I am quick to recognize God’s infinite power and might. I see how he’s the God who created all the stars in the universe with his fingers (Psalm 8). I see how he holds all the waters of the earth in the palm of his hand and how he has measured out the expanse of the heavens with the breadth of his hand (Isaiah 40). In this sense I understand God’s holiness. I understand his “set-apart-ness.” I understand that he is completely other than his creation, infinitely above and beyond man and all existence. I understand that there is none like him and that nothing and no one can be compared to him. In this sense I get what it means to say that God is holy.
However, something I lack is an understanding of the moral purity of God, and specifically his goodness. I get he’s infinitely great, but my grasp of the fact that he’s also infinitely good falls short.
In The Joy of Fearing God, Jerry Bridges, speaking of God’s holiness, says that if you try to imagine “a God who is infinite in His majesty, but not absolutely perfect in moral purity—with even just a fraction of a tendency toward abuse or contempt”, that “[s]uch a thought is terrifying” (p. 68). An infinitely great God who is not also infinitely good is nothing more than “an infinite monster” (Bridges quoting Stephen Charnock). Bridges goes on to quote Charnock by saying: “It is a less injury to deny his being, than to deny the purity of it; the one makes him no god, the other a deformed, unlovely, and detestable god” (p. 68). So not only do we turn God into an infinite monster when we doubt his goodness, but Charnock says we also commit a greater sin than denying his existence, for we end up making him other than what he really is.
My question is this: Does the fact that God is infinitely great also necessitate the fact that he be infinitely good? Could God be infinitely powerful, for example, without being infinitely also being good? Probably such a question is moving away from theology into philosophy. Regardless of whether or not it could be, what I must remind myself of is what the Bible clearly says: “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). This is moral purity John’s talking about here. God is infinite in greatness and infinite in goodness. As infinitely great as God is, he is in the same way infinitely good. For in all his infiniteness there exists no darkness, no moral corruption.
But I still ask, “How can I be sure? What proof do I have that it’s really so? I’ve got the physical creation—the enormity of the cosmos and the grandeur of the stars as well as the intricacy of the cell and the unfathomable depths of the atom—which screams to me that God is as great and powerful as the Bible says he is, and such a scream I cannot deny or ignore. So there’s proof positive that he’s powerful. Now what proof positive do I have that he’s also good? “Long ago and at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Hebrews 1:1-2a). Jesus is the way God declares his goodness to us. Creation is God’s way of physically demonstrating to us his greatness. His Son is his way of physically demonstrating his goodness to us. He tells us he’s great by the heavens. He tells us he’s good by the lips of a Jewish carpenter, the Word made flesh. The heavens declare his glory. Jesus declares his love. Proof positive God’s good? “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Jesus’ coming, living, and dying among us and for us is just as powerful a declaration of the character of God as is the world around us. Does not the fact that God is also Compassionate Father make God even greater than if he were “merely” Almighty Creator? I believe so.
And so as clearly as the heavens provide proof positive that I can neither deny or ignore that God is almighty, so too does Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection provide proof positive for God’s goodness. He is both great and good. He is to be feared and loved. We should tremble and delight in his presence.
In viewing God’s holiness as both majestic and completely morally pure, we see God more clearly than viewing only one or the other. Praise God he is both great and good.