One problem in theology especially confuses me. This is not a big surprise. I am not a professional theologian and have no formal seminary training. Yet, theology is a passion for me because I know a little of what God is like, and I know how little of God’s character I reflect. In this post, I will set up the problem and suggest one possible solution.
God is holy. This means He is separate and different from me, primarily in the fact that He is completely without sin or sinful desires. My understanding of God’s holiness comes mainly from reading and studying the life of Jesus.
I can see out into the expanse of Christ’s life by looking through the window provided in the New Testament of the Bible. I have read this collection of 27 books many times.
I have rarely questioned whether these records were true, at first because of the fact that the people I respected held the New Testament to be God’s Word and without error. Later I had the opportunity to explore the evidence for the basic truthfulness of the New Testament documents for myself. I accepted The New Testament as true for my own reasons without depending on the testimony of others. (For a summary of some of that evidence, please see this link.)
The New Testament presents a terrifying picture of what holiness because it shows us the Person of Christ. Christ shows knowledge beyond that expected of a human (John 1:48-49). He heals the sick (Matt. 15:29-31). He stops the wind and the waves (Mark 4:35-41). He raises the dead (John 11:38-44). He teaches the most strict version of morality I have seen, including actions and attitudes of the heart (Matt. 5-7, Mark 7:14-23). He accepts worship (Matt. 16:16-17, Luke 5:8, John 9:38, John 20:28-29). Moreover, and certainly not least, He rose from the dead Himself (1 Cor. 15:1-8). (For scholars' defenses of the resurrection, please see this link.)
Christ claimed to be God (John 8:58, John 10:30). He convinced a group of Jewish monotheists that He was God in the Flesh (Phil. 2:5-11). (For a scholar’s view of reasons to believe Jesus is God, see this link.)
Why is this so scary? He created the world (John 1:1-5) and holds it together (Col. 1:16-17). As my creator, He has the right to tell me what to do, and He requires perfect obedience (Matt. 5:48). He teaches that sin requires an eternal punishment (Mark 9:42-50).
In the words of Phillip Yancey, He is resurrected and “out there running around loose somewhere,” capable of upending all of my plans and dreams at any time. And He has reason to do exactly that in view of my sin.
However, the story does not end there. We see Christ promising to reconcile people to God by taking away their sins (Matt. 20:28, Luke 24:46-49, John 3:10-21, John 14:6-7). We learn of the marvelous chance to take credit for what He has done for us by placing our trust in Him (Luke 18:9-14). We see the picture of God’s action: “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them” by making “[Christ] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor. 5:21).
I am confused about this one thing: How could a God so perfect and holy love me, a professional sinner?
The atonement, what Christ did for us on the cross, is a partial explanation for that love. The idea is that God could love His people because He sees their sin as paid for by Christ's suffering on the cross. He sees them as having Christ’s righteousness credited to their account.
Many within the church obscure this marvelous, incomprehensible love of a holy God. I read books that treat the atonement as a kind of overarching story without explaining any of the particulars. I read and hear sermons that hide God’s holiness, His requirements, and man’s sinfulness under a mountain of practical advice and modern psychological methods. I find Sunday School materials that omit God’s requirements and holy nature while pointing to the example of God’s love, leaving much of God’s character unexpressed. I find intellectuals who bury the simplicity of the gospel under a mountain of technical jargon and obtuse arguments over fine points of archaic “theories” that have often been rejected by the church in most of history.
Only Christianity even begins to explain God’s holiness and God’s love at the same time. Why do we hide our uniqueness under the mundane?
We see a light that blinds us in its intensity and permanently changes the way we see. Why do we hide this light, the very light of the world, under a bushel? Why do we hide the very words that could gain a hearing from the world and the cultures we live in?
God, have mercy on us because of Christ. Grant that we would be overwhelmed with your claims and your actions. Give us a change of heart that overflows into the lives of those around us.