“For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you. The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers.” Psalm 5:4-5
“Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear, but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.” Isaiah 59:1-2
Either one of those verses alone is scary; but both of them together are terrifying! They are unequivocally harsh in their condemnation of both the sin and the sinner. The verses in the Psalm tell us that God cannot tolerate evil and that he hates all evildoers. The verses in Isaiah point out that it’s not God’s fault but ours that he is separated from us to the point of actually turning away his face so that he does not hear us. It is our sins alone, our iniquities, which have caused this sorry state of affairs.
I have had those verses used against me as a one-two punch in sermons which were specifically designed to knockout the listeners with guilt and shame; and it worked! The idea was to show us the gravity of our sinfulness and scare us into turning from our wicked ways. I will admit that after those sermons I left church with a strong determination to do better so that God would stop hating me and would once again turn his face toward me and hear my prayers; but when I quickly failed in my attempts, the continued failure drove me deeper into despair. I knew I could never be good enough for God!
It was ironic then, that years later, as a teacher, I found myself using those same two scriptures in my Senior High Sunday School Class. My teens, like so many, had no clear understanding of the Gospel. We belonged to a denomination which taught that perfection was attainable in our lifetime. You might think that doctrine would indicate a high view of Law, but interestingly, the opposite was true. Any church which teaches that humans can reach perfect obedience has to lower the requirements to an achievable level. Since there aren’t many teens, or adults for that matter, who bother to delve deeply into the implications of the doctrines of their denominations, their basic understanding was that the category of “sin” applied specifically to the big acts of willful disobedience, but that there were other categories, such as faults and mistakes, which God overlooked and presumably did not hold against us. This low view of the Law leads to a low view of the Cross.
If I believe that I have been a pretty good person for most of my life; not intentionally choosing to run roughshod over the commands which God gave us to follow; and if I see no need to worry about my small faults or mistakes, I will have a very limited sense of gratitude for Christ’s sacrifice. I might not be consciously aware of it, or able to articulate it, but, there will be something inside of me which thinks that Christ’s death was more for the big sinners than for me. I will readily agree that it was a wonderful thing, while at the same time distancing myself from experiencing any deep need for it personally.
I wanted my teens to feel that deep need. I wanted them to grasp the Law in its fullness, to experience the hopeless desperation as they stood before a God with whom no sin could dwell, a God who hates all evildoers, realizing that they were in that category. I wanted them to feel the sense of bereftness as they imagined calling out to a God from whom they were separated because of their sinfulness; a God who had turned away from them and could not hear them. I wanted them to know their true condition, which a just God could never simply overlook. I wanted to bring them to despair so that when I told them who Jesus was, what he did and why he did it, they would fully and deeply welcome the news with the tremendous sense of joy and relief which that news deserves.
So, I gave them the bad news. I read the verses and expounded on them until I saw shocked disbelief on their faces. I will never forget when one of the young men in the class finally voiced what I was waiting for, “If this is true, then God hates all of us!” And I saw heads nodding all around the room.
Then I told them that, because our situation is just that dire, God Himself provided all that was necessary for our rescue. He sent his own Son to live a life of perfect obedience to the Law because none of us could, and he gave us Christ’s perfect record so that we could dwell with him; so that we are no longer abhorrent sinners in his sight, but beloved sons and daughters. I told them that, because of Christ, our sins can no longer separate us from God. God turned away from his own son who called out to him from the cross, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Christ took upon himself all of the sin which separated us from God, and endured that separation so that we would never have to.
And when I was finished, that young man looked at me with wonder on his face and said softly, “Wow! That really is good news!”
Yes it is, child. Indeed it is!