In our global Covid-19 emergency, the suggestion that it could be a ‘judgement of God’ scandalizes the pundits, politicians and population. They can’t see anything worthy of judgement, nor can they imagine that God would have any emotion other than ‘love’. Our own country demands the love of God, and anything else will not be tolerated.
Never mind the debaucheries just celebrated at spring break, the drunkenness and sexual decadence, the rebellious angry entitled spirits around us, and the murder of children in the womb. Never mind the hatred expressed in every ‘comment’ section of news articles, the corruptions obvious in banking sectors, the anger and gossip and lying and cheating and the foul language. Never mind the adulteries and fornications normalized and celebrated, the betrayals and the host of sins our flesh longs for. God’s love is demanded, expected, required and entitled—what’s not to love?
We Christians have trafficked in the ‘love’ of God. We have for a generation, told a culture infatuated with itself, that God is infatuated with them too. “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life”. We have pandered to a people who are deeply in love with themselves. And our generation has chosen to interpret God’s love in a very self-serving, convenient way: ‘God makes no demands, has no expectations, affirms and celebrates all choices, and requires no obedience’. They have interpreted God’s love through the filter of their fallen lives, and the end result is a divine love that is okay with hedonistic, self-willed, degenerate, immoral wickedness.
No parent would love their child as our culture demands to be loved by God! We don’t send our kids out to play in traffic saying as they go, ‘because I love you you can play on the freeway.” We don’t send them to play in the front yard where there are no fences, saying “go wherever you like because I love you”. We understand love requires boundaries and fences and lines that can’t be crossed. And yet, when its ‘God’s love’ for us, they alter and redefine its very meaning to no longer be love, but license to do anything; to no longer be love but to allow lawlessness in every aspect of life.
Our obsession with God’s love offered to the lost has precious little scriptural support. Almost always God’s love is expressed for His people—it is a love for the church, and the children of God. It is a love for the people of God—it is typically directed at the corporate Body of Christ, which we often wrongly individualize and apply to the lost. We tend to take John 3:16 and build an entire love theology on it—a house of cards. We have repeatedly failed to make the point that the Love of God is expressed not in permitting no restraint, no boundaries, no fences or no judgement, but in the death of His Son Jesus: 1 John 4:9–10 (ESV)
9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
The love of God is expressed not in tolerating our sins, but in judging our sin at the cross where His Son, our Saviour died. This is God’s love manifest—the Son’s sacrifice for our sin. God’s love in sending Jesus is because there are boundaries, fences, and judgement in God’s Law. And we are under that judgement.
God’s love is not His Transcendent Attribute—His Transcendent Attribute is His Holiness. God is Holy. Nowhere are we told God is ‘love, love love’; we are told God is ‘Holy, Holy Holy’! The ‘Trisagion’. His Holiness floods every aspect of His Being. Holiness fundamentally defines the character of God, and love is a grace which flows out of His Holiness. “Love is a tributary in the great stream of His Holiness”.
The Holiness of God is not something that can be taught completely (like the sun must be felt); it must be experienced. Moses experienced it, his flesh touched the ground, and he hid his face in reverent fear. Before the Divine Holiness we can but bow, for our own unholiness is then revealed; our sinfulness, the filthiness of our ‘sandals’ must be removed. His Holiness presents us with boundaries, fences, expectations, judgements and a place we cannot go, things we must not do; and suddenly we are shown to be accountable to His standards. The Holiness of God, before whom we must fall, shows our need for cleansing, for forgiveness, for a Saviour.
God’s Holiness should be the subject of our meditations, and the content of our evangelistic zeal. For when a sinner encounters the Holy God, repents and becomes a convert to Christ, we have a disciple who will not be indifferent to sin, will not sentimentalize their faith, will not fall away when they don’t ‘feel loved’. We have a true disciple indeed who will weather all the storms, in faith.
Before Holiness there is an appropriate behavior and an appropriate heart—put off sins and fear the Lord with reverence and give Him the Glory due His name.
© Kevin Mahon
How beautiful, How beautiful
The sight of Thee must be
Thine endless wisdom, boundless power, and awful purity!
Oh How I fear thee living God! With deepest, tenderest fears,
And worship Thee with trembling hope,
And penitential tears.
~ Fredrick Faber