ANSWER: We often forget the absolute holiness of God and how dreadful sin is to Him. In Habakkuk 1:13 we read, “You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on wickedness.” It has been said that the smallest sin in our eyes is worse in God’s eyes than the greatest sins we can think of would be in ours. A holy, righteous God cannot simply overlook sin or brush it aside as of no consequence. Every sin is first of all an offense against Him, as we see in the confession of the prodigal son: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight” (Lk. 15:21 NKJV). Before God, every sin deserves the immediate penalty of death. Adam was forbidden to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and was told, “In the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:17). God applies this principle of death as the consequence of sin in the broadest possible way, saying through the prophet Ezekiel, “The soul who sins shall die ... If he has done any of these abominations, he shall surely die; his blood shall be upon him ... The soul who sins shall die” (Ezek. 18:4,13,20). Romans 6:23 sums this up in the well-known words, “The wages of sin is death.” Many other passages of God’s Word set the same truth before us.
Instead of asking why Israel sometimes suffered great loss of lives when they sinned, we might ask why God so often spared not only Israel, but also us, not executing the immediate penalty of death upon their sins or upon ours. As to the matter of “trying to do as God directed,” God’s will must be done in God’s way to be acceptable to Him. Outward compliance with God’s direction is not sufficient to merit His approval: the heart attitude in doing it must also be right.
We can thank God that holiness is not the only characteristic of His nature. First John 4:8 says clearly that “God is love,” and Scripture wonderfully bears this out. Every attribute of the divine nature is in perfect balance with every other one. God is not capricious. He cannot compromise His holiness for the sake of His love, nor will He compromise His love for the sake of His holiness. Being holy, He cannot pass over the slightest sin without executing the punishment it has earned – death. In God’s sight every sin is sin in all its repulsiveness to His holy nature. But being love, His heart cries out, “‘As I live,’ says the Lord God, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live’” (Ezek. 33:11).
The answer to what would seem to be an insoluble dilemma was worked out in the counsels of God before the foundation of the world. We call this answer the gospel, the good news of salvation. This holy God would give His only beloved Son to take the place of the guilty sinner in death. The Son of God declared Himself willing to become Man and to come into this world to declare the love of God and to show this love by taking the place of guilty man in death upon Calvary’s cross. And in the fullness of time the Lord came into this world, lived a sinless life that was in every detail to the glory of God, and then died upon the cross for those who rejected and crucified Him – for us, and for whoever will receive Him as Savior and Lord.
This is the good news of salvation. It is this we should rejoice in rather than questioning why God demonstrated His hatred of sin by having many of His earthly people die when they sinned.
Answer by Eugene P. Vedder, Jr.
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org