David Wells on the Taming of God’s Holiness

So it is that when we succeed in cloaking the holiness of God, in focusing on his love to the exclusion of his wrath, we unsettle the whole moral universe. We create a God who may be patient, kindly, and compassionate but who is without the will to resist what is wrong, without the will to judge it, and without the power to destroy it. Such a God lacks the moral earnestness to attract our attention, let alone inspire our belief or warrant our worship. Such a God is not the God of the Bible, and is not the God of Jesus Christ. We may place him at the center of our faith, but he cannot be the great protagonist in the moral drama of the world, the conflict between good and evil, for without holiness there is no drama and there is no hope. Hope dies when it can no longer see through this vale of tears to the triumph of God’s sovereign goodness on the other side. Key to this triumph, of course, is the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, in whom the end is inaugurated and declared. When holiness slips from sight, so too, does the centrality of Christ. A God who is not holy cannot deal with the great darkness of corrupted human life, the darker forces behind it, and the whole societal fabric in which this rebellion has become normative (Ephesians 2:1-10). He can scarcely comprehend the damnation that has already settled subliminally on the human psyche, and he is even less able to do anything about it. The best he can hope to do is offer counsel like a Rogerian therapist, listening carefully but non-judgmentally, necessarily detached in his kindness from the deepest pains, the most destructive realities of our lives. Such a God produces a Christianity that is attractively amiable and civil but utterly unable to come to terms with the suffering of this fallen world because it is simply not on the same moral scale as the transgressors to whom it presumes to speak a word of grace. It is a form of belief that is sympathetic but not searching, that confronts evil with attitude rather than action, that presents Christ as a pale Galilean who was overtaken by the combined opposition of his foes rather than the eternal Son of God who took on flesh to triumph of sin, death, and the devil. It is a tame, non-threatening form of belief with a toothless and accommodating God designed by consumers who are used to getting what they want the way they want it.

Without this holiness of God, sin has no meaning and grace has no point, for it is God’s holiness that gives to the one its definition and to the other its greatness. Without the holiness of God, sin is merely human failure but not failure before God, in relation to God. It is failure without the presumption of guilt, failure without retribution, failure without any serious moral meaning. And without the holiness of God, grace is no longer grace because it does not arise from the dark clouds of judgment that obscured the cross and exacted the damnation of the Son in our place.

Until we recognize afresh the centrality of God’s holiness, until it once again enters into the innermost fibers of evangelical faith, our virtue will lack seriousness, our belief will lack poignancy, our practice will lack moral pungency, our worship will lack joyful seriousness, our preaching will lack the mordancy of grace, and the church will be just one more special interest pleading for a hearing in a world of competing enterprises.

Taken from the book, “God in the Wasteland: The Reality of Truth in a World of Fading Dreams,” by David Wells (pages 143-145).

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