Sometimes I struggle, as many do, with that quintessential question: how could a loving God punish so fiercely? Currently we are studying Revelation at our church, and the study really brings into perspective for me what is going to happen to those that don’t accept Christ. It hurts me. It haunts me. Why? Why God? I understand the punishment for child rapists, serial killers, etc. But what about the person who simply doesn’t accept salvation before the end? Do they really deserve eternal damnation and punishment? Gnashing of teeth? I read Isaiah 13 and think of the women and children dashed to pieces. Why? What could children have done to deserve that fate?
I have come to a conclusion of sorts. Not one that is going to make you any more settled or enlightened, but a conclusion either way.
I don’t think we can truly grasp our depravity because we cannot fully understand God’s holiness. I know this seems obvious and uninspiring. But really think about it for a second. I don’t think we even understand just how holy the Lord is. We say He is holy. We praise Him for His holiness. But do we really fathom that level of holiness? No. It is in a realm beyond our comprehension. It is comparable to trying to understand God’s eternal existence. If you want to induce a headache, start to really concentrate on the fact that God was always there. Uncreated. Never “poofing” into existence or being created… He was always there… always. Okay, I need to stop or I am going to give myself a headache!
We cannot know just how messed up we as humans are in general (I’m not even speaking of the obviously evil people in this world) because we cannot understand the perfect holiness that is our Heavenly Father. This is why Isaiah 64:6 (ESV) says, “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.” Don’t misunderstand. God loves when we worship Him through righteous acts and works, but this puts into perspective that His holiness is so vast, that our righteousness doesn’t even compare. Mother Theresa may have been amazing through human eyes, but compared to God’s holiness, her good deeds were less than nothing! Hard to imagine, right?
There are simply some things we don’t understand. I know that seems shallow, unexciting, and like an easy way to get out of answering the hard questions, but is it? Is it really easier to accept that we may never truly know and understand something than to believe we can somehow study and think our way into understanding and enlightenment. History of human behavior would probably point toward the latter as being our leaning. This is both good and bad.
I think having a thirst for knowledge, especially knowledge of our Lord is a wonderful craving we (thankfully) can never satiate! However, we as fallible, small-minded humans must come to the conclusion in certain areas of divine knowledge that we cannot and will not fathom or fully grasp certain heavenly concepts. Even the angels don’t have full understanding of all the ways of God. It is a thing of pride to think we are capable of knowing all of His ways. That kind of self-worship leads to dissatisfaction, doubt, and pride. When we assume we are able to or should understand all the ways of God, are we not again attempting to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil to make ourselves like God? Rather, to make ourselves into gods?
My head is swirling, but that is okay because I am safe in the knowledge that my God understands all, even if I don’t. In my fallible stupidity and naïveté, He is knowledge perfected. Just as I cannot attempt to teach my 2-year-old algebra because he simply (according to Piaget) is not at that developmental level, I will never be at a high enough developmental level to understand all the choices and actions God has made. That is okay. I must rest in that.
I must abide in the peace that Christ gives me simply by knowing that He knows. Even if I don’t. He knows.
“Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure.” Psalm 147:5 (ESV)
“Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.” Psalm 139:4 (ESV)