Thursday, December 2, 2010

Holiness of God VI (Far be it from You)

If the premise of chapter one - that we must understand Holiness if we are to understand God and Christianity - is correct then this chapter dives head first into the deep end to deal with why that is so by dealing with a difficult question. How do we deal with some of God's actions in the Bible and still declare Him as Good or Holy?
Whoever reads the Old Testament must struggle with the apparent brutality of God's judgment found there. For many people this is as far as they read. They stumble over the violent passages we call the "hard sayings." Some people see these sayings as sufficient reason to reject Christianity out of hand. ... In this chapter I want to stare the Old Testament God right in the eye. I want to look at the most difficult, most offensive passages we can find in the Old Testament and see if we can make any sense of them.
Sproul analyzes several examples that many would consider harsh and unjust actions of God. These include:
  1. Nadab and Abihu, Aaron's sons who are destroyed for offering "strange fire" in the tabernacle (Lev 10; Ex 30:9-10).
  2. Uzzah who is killed for touching the ark preventing it from falling off an ox cart (1 Chron 13; Num 4:4,15,17-20).
  3. The conquest of Canaan and the slaughter of men, women, and children (Deut 7:1-6, 9:4-6).
  4. The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 18:20-33)
  5. The people killed in a collapsing tower (Luke 13:1-5)
As we examine these events we like Abraham before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah question God and ask "will the righteous be swept away with the wicked?" Like Abraham we must conclude - "far be it from You" because
[t]he justice of God is always and ever an expression of His holy character. ... What God does is always consistent with who God is.
The problem as Sproul points out is:
[t]here is a reason why we are offended, indeed angered, ...[w]e find these things difficult to stomach because we do not understand four vitally important biblical concepts: holiness, justice, sin, and grace
Sproul reminds us that all sin against God is a capital offense and only the grace of God prevents the deserved sentence from being carried out immediately. So when we question why God would allow the righteous to be judged with the wicked we are coming at it from the wrong point of view. There are no righteous people. We are all sinners deserving death. However because God is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin (Ex 34:6-7) we have lost sight of holiness and think we are entitled to  grace.
God's usual course of action is one of grace. Grace no longer amazes us. We have grown used to it; we take it for granted.
We have come to expect God to be merciful. From there the next step is easy: We demand it. When it is not forthcoming, our first response is anger against God, coupled with the protest: "It isn't fair." We soon forget that with our first sin we have forfeited all rights to the gift of life. That I am drawing breath this morning is an act of divine mercy. God owes me nothing. I owe Him everything.
Justice is what we deserve and Sproul rightly reminds us "don't ever ask God for justice-you might get it." Rather than assume we deserve God's grace and will always benefit from it we must instead remember that God's delaying justice is to allow us time to repent, trust in Christ for salvation, and live worthy of our calling (Rom 2:3-5; 2 Pet 3:9,14-15).

I echo the many who said that if only one chapter (at least out of the first six) was to be read, this one should be the one. Click here for other thoughts.

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