Do you remember that great scene in “Seinfeld” where Kramer invited Jerry into his “smoking lounge” apartment for pipe night? After Jerry told Kramer his face was being disfigured by all the smoke, Kramer looked in a toaster (mirror), and said to Jerry, “Look away….I’m hideous” -a line that definitely qualifies as one of the best lines from that iconic show. It’s also a line, a form of which, has been ascribed to God. It goes something like this: “God is so holy, He cannot look at sin.” Dr. R. Albert Mohler in an article, “The Salvation of the Little Ones: Do Infants Who Die Go To Heaven?” put it like this: “…God will not tolerate sinners.”
A teacher in our children’s ministry texted me a question about this after showing the kids in her class the “bridge illustration.” You know the one: Imagine a valley. The person is at the top on one side and God is at the top of the other side. Between them is Sin Valley. Then we draw a cross that forms a bridge over the valley signifying that Jesus died on the cross to fix the sin that separated us from God. Great illustration. I’ve used it a ton of times.
But the teacher was conflicted – the illustration seems to “indicate that God can’t be around sin,” she said. I love it when teachers analyze and ask!
A couple of things come to mind:
1. The holiness of God. Most of us think of “holiness” as morally pure. Such a view leads us to
take a Kramer-type approach to God: “God you are too pure. Look away…I’m hideous” (Habakkuk 1:13).
“Holiness,” though, means “otherness.” Holiness is what makes God different, separate, “other” from His creation. Normally, we think of “holy” pretty much just in terms of purity. God is sinless. We’re not. God is pure. We’re not. True enough. No argument there. But let’s not stop short of what the Biblical writers say:
Hosea 11:8-9, “How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over Israel?… My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused. I will not carry out my fierce anger, nor will I devastate Ephraim again. For I am God, and not a man – the Holy One among you.”
Yep, God is certainly different than me. When someone hurts me I’m all about hurting back! But not God. He is “holy,” different than man. He acts in mercy, not revenge.
As holy, God treats people differently than we treat people. That sounds like what Jesus is trying to get across in Matthew 5:38-45:
“You have heard it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not run away from the one who wants to borrow from you. You have heard it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven… And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even the pagans do that?”
Crazy, out of this world behavior! It’s certainly not human. It’s God-behavior. He is different. He is holy.
Matthew 5:48, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Maybe God’s holiness makes him more approachable, not less. That’s what we see in Jesus.
2. How Jesus lived his life is the second thing to consider. And it’s a big thing.
Jesus lived his life in such a way that he was accused by the religious group as being a “friend of sinners” (Matthew 11:16-19; Mark 2:16; Luke 15:1-2). Jesus knew sinners, went to their houses, talked with them over wine. He knew their names, probably knew their kid’s names, knew their hopes, dreams, fears. He knew their interests – you know, like a friend. So that’s how Jesus lived his life.
Now, who is Jesus? Jesus is the picture of God (Colossians 1:15; John 1:18; John 14:9). In fact, the writer of Hebrews says that Jesus reveals God more clearly, precisely, accurately, than anyone or anything (Hebrews 1:1-3). If you link to the Hebrews passage you’ll notice the heading written by the Biblegateway folks: “God’s Final Word: His Son.” They’re right. Any view of God not based on the person of Jesus is an inadequate view.
Jesus was a friend of sinners. Jesus is God. So God is a friend of sinners. God loves sinners and wants to be with sinners. What God does not tolerate is sin. Sin hurts us and God doesn’t like anything that hurts us.
Jesus deals with us and our sin not by isolating Himself from us (as did the Pharisees) but by getting involved with us (Luke 5:27-31). He is with us and by being with us He is able to transform us with His love and grace.