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Grappling with his justice

The_Holiness_of_God_by_R.C.SproulIf you’re like me, you don’t have a problem with God’s grace. We may not fully understand it, but we love him for giving it.

But his justice?

That’s a sticky issue. I don’t fully understand it either. And while a part of me loves him for being a just god, another part of me struggles with it.

So I’ll warn you up front:
Chapter 6—Holy Justice—won’t be summed up in a blog post. It’s too full. Read the chapter for yourself. (It’ll be a reward for making it through Chapter 5—The Insanity of Luther.)

As I see it, some people turn away from God when they see bad things happen to good people. They can’t explain it. (Could something bad happen to me, too?) So they blame God.

And some people turn away from God because he has done and will do bad things to bad people. They’re not comfortable with that. (After all, even on our best day, aren’t all of us bad?) So they resent God.

R. C. Sproul addresses the latter issue in this chapter by looking at the most offensive Bible stories. 

Like Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10:1-3). Immediately executed for offering unauthorized fire. And Uzzah (1 Chronicles 13:9-11). Reached out his hand to steady the ark of the covenant, then whammo—instant death. God, isn’t that a bit harsh? we ask.

Even in the New Testament we learn about the instant deaths of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:9-10) for telling lies.

Is that very nice, God? Do you have to take sin so seriously?


His justice is never unfair, never whimsical, never tyrannical. It is impossible for God to be unjust, because his justice is holy.

The reason we don’t fully understand these stories, according to Sproul, is because we don’t fully understand “four vitally important biblical concepts: holiness, justice, sin, and grace.” We don’t really believe that every sin is a capital offense.” God doesn’t owe us life. He made us to reflect his image. Yet look how we flub that up every day. We are not an innocent people.

God's justice is never divorced from His righteousness. He never condemns the innocent. He never clears the guilty. He never punishes with undo severity. He never fails to reward righteousness. His justice is perfect justice.

We don’t always see God’s justice because we see his mercy instead. But that mercy had a price, and it’s been paid in full. It was Jesus who saw the wrath.

If anybody has a right to complain of injustice, wouldn’t it be Jesus?

He was the only innocent man ever to be punished by God. If we stagger at the wrath of God, let us stagger at the Cross.

Here is where our astonishment should be focused. If we have cause for moral outrage, let it be directed at Golgotha.

He traded his innocence for our guilt. It’s in his justice that we find mercy.

But mercy isn’t ours to demand. It’s undeserved. Only justice is deserved.

Sproul says it’s the confusion between justice and mercy that make us recoil at the stories of Nadab, Abihu, Uzzah.

When God's justice falls, we are offended because we think God owes perpetual mercy. We must not take His grace for granted. We must never lose our capacity to be amazed by grace.

I still don’t understand God’s holy justice, but if it leads to his amazing grace, that’s more than enough for me.

* * *

How do you resolve struggles with God’s sense of justice?

Chapter 7, War and Peace with a Holy God

More on Chapter 6 at Challies
Previous chapters


Barbara H. said...

I think we want justice for the "really bad people" -- murderers, rapists, pedophiles -- or anyone who wrongs us. But we fail to realize our pride, envy, or simple failure to love God as we should is as heinous.

I do struggle with Uzzah's being struck down or whole families of perpetrators being killed. I know enough about God's character to trust that His holiness and righteousness called for that kind of reaction and that by and large we don't understand His holiness enough. In a sense we should probably marvel that He does not strike us all down as often as He would be justified in doing so, due to His mercy and grace and Jesus having taken our sin on Himself.

Big topic -- thanks for the thought-provoking post!

Becky said...

Best chapter so far! Absolutely!

How, Lisa, how can we grasp the richness of His Grace, if we don't understand His Justice? Only when we gaze at both, we can start to see why we should be thankful for His amazing Grace!

Thanks for inviting me over at your place to converse about this...

Lisa notes... said...

Yes, I tend to put the “really bad people” in a separate category, when it’s all of us who fail to live up to God’s holy standard, which is, as you say “heinous” to God, and also hurts other people.

That reminded me of another great section from Sproul:

“The slightest sin is an act of defiance against cosmic authority. It is a revolutionary act, a rebellious act in which we are setting ourselves in opposition to the One to whom we owe everything. It is an insult to His holiness.

…When we sin, we not only commit treason against God, but we also do violence to each other. Sin violates people. There is nothing abstract about it. By my sin I hurt human beings.”

Yes, big topic! I hope to return to this chapter again.

Lisa notes... said...

His grace and his justice seem to be polar opposites to me so I struggle to keep them both in sight at the same time, but you’re right that we can only understand his grace after we’ve stared down his justice.

I love the questions you asked on your blog about this:

"Why am I breathing right now?
Why I haven't been consumed?
Why God chose me to give me life when I only deserved death?
Why did God give me Grace when I only deserved His Holy justice?
This is the real mystery."

So glad to have you along to read and discuss with.

Danielle said...

Such a tough subject! I read this book many years ago and loved the biblical picture of God it so clearly paints! Thanks for stopping by the other day!!

Kara said...

What a great chapter! I agree about the "really bad people" categorizing we do.


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