Very often, when a person is first considering the idea of making Jesus the forgiver of their sins, and the leader of their lives, (that is, acknowledging him as God) they are confronted with the difficult question of God’s conditional forgiveness – that is, that we admit our brokenness and our need for Jesus to provide something for us that we cannot provide for ourselves. Why does sin separate us from a loving God?
There are at least two appropriate ways to answer this question. The first is theological, that is understanding God. If God is holy (perfect, unique, set apart), and if he is the absolute best thing he can offer us, which I am suggesting he is both, then the most loving thing he can do is to protect his holiness; to keep best, that which is already best. For that reason, God cannot associate himself with sin, or with anything that would blemish himself. It’s Jesus’ blood-splattered cross, then, that pays the “penalty for sins”. He is a substitute, and provides a covering of sorts, or even a diversion of punishment – according the Bible, a literal taking away – for our sins. The term scripture uses to describe this action is “propitiation”.
The second is the practical, that is understanding ourselves. It’s a little dangerous to say this, but sometimes, we can understand a little more about God when we understand a little more about ourselves. For instance. Let’s say you were molested by your father as a child. Let’s say the crimes he committed against you happened all through your young childhood, and around about the time of your teenage years, you were “set free” from his evil perversion. From about the ages of 14-24 you more or less suppressed it. But eventually, the memories and feelings came creeping back to the surface and you realized that your father’s actions had affected everything about you since – your young career, your relationships, everything. Fortunately, you began seeking advice, wisdom and healing through friends, counselors and pastors. Several years into it you felt like you had seen the sunlight for the first time ever. You started to feel free, healed. You began the process of forgiving your dad, even though you hadn’t seen him in almost 15 years. You began to smile more, to trust people more. You began to get your life back. Just as you were getting to the point where you felt like you were over it, he called. He wanted to meet. He wanted to apologize, even, for the torment he knew he put you through. And after considering it for a few months, you met. You experienced the strangest of emotions. You felt like you had genuinely forgiven him, as much as a person could, but you just couldn’t stand to look at his face. You loved him, but the damage was done. There would forever be a separation between the two of you. It might get better, but it would never be the same. You just couldn’t see him as “daddy”, yet that’s the only thing he could ever be to you. Only a father’s wounds could cut so deep.
Isaiah 59:2 says, “Your iniquities (sins) have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear”.
The offenses others commit against us that sever a relational connection, is a reflection of the way that God responds to sinners. (Driscoll, Death by Love). Isaiah says that he cannot even look at us. We have offended God (and not in the modernly-superficial-overly-sensitive-and-politically-correctness-of-American-culture meaning of offended- but actually true to the meaning of the word, that we committed an offense) in much the same way that the hypothetical father committed an offense against the hypothetical child. Contrarily, perhaps, to the very common evangelical light and fluffy books, sermons and songs about God’s great love for us, we must understand that while he does indeed love us – enough to sacrifice his own Son for our sake (and his glory) – he detests our sin; so much so that he cannot even look at us.
In fact, it’s really only when we realize how ugly we are in our sin, that we realize the depth, length, width and significance of his love for us. Ha. That while we were yet sinners, Christ even gave everything. We see that not only does God go after the forgotten, cast-away, unlovable ones – but that we are them. We are the homeless, the perverted, the self-seeking, the destructionists. We want God’s love to say much about ourselves, when in reality it should say much about him.
Thank God he is not limited by human capabilities. He gives mercy and grace where we cannot, and forgives completely and so thoroughly that we are once again considered children of God (John 1:12). We live no longer in guilt, or shame of our ugliness – but are now looked on by God with the joy, admiration, and pleasure with which he sees the Son.