By Will Dole
Hey, did you know we have something in common? If you’re reading this, (and even if you’re not), you’re a sinner—and so am I! By virtue of our humanity, we are creatures who commit sin. Romans 3:23 states, “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We all know that sin is bad and some of us might even readily acknowledge that it leads to spiritual death and eternal damnation. But why is this so? Additionally, why do some seemingly small sins carry with them the same punishment as those we would consider large and heinous?
As a preface to further discussion, let’s consider some things about God. Generally speaking, we have some correct ideas about God, but nonetheless fail to give God the credit, awe, amazement, fear, worship, contemplation and praise He so greatly deserves. Therefore, our ideas of God are only partially correct and vastly insufficient. Indeed, any attempt to define the infinite through the eyes of the finite is doomed to fail.
I bet that if we asked people what words they use to describe God, we would probably get responses such as, creator, love, grace, mercy, savior, judge and holy. These words are appropriate and relatively easy to understand in their Biblical sense—all, that is, except for the word “holy.” We might not have any trouble using “holy” in a sentence, but to provide a working definition of the word is more difficult. What does it mean? What is holy?
In trying to define “holy,” we might use the words “pure,” “undefiled,” “perfect,” “flawless,” “sacred,” etc. All these words describe the concept of holiness, but one word we might not think to use is “transcendent.” Dictionary.com defines it like this: transcending the universe, time, etc. To begin to understand God’s holiness, we must also consider that His perfection corresponds to His transcendence. He transcends our finite minds because He is infinite. He is not bound by the ills that we are. He is not constrained by that which constrains us. He does not work within the framework of time and space. All the words we use in relations to God’s character are descriptive, but not constrictive of God. The first step to understanding God is to understand that He exceeds our ability to understand. Our ideas and our ideas of what He has said are restrictive of Him. We’re better off, then, if we get rid of our preconceived notions of God. God will do what God chooses. The only thing that constrains God is God.
Now that we have established that God is the only holy, transcendent being, let’s combine this with the fact that He is our creator. We see through the Genesis narrative that God is the creator of the universe, and all that is within it. We also see in Genesis 1:26-28 that God gives man a special place in this creation, as the bearer of His image. Mankind was created to mirror God. Our thoughts, words and actions ought to be an expression of a faithful relationship with the Creator. God, who is holy, transcendent, eternally existing, creates man to mirror Him, to love Him, to commune with Him and to worship Him.
But we know what comes next, don’t we? In the third chapter of Genesis, Adam and Eve sin. They disobey the one command that God gives them, and they die spiritually. They are separated from God—a condition that is transferred to all mankind from that minute forward. All over one little fruit? This seems kind of harsh, doesn’t it?
Shouldn’t the punishment fit the crime? This concept of a fitting punishment is actually God’s idea (see Exodus 21:24). If this is the case, how can God be so hard on Adam and Eve for simply eating from a tree? Spiritual death seems a bit harsh for this crime. So what’s up? Is God unjust? It might seem so with our finite understanding of justice. Yet in God’s transcendence, Adam and Eve’s act has greater significance than simple disobedience. Instead of worshiping God, Adam and Eve question God. They no longer believe that He is their perfect provider; rather they think He is holding out on them. They believe the fruit will make them wise, and they shift their worship from God Almighty, to themselves. They commit what author and theologian R.C. Sproul refers to as “cosmic treason.” D.A. Carson refers to this as the “de-godding of God.”
This is what happens when finite man questions the infinite and holy God. Questions breed doubt and doubt turns us away from God and toward ourselves. If we then choose to serve ourselves, this act of rebellion is treason toward the Creator. Our sin is not merely actions or words, it’s not even an “attitude problem.” At its root, it is rebellion against God. And this is why it must be punished. The penalty is so high, because in light of God’s beauty and perfection He could not tolerate this vile aberration in His sight. It had to be punished.
This, my friends, is what makes the cross so amazing. The more we contemplate the holiness of God, the better we understand the putrid stench that our sin—all sin—is to Him. And yet, instead of giving us justice, God sent His Son to pay the great price in our stead. That is amazing grace!