Holiness and the Justice of God

The Bible tells us that all men are impure and sinful (Romans 3:23). Much earlier in the Bible, not long after Adam and Eve sinned, we find that one of their sons killed the other, when Cain killed Abel (Genesis 4:8). Then we are told in Genesis 6:5 “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”

By contrast, God is holy. One passage is very telling:

      In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3 And they were calling to one another:

“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”

4 At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.
5 “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.”

Here we have an interesting situation. Isaiah gets a glimpse of what appears to be the throne room of God, with angels singing of God’s holiness, an an impressive sight of God. The surprising thing is that upon seeing such majesty, Isaiah does not do what we would think, which is comment on the glory of God and His throne. Rather, the first thing Isaiah speaks of is his own dirty mouth. We know he feels bad, not good, when he speaks of being ruined. Why would a man, upon seeing God, first think of his own curse words?

A few somewhat similar situations happen in the New Testament when people realize Jesus is God. In Luke 5, Jesus causes some fishermen to have a gigantic catch of fish. Peter, one of the fishermen, immediately replies with “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” (Luke 5:8). Again, we have a curious response. We have a fisherman, who we would normally be expecting to want Jesus around, especially if He can increase the fishing business. Yet instead of focusing on the fish or the money that he would make, immediately realizes he is a sinner and asks Jesus to leave. Why?

Before they had the experience mentioned here, both Isaiah and Peter knew about God and had studied spiritual things. They likely knew the definition of holiness and sin, and had been taught the theology that went along with it. But when they come face-to-face with God, they suddenly realized the vast difference between themselves in their sin, and the holiness of God. The realization made them uncomfortable.

As long as Peter and Isaiah were looking at the people around them, and comparing themselves to the other people in their towns, they were comfortable, for they could convince themselves their sin was not so bad. But as soon as they came face-to-face with purity, they suddenly realized how impure they were. When they saw what clean was, they suddenly realized how dirty they were.

The same is true for all of us. As long as we compare ourselves to ourselves, we can convince ourselves that we are not so bad, at least not as bad as the fellow down the street. But the truth is that we are all dirty, and all need a bath. Later in his book, Isaiah says:

All of us have become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” (Is. 64:6).

As long as we compare ourselves to each other, we can convince ourselves that we’re not so dirty, and it’s really the other guy who needs a bath. But when we truly see how holy God is, we suddenly know how dirty we are.

The same is true for God’s justice. We think that maybe Hitler deserves some sort of punishment, and certainly the rapist, but my own little discretions do not call for much punishment at all. But when we realize that we have all done horrible things– such as ignoring a holy God — we realize that we are all deserving of God’s punishment.

I recently heard a speaker put it this way. Assume you are happily married, but your spouse dresses up and starts to head out the door. You ask ‘where are you going?’ but they say “none of your business” and proceed to stay out all night. Returning the next morning rather disheveled, you again ask where they have been. The response is “If I wanted you to know I’d tell you.” Why, you would have every right to be be upset and demand an answer. After a few years of this, you would at least demand a separation.

We have all treated God badly, even worse. God is patient, but will eventually demand a separation. In God’s terms, this is Hell, which is a separation from God, away from His good graces, a place where we can have what we want, to be left alone.

So we all deserve separation from God. But what if God were to select some, clean them up, and give them another chance? If He takes some of the filthy rags and cleans it up, He is not bound to take all the filthy rags.

So is part of the answer with God’s actions with the Canaanites. If God acted the way He does in the rest of the Bible, then we can conclude that He likely gave them plenty of notices about what He expected, and plenty of chances to change. The Canaanites refused, so He ordered all of them separated from Him into Hell.

Meanwhile, we sit around and compare one of them with the other and with ourselves, and say some of them are not so bad, for it seems to us that they did not do much wrong. We feel this way because we are comparing the Canaanites to ourselves, comparing one filthy rag with another. But if we, or the Canaanites, were to realize how holy God is, we would all, along with Isaiah and Peter, beg God to cast us away, for we are all deserving of separation. Only by God’s infinite mercy do any of us have a chance to change our ways.

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About humblesmith

Christian Apologist & Philosopher
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14 Responses to Holiness and the Justice of God

  1. Pingback: God Made Us This Way — It’s Only Reasonable He’d Be Angry About It | Finding Truth

  2. Howie says:

    Is the separation from God painful in any way after one dies, or is it simply unconsciousness exactly like we feel before we are born? If it is painful in some way, I have a difficult time understanding why this is the case. Does God stop loving those people and need to take vengeance against those people? Or does he still love them but is just not powerful enough to be able to annihilate them instead of allowing them to be in pain for eternity?

    • humblesmith says:

      I have made several posts on Hell, explaining aspects of it, including a six-part series and several others. From the main page, just put “hell” in the search bar and you’ll find a great deal.

      God loves us enough to respect our decisions and not force us. Think of it this way: some people cannot stand the idea of spending one hour a week in church….what kind of a God would force people to go to church 24 hours a day, everlastingly, even though they hated it? That would be what heaven would be like for those who do not love God. So God does not stop loving people, but allows them to go away from Him if they like. Since God is goodness, being away from Him is away from all goodness.

      Annihilation would be violating the image of God which is in all men. The pain of Hell is great, but people prefer it to what they hate even greater, which is being near God.

