jesus as He did create Adam out of the dust of the earth, but Jesus was of the same essence of God, as my son is of my essence and an adopted child is not. God, through the Holy Spirit, is the Father of Christ. Jesus is also of the same essence as the “seed” of Eve (Mary, see Genesis 3), being both God and Man. Adam was made of the dust of the earth and formed in the image or likeness of God, not by appearance but by his unique personhood. For a further overview of the “Origin of Man”, see John Murray’s Collected Writings of John Murray, Volume 2: Systematic Theology (Banner of Truth Publishing).
[iii] See the accounts of the Baptism of Jesus: Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; and Luke 3:21-22.
[iv] Acts 10:36; 2 Timothy 4:1-2; 1 Peter 4:5; 1 Thessalonians 4:16; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Ecclesiastes 12:14
[v] 1 John 3:8; Romans 16:20; Revelation 12:9; Revelation 19:11-21; Revelation 20:10; Genesis 3:15;
[vi] Revelation 21
[vii] Ephesians 2:10; Jeremiah 29:11; Zechariah 3:7;
[viii] Psalm 46:1-3
[ix] 2 Corinthians 5:17; John 10:10;
[x] Matthew 16:24-25
[xi] Matthew 5:10-12; Luke 12:4-7; Acts 14:22 (see also Acts 5:41 and Acts 8:1-4, joyous spread of the gospel in the face of persecution)
[xii] Psalm 138:7; Deuteronomy 31:8; Joshua 1:9; Isaiah 41:10; Psalm 119:133;
[xiii] Romans 8:34; 1 John 2:1; Hebrews 7:25
[xiv] This is my paraphrase of James 4:4-10; 1 John 4:4; Revelation 21:4; Joshua 24:15. (See also the short book of Hosea for a Biblical illustration of the extent of God’s holy love for us.)
[xv] Paul is referencing a quote in Isaiah 49:8