God Can’t Look Upon Sin? Who Says?

God Can’t Look Upon Sin? Who Says? October 11, 2018

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There is this idea floating around Christianity that says God is too holy to look upon sin. It is typically espoused by Calvinists, but it goes well beyond that system of thought: indeed, it has infected nearly every corner of Protestantism, and in the process has done great harm, both psychologically and theologically.

First off, to say that God the Father is too holy to look upon sin is, to my mind, to say that Jesus Christ is not God. No Christian would deny Jesus’ divinity outright—at least no Christian I know would do this—so how could they say that God can’t look upon sin when Jesus explicitly did? Is Jesus not the icon of the Father? Is Jesus not God in human form? From the get-go, Jesus stared sin straight in the face and, if we take the gospels seriously, defeated it; so why is the Father somehow so vastly dissimilar to Jesus when it comes to sin?

I mean, do we not learn anything from the Passion narrative? Just prior to going to the cross for the sins of the Christians—nay, the world—Jesus confronts sin and stares it dead in the eye. Actually, he does more than that. He washes the feet of the one—Judas—who is about to sell him out to the Romans. We typically think of Judas as the worst sinner of all—we love to scapegoat, don’t we?—so why is it that Jesus doesn’t turn his face from Judas? Why, instead, does he include him until the end, even going so far as to bath his dusty-ass feet? Because God isn’t afraid of sin, that’s why. God isn’t too holy to look upon it. In fact, as Jesus shows us, God is too holy to not look upon it.

Case in point: The Cross, the pinnacle moment of Jesus’ life. Here is where Jesus shows us the extent to which God’s love will go. He shows us just how willing God is to look upon the worst of our sins, absorb them, and forgive them. From atop the cross, Jesus—God—gets a bird’s eye view of the world (both figuratively and somewhat literally). And what does he do with this view? Luke 23:34 tells us: He offers forgiveness to all those sinful people who put him there. Who, exactly, are these people? Well, if we take Christian tradition at all seriously, it’s everyone. Everyone is guilty. Everyone is sinful. And everyone is, in spite of this, known by God and offered forgiveness. Indeed, their sins are met, face to face, by God-incarnate, and forever erased from the books, so to speak.

Honestly, how can we say that God both forgives sins and is too holy to look upon them? That makes zero sense to me. How can we say that our sins are done away with unless they are actually met by the one who does away with them? We can’t have it both ways: that God can’t look upon sin and that God also forgives sin. Either God can look upon sin and then forgives sin, or he can’t look upon sin and thus can’t offer real forgiveness. To forgive something is to meet it head on with grace and mercy.

This detrimental view that God can’t look upon sin goes beyond the theological, however. When we take on this view, we tend to shun those whom we call “sinful.” After all, it is pretty obvious that our theology infects our sociology and anthropology. In other words, we tend to act like the God or gods we believe in. Suffice it to say that if we think God can’t look upon sin, we tend to act accordingly: we judge the so-called sinful and turn away from them. Just ask the LGBTQ+ community. When it comes to these folks, we typically call them sinful and then either kick them out of our churches or, worse yet, out of our very homes. It’s strikingly sad, to be perfectly honest with you, and I’m ashamed that we do such things.

That is why this is yet another view that needs to get erased from our doctrine of God. God is the one who goes looking for the sinners; we are the ones who hide in shame. Is this point not clearly made in Genesis 3? When Adam and Eve “sin,” are they not the ones who hide and is God not the one who comes searching for them? I know you know the answer. Further, in the Prodigal Son story, is the father not the one who comes running down the lane to greet his sinful son? Assuredly, he is. That’s the point: God is like the father in the story. God comes running to us, even when we’ve completely gone off the rails.

We should be thankful that God is not like we typically say. God is good and in spite of us not being so good, in spite of our sin, he always comes seeking after us. He’s not afraid of our sin. He’s not somehow so small that he can’t deal with it either. So, let’s stop projecting our fear and shame onto the divine, and instead, start allowing God to be God. Trust me, God can handle things, even sin.


Matthew J. Distefano is the author of 4 books and co-hosts the Heretic Happy Hour (iTunes and PodBean). He lives in Chico, Ca with his wife and daughter. You can read more about the author here.

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