The Great and Terrible God of Love
By Pete Garcia
Over the years I’ve spoken to many non-Christians about God. For the most part, people believe there is something or someone out there, but aren’t entirely sure who or what. Aside from the general understanding of a supernatural-being out there in the yonder, those who do believe in a ‘God’, seem to have serious mischaracterizations about Him. Some simply attribute God as the “big Man in the sky”. Some think He is mean and over controlling tyrant. Still many think He set everything in motion and then just walked away. Some think He is only love and nothing more. Still others deny He exists as a person at all but rather is an impersonal ‘force’.
Even within Christendom, the biggest problems many have is by mistaking an attribute of God as the principal modus operandi of God. For instance, if you were to talk to ‘post-modernist’ or a liberal Christian, they seemingly only focus on God’s love. If you talk to a strict Five-Point Calvinist, they seemingly only focus on God’s sovereignty. Roman Catholics, Seventh Day Adventists, Hebrew Roots, and many others tend to focus more on the wrath of God, which then promotes a ‘works-based’ and ritualistic form of worship as a means either of salvation, or to keep their salvation by appeasing an angry God through ‘good works’.
Regardless of the audience, there are few–and I mean very few who ever start off by properly characterizing God by His most overarching and distinguishing attribute…which is that above all else, He is Holy. It is through God’s holiness, that all the other attributes find their perfect symmetry with every other attribute.
This might seem odd to some, but God’s love for mankind is perfected through God’s wrath. God’s wrath is the natural response to those who reject Him (John 3:18; Col. 2:11-15). Before the universe began (Eph. 1:3-6), God realized that a living, breathing, thinking, free-will being made in His likeness would quickly fall from His perfect standard of righteousness. It was inevitable because if man were to ever truly love and worship God, He had to allow us to operate under design of free will.
He also knew that once we fell, we would be powerless to ever attain His perfect level of righteousness in our own power. Rather than create us for the sole purpose of damnation, He chose rather to demonstrate His perfect love for us, by sacrificing Himself in man’s place. We see an archetype of this played out in Genesis 15 where Abram is told to prepare a blood-oath ritual but then is made to sleep as God swears on Himself that He will bind Himself to the oath on Abram’s behalf.
This perfect wrath the Father poured out on the Son, demonstrated His perfect balance of grace and mercy for us and in turn validated the extent of His love, or rather the extent to which He would go to prove His love for us. Jesus had to die in our place because it was the only way to redeem a fallen race to a holy and righteous God. And in His death, Jesus conquered man’s most frightening enemy, hell. And in His resurrection, Jesus conquered death, thus proving once and for all that neither death nor hell had any claim on those who placed their faith and trust in His finished work at the Cross. All of these attributes of wrath, mercy, love, sovereignty, and eternality are perfected to the utmost by God’s holiness.
The first time we see the word holy used in the Bible is when Moses is confronted by the supernatural anomaly we know as ‘the burning bush’ which out of, God spoke to him…
So when the Lord saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then He said, “Do not draw near this place. Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.” Moreover He said, “I am the God of your father—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look upon God. Exodus 3:4-6
In Scripture, every time you see God present Himself as he truly is, which is to show the full might of His presence in His natural state…whether thru a vision or in person, that person immediately recognizes the vast and irreconcilable differences between us and God. We immediately recognize our fallen nature and would shrink ourselves up into a speck of a shadow if we could to escape from that terrifying experience of being in the presence of an all-powerful and almighty Creator God.
- After they fell, Adam and Eve hid from God in shame (Gen. 3:7-8)
- Moses was hid in the cleft of a rock so he wouldn’t die as God passed by him (Ex. 33:21-23)
- The prophet Isaiah upon seeing the throne room of God said “Woe is me” (Isaiah 6:5)
- Daniel physically collapsed (Daniel 10:4-9)
- John collapsed as a dead man (Revelation 1:12-17)
These examples each collapsed under the weight of their own fallen nature. These examples also weren’t heathens. These weren’t evil men and women. For the most part, they were innocent, righteous, and holy people in their own right that would make us look like rampant criminals compared to their own lives. And they couldn’t took the brightness of His being. They couldn’t take the glory of His presence…so much so…that it physically changed them.
Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one cried to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
The whole earth is full of His glory!”
And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke. Isaiah 6:3-4
In Isaiah’s case, he is shown the throne room of God. In it he sees that the seraphim who without ceasing, continuously declare NOT His: love, justice, fairness, eternality, sovereignty, wrathfulness, nor peacefulness…but His holiness.
