I am sure that the reason I have a deep hunger to learn of the holiness of God is precisely because I am not holy . . . . I have had just enough of a taste of the majesty of God to want more.
— R. C. Sproul, The Holiness of God
When I hit the bottom of my spiritual fall back in October or so, I decided to start over–metaphorically and literally. The literal portion of my renewed quest for spiritual fullness began with reading the Bible through from cover to cover. It’s been many years since I started in Genesis and went straight through to Revelation, so although I knew the basic stories of the Old Testament, I read them again with a more experienced eye.
It’s not easy to understand the nature of an omnipotent, omniscient, transcendent Being. The questions of God’s infinite existence alone give even the most educated and brilliant scholars pause. But to me, one of the most troubling aspects of God’s character is revealed to us in the Old Testament. I am ashamed to admit that only now, after all these years of calling myself a Christian, did I find myself deeply troubled by some of the passages where God commanded the slaughter of entire people groups. Why am I ashamed to admit it? I think being troubled by those passages is a good thing. I worry about the old me who was not troubled by such things.
I started to think that perhaps I would have a better understanding of God’s wrath if I better understood God’s holiness, which led me to Sproul’s book. I think, in the past, I always just cheered Israel on because the nation is the “hero” of the Old Testament. Besides, who doesn’t love an underdog–especially an underdog wearing God’s seal of approval? It’s not that I didn’t understand what was happening–I did. I suppose I just never really thought about what it meant. These are names of ancient peoples; their individuality is absorbed into nationality. I never considered that these were children ripped from mothers’ arms, wives slaughtered before husbands’ eyes, parents and grandparents bleeding in front of children who lived only moments before being put to the sword.
Age brings maturity, I hope. I look at these stories in light of 22 children dead in Connecticut, in light of 800,000 dead in Rwanda, in light of millions and millions dead under Josef Stalin, and I think it’s a sane person who asks, “what kind of moral monster would order the wholesale destruction of an entire people?”
I think that part of the reason we have such a hard time grasping a God who could order this kind of destruction is because we are taught from the crib that God is good. And this is true–God is good. But we don’t understand what real “goodness” is. God is All Good. God is Perfect Good. And because He is Perfectly and Completely Good, He couldn’t not order the destruction of the Canaanites.
God is not Hitler. He is not Stalin. He is God. He is the Almighty Creator of the Universe, the Giver and Taker of Life. And He is holy. Only in light of God’s holiness can we even begin to understand His wrath and the justification for His orders.
In my complacency of the last many years, I have lost my awe. As a child of the 80s, I use the word “awesome” as punctuation. Child #3 regularly reminds me that he is “the awesome.” My own husband says that “awesome” is carried in his family’s genes. We joke and tease, but our liberal use of the word has made it commonplace. We forget that it is related to the word “awful.” And I had forgotten that God is both awesome and awful, that approaching the throne of the Living and Active Creator and Word should never be done without a healthy dose of humility and respect.
I still do not fully understand God’s holiness or His wrath, but one thing I do understand better: I had better approach the Throne of Grace on quaking knees. I had better understand that it is only grace and mercy that allow me to approach at all. This is GOD we’re talking about.
And forgive me, my Evangelical American friends, but we must admit that we bear some of the blame for taking the awe out of our representation of God. We are so very eager to sell our brand of fire insurance that we speak as if God were just an old college roommate. I recall walking into a church classroom several years ago and seeing the words “Jesus is my homeboy” written on the whiteboard. Perhaps I’m old-fashioned, but I fear the day when we only understand Jesus as a “homeboy.” He will then become in our presentation nothing more than a Buddha or Confucius–a “good moral teacher,” a buddy, but not the Son of God.
Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason wrote a fantastic piece about the destruction of the Canaanites this month, and I encourage you to read it. As Koukl points out, the level of debauchery and idolatry (which included brutal forms of child sacrifice) present among the Canaanites demanded God’s judgment–and in fact, God said that He had been patient for some time before He ordered their destruction. He waited for the sin of the Canaanites to reach its full measure. Koukl says:
. . . [W]hat would we say of a God who perpetually sat silent in the face of such wickedness? Would we not ask, Where was God? Would we not question His goodness, His power, or even His existence if He did not eventually vanquish this evil? Yet when God finally does act, we are quick to find fault with the “vindictive, bloodthirsty, ethnic cleanser.”
This weekend, we remember the 40th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade. Since 1973, over 55 million babies have been legally put to death. How is our country any different than the land of Canaan? How is our level of child sacrifice any better? I submit it is worse. Canaanite children may have been sacrificed out of some primitive belief that doing so would bring the favor of the gods. We sacrifice our children on the altar of choice, convenience, and privacy.
I fear the day when our sin is brought to fruition. I fear the day when God says, “enough. I have given them enough time, enough chances. I have been merciful long enough.” I pray that our country will turn from this path of destruction and repent, but I fear that we will not. And as I understand the holy God I serve, the One who operates from Perfect Goodness, I know that He cannot endure our sin forever. He has long been merciful. I fear the day when His mercy is exhausted.
It is on quaking knees I approach the Throne of Grace this weekend. It is with trembling lips that I admit my own sins–the sins of silence and complacency. I offer my Creator shaking hands and a prostrate heart and tell him, “Here am I–send me!”
Till next we meet . . .