One of the things that’s always astounded me is how we don’t seem to really think deeply about God’s character. We might look at attributes such as God’s love–which is absolutely essential to our understanding of him—but if we do, we tend to elevate that to his essence. We don’t bother to get to the core of who God is.
But the thing about God is, he wants us to know his character and rejoice in it.
The chief attribute of God
Just think about Abraham for a moment. Abraham is one of the only men to be called a friend of God. He is the one to whom the great promise of an offspring who would be a blessing to all the nations was given. He was the one who miraculously was given a son when he and his wife were well beyond childbearing years. He knew God—he understood his character. And he wasn’t afraid to approach God on that basis. Consider Genesis 18:22-26:
So the men turned from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the LORD. Then Abraham drew near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” And the LORD said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake.”
This is astounding isn’t it? Look at what he says in this bold appeal: “Far be that from you that the righteous be swept away along with the wicked,” he says. “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?”
What is he basing this appeal on?
God’s character—he knew God was (and is) just. We know of his hatred of sin from Genesis 18:21, a sin so great that he came to personally judge it. Because he is a holy God, he would administer justice. He could do nothing else.
This is one of the attributes Abraham recognized—the attribute which is arguably the defining one of God. It is the one angels sing of (Isaiah 6:1-3), which prevents him from even looking at sin and not taking action (Habakkuk 1:13), of hating wickedness in all its forms (Psalm 5:5; 11:5).
But this same holiness also undergirds his compassion.
Holiness and compassion
That’s why Abraham could ask with complete integrity, “If there are fifty righteous people in the city, will you spare it?” And then again presume to ask about sparing the city for the sake of 45, 40, 30, 20 and 10. God in his compassion, his merciful loving kindness, would execute justice, but he would not destroy the righteous along with the wicked—and in fact, he was even willing to spare the wicked for the sake of the righteous!
That’s the sort of amazing God we serve—one who is generous as to extend mercy to the wicked for the sake of the righteous.
And that’s the gospel, isn’t it? For the sake of the true righteous one, Jesus Christ, wicked people such as you and me are spared what we are due and instead not only given pardon, but welcomed into God’s family. We are declared more than friends—we are children!
But that’s the thing about God: if we don’t do our best to grasp what we can of his character—understanding the natural limits we all face—we wind up with a lopsided view of him, one that doesn’t represent him at all. You and I, we have got to know God’s character as best as we are able. We have got to do our best to know and be thankful for every aspect of him, his overwhelming love and his perfect justness. His incomparable holiness and his unimaginable kindness.
We need it all. All the time. No matter what.