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Often when we think about God, we commonly associate him with paternal or comrade attributes, i.e. a Father or friend, but rarely do we view him as a judge. Packer rightly puts it, saying;
Speak to [people] of God as a Father, a friend, a helper , one who loves us despite all our weakness and sin and their faces light up. But speak to them of God as Judge and they frown and shake their heads. They find it repellent and unworthy.J.I Packer
In a cultural climate that is becoming more acquainted with self-love and extending grace to ourselves, why doesn’t God let bygones be bygones? Why can’t he just overlook our wrongdoings and just forgive us with no strings attached?
Holy by nature
To understand why God does what he does, we must first reckon with who he is. Knowing God’s character provides us with the roadmap in discovering the answers as to his will and thus his actions. One thing is clear about God. He is holy. Holiness speaks to the deepest and innermost nature of God, as it points not only to his transcendence (the fact that he unique, other and separate from the creation he has made) i.e. omniscient, omnipotent etc, but to the fact that his moral purity is consummate. That means that the nature of God’s righteousness is so utterly perfect that he is the standard of moral perfection and goodness against which all actions are measured by.
This holy character is so exclusive to God himself that it must separate from all things that are unholy. In Leviticus we see this separation physically; the Most Holy Place where God resides being off-limits to all people except the Hight Priest, who had to be consecrated (made holy for God’s purposes) and anointed before being able to work in such close proximity to God. Moses is warned by God to not come near the burning bush which was engulfed by God’s holy presence. The running theme is that God being perfectly holy, is dangerous to anyone that is morally imperfect.
Among those who approach me I will show myself holy; in the sight of all people I will be honouredLeviticus 10:3
His holiness must never be breached, compromised or trivialised, this being a matter or life or death. Anything unclean, impure that would trespass God’s holy nature may be consumed in judgement. Judgement maintains the equilibrium so that what is holy is separate from unholy, and clean and pure separate from what is unclean and impure.
God rules with authority
God’s holiness, as previously mentioned, speaks of his all-powerful and majestic nature. This means that God, who is morally perfect, also rules sovereignly, meaning all and authority belongs to him. Ultimately it means he decides what laws we should live by. He also decides how we should be judged if we do not live by them. Rightfully so, being the standard of moral perfection, God’s wisdom of right and wrong, qualifies him to know what is just and fair play, because to know justice is to know himself. Justice flows from the righteous nature of God. We know what is wrong because we compare it with what is right and what is right is perfectly fulfilled in him.
What is fair?
Being made in God’s image – God’s inclination to long for just treatment and fair play resides in us. We rejoice when we see a killer is found guilty in court and we mourn when fellow humans face injustice. The truth is sin (to fall short of what is right), has entered us all. We are all prone to do what is wrong, to committing an error and thus to be culpable. It is God’s task to maintain equilibrium and be consistent with his moral perfection by doing what is just. At the heart of justice which expresses God’s nature is retribution, rendering to people what they deserved. If we do something wrong, we deserved to be punished for it, so that the standard of doing right is maintained. This is the reason why God cannot just forgive us. If we saw a judge let a guilty offender just go free with no punishment, it would anger us. So why should we get away with our wrongdoing?
God must punish our sin, he simply cannot thwart justice by overlooking our deeds. So how can we be forgiven while ensuring that God carries out justice by charging a guilty offence with punishment? Christ is the answer. He substitutes himself in our position. Despite being innocent and sinless he takes on our offences as though they were his and becomes the guilty defendant in our place. God’s wrath and will to carry out justice is satisfied as Jesus bears the full consequences by dying as the bloody sacrificial lamb on the cross. This is called atonement. Now because of Christ, those who believe in Christ and his work on the cross can be forgiven by God because the debt has been paid and judgement for the offence fulfilled. It is only through Christ’s sacrifice of appeasing God’s judgement of sin through the shedding of his blood that forgiveness can truly take place.