Again we see these magnificent creatures in Revelation 4:8…
The four living creatures, each having six wings, were full of eyes around and within. And they do not rest day or night, saying:
“Holy, holy, holy,
Lord God Almighty,
Who was and is and is to come!” Revelation 4:8
Also interesting to note is the slight change in narrative between Isaiah’s vision of the throne room, and that of John’s in the Apocalypse.
Isaiah: God’s holiness (repeated in series of three) could be pointing to the triune nature of the God-head in that each (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit) are equally holy. Secondly, that God’s reign is sovereign over all creation.
Revelation: Again, God’s holiness (repeated in series of three) not only mentions the sovereignty (Lord God Almighty), but also to His eternality… (who was, and is, and is to come) which is highly fitting for the book of Revelation.
Do they chant that for God’s benefit? Does God need to be reminded that He is holy? No! They do this for our benefit so as to remind us that above all else, God is holy. And His holiness, affects all His other attributes so that they are carried out to the most perfect state each could ever be delivered in…which is absolute perfection. His wrath is as perfect as His love, as is His mercy, grace, and peacefulness. Each in perfect symmetry with the other. None lacking even a fraction or a degree of measured perfection.
“First, let’s look at God’s holiness. What does it mean that God is holy? Passages like 1 Samuel 2:2 and Isaiah 6:3 are just two of many examples of passages about God’s holiness. Another way to say it is absolute perfection. God is unlike any other (see Hosea 11:9), and His holiness is the essence of that “otherness.” His very being is completely absent of even a trace of sin (James 1:13; Hebrews 6:18). He is high above any other, and no one can compare to Him (Psalm 40:5). God’s holiness pervades His entire being and shapes all His attributes. His love is a holy love, His mercy is holy mercy, and even His anger and wrath are holy anger and holy wrath. These concepts are difficult for humans to grasp, just as God is difficult for us to understand in His entirety.”
An excellent response on God’s holiness from a question posed to Gotquestions.org:
Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.” 1 Peter 1:13-16
First and foremost, God is and probably always will be in a holistic sense, an enigma to us. We will never fully know the depths of God’s wisdom, love, mercy, wrath, righteousness, and sovereignty even throughout eternity. We know what He has allowed us to know—which is considerable, but we are finite creatures trying to comprehend an infinite Being.
Secondly, if we are to be holy, we must separate ourselves from the world. This does not mean becoming ascetics and hiding ourselves away on some mountain to seclude ourselves from the world. Just because we are in the world, does not mean we have to be of the world. We shouldn’t be “earth-dwellers” whose sole mind-set is earthbound on the things of this life. We are separate in that we see what is coming, and we live with that expectation daily. This is hard, and I struggle with this as much as anyone else does, but we have to strive daily to do this. We must keep our eyes fixed on the things above and not on this world which is passing away. (1 John 2:17)
Finally is that we are to embody God’s holiness in our everyday life. We are to be living proof that God can and does change lives. We are to be loving without compromising. We aren’t called to reform the world, because we know this is only possible when Christ Himself returns, but we should stalwarts, trees with deep roots who withstand the winds, and rocks who withstand the shifting tides of change. There will be time for action, because there are things in this life that will and should make us angry…such as the abuse of innocents, corruption, murder, and many other injustices that play out on a daily basis. But that anger should cause us to wage our war on a spiritual enemy through spiritual warfare (Eph. 6:10-18) and leave the vengeance part to God…and He will repay every ounce of it (Romans 12:19).
We are to be salt and light, to be beacons of God’s love and mercy in a darkened world that is dying and passing away into eternal destruction. We show God’s love, because He loved us first. In so doing, we might help save some who would otherwise head to eternal separation from their Creator. He is as much their Creator, as He is ours.
There will always be those who demand proof of God’s existence. They want Him to physically show up and physically prove that He exists. These are they who like brutish beasts, do not know what they ask for. If God did show up this moment, the world would melt down in fear and trepidation. If these people refuse to accept the examples of God’s existence either through His word, through historical and archeological examples, through Christians, or even creation itself…then one day the unrepentant will get their wish.
One day He will peel back the sky and descend onto this earth where He will proceed to pour out His wrath in holy anger on a world who is in complete rebellion against Him. In that day, a remnant will be saved, those Jews and Tribulation saints who make it to the end, will enter into the Age of the Kingdom. But everyone, both the saved and unsaved, of all ages…all will stand before God either in judicious-commendation of the Bema Judgment (1 Cor. 3; 2 Cor. 5), or in eternal condemnation at the Great White Throne Judgment (Rev. 20:10-14). And every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Philippians 2:9-11).
Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him. Even so, Amen. Revelation 1:7
Even so, Maranatha!