Sometimes the things we believe about God can actually make Him seem quite distant. One of those is our beliefs about how God sees sin.
When we think that all sins are equal, we can actually make God seem really heartless.
Last week I posted an article that went big on how I was mourning Hugh Hefner’s legacy. There was a bit of debate on the comments here, but on Facebook there was A LOT. So many people said something to the effect of:
All sins are equal in God’s eyes, so it isn’t your place to judge.
I think it’s really important to talk about this today, but not because I want us to have perfect doctrine. This isn’t primarily a theology question to me. This seriously matters for our lives, and here’s why:
Let’s say that the absolute worst thing that you can imagine happens to you: Maybe your child is kidnapped and killed, and the perpetrator caught. What should your response be?
The first thing most of us think is that we should forgive him. We’re told to forgive, after all, and for own good we need to leave this in God’s hands.
But what if you can’t? What if you’re absolutely going crazy with grief? What then?
You desperately need God to put His arms around you. You need God to comfort you. You need God to make the crazy thoughts in your head stop and help you to find peace again. But how can you do that if you feel like God sees you and the rapist in the same way?
You see, if God views all sin the same, then God looks at you and He looks at the rapist and He sees you the same way.
That means that God cannot possibly understand what you are feeling right now. God wants you to get over the fact that your child was tortured and killed, and realize that you are no better.
But if God feels that way, then God is not there in the midst of your pain–except to say, “the only way out is to realize that you are just as bad, and you need Me just as much.”
That makes God seem like a monster. Does God honestly view a child rapist and killer in the same way that He views a regular, everyday person? Does God not see a difference? If He doesn’t, then He doesn’t understand how horrible it is to lose a child. He doesn’t understand your plight. So when you most need Him, all you feel is condemnation (because you can’t get past this and just understand that we are all sinners).
That’s why this matters. One day we’re all going to go through something bad. I pray, of course, that it’s never anything like this! But in the midst of our suffering, whatever it may be, we desperately need to know that God sees, God cares, and God understands. And if God doesn’t think there’s something extra painful about losing a child, or about betrayal by those closest to us, or about injustice, then God doesn’t understand pain. And if He doesn’t understand pain–then how can you turn to Him with yours?
I want you to know that God understands, sees, and bleeds with you. So let’s take a look at why all sins are NOT equal and why God does indeed understand that certain sins hurt worse than others.
We are all sinful–yes. And only Jesus was sinless
A basic doctrine of Christianity is that we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). And we know that even the smallest sin means that we are no longer right with a righteous God. “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” (James 2:10).
So all of us deserve death, and all of us need Jesus as the only way to get right with God. Absolutely.
However, that does not mean that all sins are equal
Basically, people who say that God sees us all the same are combining two different things which really shouldn’t be combined.
The fact that we have all sinned means that there are two groups: Jesus, and everyone else. But just because “everyone else” is in its own group does not mean that “everyone else” is identical.
God certainly does judge some sins more harshly, and He draws a distinction between the level of different people’s sins. Tons of Scriptures say this; I’ll pull out just two.
And if anyone will not welcome you or heed your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town. Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town. (Matthew 10:14-15).
Jesus is saying that if people won’t listen to his disciples when they come to tell the good news, then those people will be judged more harshly at the judgment day than those from the Old Testament destroyed cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Then there’s this one, about the kings of Israel:
In the twelfth year of Ahaz king of Judah, Hoshea son of Elah became king of Israel in Samaria, and he reigned nine years. He did evil in the eyes of the Lord, but not like the kings of Israel who preceded him. (2 Kings 17:1-2, my emphasis).
We see variations of this all throughout the talks of the kings of Israel and Judah; that some people were more evil than others.
There are more Scriptures than just these (like the countless Scriptures that refer to God’s enemies), and we can share them in the comments if people still aren’t convinced, but for the sake of brevity I’ll leave it there–all sins are not equal, and some people are more evil than others.
Jesus Himself gets most upset about certain things
Jesus was sent to be flesh and blood among us, so that we could see what God is really like. And how did Jesus respond to sin? He did not get equally angry at all sins. Indeed, He got fired up more about certain sins than others.
He reserved most of his anger at the religious leaders of the day who were pretending to be holy, but who actually were sanctimonious and prideful. And why was this so bad? Jesus explains it here:
Jesus replied, “And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.” (Luke 11:46)
They made worshipping God be all about rules, and they laid such heavy burdens on people, and them condemned those people when they couldn’t meet the standards, so that they themselves could feel better than everyone else.
The end result? The people weren’t able to feel God’s blessing and love. And that’s what made Jesus angry: When the people were pushed away from God.
That’s also the same motivation that He had when He cleared the money changers’ tables in the temple courtyards. The money changers were preventing people from being able to worship God, and were also keeping foreigners away from knowing God (because they were set up in the area where foreigners were supposed to be allowed to worship).
Jesus didn’t rage at those who got drunk; He didn’t yell at those who gossiped; He didn’t get upset at lazy people. I’m not saying those things aren’t sinful. I’m just saying that He reserved His deepest anger for those who pushed people away from God.
In the Old Testament, God punishes some things more than others
In a similar way, in the Old Testament, God set up all kinds of rules for how the Israelites were to live–rules that they routinely didn’t follow. And God laid out punishments that Israel would receive if they failed to follow the law.
But God didn’t punish constantly, at each infraction. On the contrary, it was as if God had a threshold, and once that threshold was reached, then He sent the nations into exile.
And the two sins that He rages against the most? Idolatry, or turning to other gods, and injustice, or failing to plead the case of the poor and the widow and the orphan. God cares when people hurt His children.
Jesus Himself gets emotional at the things that we would get emotional at
We see Jesus get really emotional four times in Scripture: When Lazarus dies; when John the Baptist is beheaded; when He’s praying in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before He’s to be arrested, tried, and killed, and the disciples won’t pray with Him; and when He looks over Jerusalem and feels as if they are all lost and won’t hear the truth about how God loves them.
What do we learn about all of these things? Jesus is affected by death. He mourns when someone He loves dies. Jesus is affected by betrayal or loneliness; He feels badly when the disciples won’t support Him, and He hurts that Jerusalem has rejected Him. He desperately wants to feel connected to us and to love us. He cares.
The Conclusion: God cares about injustice, and He cares about His people hurting
He goes to battle for us. He notices us. He sees us.
And I just want you all to know that today. I worry about the people who were saying so loudly, “God sees all sins as equal so He sees us all the same”, because I think that that belief may sound very pious and holy when life is good, but when life gets bad, it can make God seem like a monster.
Rest assured: when God looks down at Hitler and Mao and Stalin and even Hugh Hefner, He does not see you. He sees evil, and feels the burden of evil. Evil angers Him. And while all sin separates us from God, all sin does not have equal impact. God knows that. And God cares.
If your child dies, He knows that’s an extra hard pain. If you are betrayed by your husband, He knows that hurts more than other sins. If you’re abused, He knows that this has greater impact than other things.
And that means, that when you are at the lowest point in your life, God will always be the safest place to turn to.
What do you think? Do some of the things that we commonly believe actually make God seem distant? Let’s talk in the comments!