  3. portal001 says:

    I don’t think I would personally hate being near God. I might be terrified or overwhelmed with His Holiness in contrast to my sinfulness, but I don’t think hate woulod come into it.

    I actually don’t think most people would hate being near God, they may not feel worthy and thereby try to avoid God, or they may be doing things that they feel do not honour God. People may not want to be near him when doing those things, but I don’t think many people would hate being near God, although I might be wrong.

  4. portal001 says:

    its understandable people would want to flee and hide from an all powerful being on a mission to destroy them. But why does it have to be this way, would people be hiding and fleeing is an all powerful being came down and step by step reasoned with them and loved them. And yes I know Jesus loved and loves them, but why is the horrible wrath really even necessary if not to just terrify people into believing?

  5. portal001 says:

    its understandable people would want to flee and hide from an all powerful being on a mission to destroy them. But why does it have to be this way, would people be hiding and fleeing is an all powerful being came down and step by step reasoned with them and loved them. And yes I know Jesus loved and loves them, but why is the horrible wrath really even necessary if not to just terrify people into believing? Not necessarily for believing then, for by then it might be too late to repent, but to believe now.

  6. portal001 says:

    Do you really, truly think that if God directly reasoned and personally befriended every one of those He made in His image, treating them with the love of a friend and comforter, that those people would want to flee or hide from Him?

    Do you really think that people would ever hate God if He made it known to them that He is walking with them because He loves them? But not walking with them in a poetic, silent way, but walking with them as a friend walks with them?

    Do you really think people would hate and hide from a god who lovingly reasoned on a daily baisis, like a parent? Who showed concern? who did not seem indifferent to action?

    And finally, I dont undertsand why someone would put so much effort into getting his creation to believe in him and love him and then seem to show such indifference to whether people respond or not, only to terrify them all of a sudden and seperate them?

    • humblesmith says:

      Adam and Eve had direct relationship with God, yet rejected His desires, and ran and hid. Israel on Sinai saw great wonders of God, yet repeatedly doubted, complained, and worshipped idols. The passages I quoted, Isaiah and Peter, had them being so uncomfortable that Peter asked Jesus to leave.

      We do not understand holiness. We think it is the same as our own sense of goodness.

  7. portal001 says:

    Keep in mind though, if a god isin’t true then it doesn’t really matter what a book says regarding his future actions or attributes, no matter how consistantly people defend the book.

    The questions that I think really matter are why can’t God just be there so openly and obvsiously, like his creation is there for one another?

    If God works through people, then why can’t he also come in and reason and talk to us personally and make Himself known to us all the time? since he loves us and doesn’t want us to perish?

    Why do people need to defend God and his actions? why does God need apologetics?

    • humblesmith says:

      God doesn’t “need” anything for himself. But your question assumes that if people knew the right things, they will do it. But all of us have done things we knew to be wrong.

      Also people seem to want the freedom to act the way they want and not be told what to do, but also want God to stop all evil acts, and want God to appear and give the demonstration of himself that I want to see, but also go away and not force himself on us. All these things are contradictory and cannot all happen together.

      In short, we want God on a string to do what we want.

      If you search the scriptures you’ll see god doing most all the things you ask for at one time or another. Yet we still reject him and question him.

      • portal001 says:

        No. I just want God to spend time with me, to pop over uninvited just to say hello and remind me who I should be showing love to today.

        I want god to not terrify people with a book, but sit down and patiently comfort those confused people who misunderstand him by explaining clearly what he means, without prose and vague poetry. I want god to come in and give all orphans and widows a big warm hug, and say to them that its gonna be ok, because he’s got this :) I want god to remind me that its ok that I stuff up sometimes, that he just wants me to do better.

        I want god to maybe even have his own tv show, so then he can patiently minister to people clearly and concisely. and because hes ever present, maybe he can pop over after to everyone’s house for a cup of tea :) that would be awesome. Im sure i wouldn’t make the tea good enough, but I want god to still accept it anyway, and show me how to make a better one for others next time :)

        All that fear, all that death, all that division, all that misunderstanding and secret agents deceiving people, invisible demons, possession, torment, great , blood, pain. Scaring children, dividing families, bringing famines, bringing disease, fire, and terror. why? To prove hes holy?

        I don’t know why god can’t just give everyone hurting and all alone a really big, big hug. and whisper to them that they are ok, they are safe, because he loves them. A hug from God would be amazing I would think :) and He can do it. He is God.

        This might all sound a bit naive, but I think it sounds lovely, and I’m not ashamed of that.

        If this sounds like a fairytale, well, I don’t mind,

        .I just want God to spend time with all the lonely kids, and adults. there is so much stuff going on in the world, god needs to be there for them. well, he doesn’t need to be there, he is after all god :) but it would be nice anyway. Id appreciate it. and then I would have the privlige to see his holiness :) that would be so awesome.

  8. portal001 says:

    Or to reverse the question,

    Why do people need apologetics if they are in a relationship with God?

    Why do people need other people to tell them why they should do or think a certain way?

    Why doesn’t God reason with us Himself?

    Then there would be no risk of miscommunication

  9. Pingback: How Do We Explain Animal Death? | Thomistic Bent

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