As a pastor who leads the people of God in singing, I take particular interest and responsibility for the theology we profess in those songs.
In all of my upbringing in the North American modern evangelical church, this is the theology I was taught: Sin is abhorrent to God, and He cannot look upon it because He is too holy.
A line in one song we sing titled “Forever” says about Jesus’ death, “Heaven looked away.” In yet another song from my youth, we would sing the line, “The Father turns His face away”. So of course a consistency with what I had been taught kept me from questioning it.
But is this true? Is God too holy to look upon sin? Where do we get this idea?
Well, we get it from certain passages in Scripture, like Habbakuk 1:13, which says “O Lord, Your eyes are too pure to behold evil, and you cannot look on wrongdoing;”
Sounds like God is too holy to look on sin, doesn’t it? But if only we’d keep reading! Do you know how the rest of the verse goes?
“O Lord, Your eyes are too pure to behold evil, and you cannot look on wrongdoing;
so why then do You..??”
We also get this idea from Isaiah 59:2, which says:
“But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.”
Sounds like God is too holy to look on sin, or even hear the cries of sinners, doesn’t it?
But if only we’d keep reading! The rest of the chapter says this:
“The Lord saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice. He saw that there was no one, and was appalled that there was no one to intervene; so his own arm brought him victory, and his righteousness upheld him.”
The Lord looks. The Lord sees. He sees injustice and sin, and He decides to do something about it! The chapter goes on to say:
“As for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the Lord. “My Spirit, who is on you, will not depart from you, and my words that I have put in your mouth will always be on your lips, on the lips of your children and on the lips of their descendants—from this time on and forever,” says the Lord.
Does the Bible say God is too holy to look upon sin? That God turns away from us? Well, yeah, if you read it flatly, the way many modern sermons systematize and dissect it. But the proper answer is, no.
So if God doesn’t hide from sin, then did the Father turn His face away? Was it just too unbearable for Him too look while His Son, taking sin upon Himself, suffered the execution chair of 1st century Rome?
Where do we get this idea?
Well, we get it from a passage in Scripture. Specifically, something Jesus said while upon the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Yes, Jesus, experiencing fully our humanity, felt despair and abandonment, but does this mean the Father turned away?
Jesus is quoting the first line of Psalm 22 when He cries out. And, once again, if only we’d keep reading!
“For dogs are all around me; a company of evildoers encircles me. My hands and feet have shriveled; I can count all my bones. They stare and gloat over me; they divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.”
Jesus is pointing us to see “this Psalm is about me” and then it says this:
“You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him; stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel! For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted one; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him.”
What we must be absolutely certain about here is that God has not turned away from us in our sin. He is not distant or removed as Jesus hangs upon a cross – He is IN Christ. God is IN Christ Jesus on the cross. Jesus is Lord. Jesus is God. Jesus is God, forgiving us as He suffers and dies at our hands.
That is His holiness on display.
Heaven has not looked away.
Heaven held its gaze.
In awe and wonder and humility, we look straight into the holy and loving eyes of God in Christ Jesus. And He says, “I see you. I forgive you.”
In the smallest of ways our singing has taught us a god who is not our God. I will sing of our God! I will sing of His love when I change the lyrics to:
One final breath He gave/as Heaven held its gaze/the Son of God was laid in darkness. A battle in the grave/the war on death was waged/the power of hell forever broken!