[Originally posted on January 22, 2009]
To hear the words, “God hates sin,” may, for certain modern men, invoke images of a deity too demanding to be very comfortable. Such moderns would find the proposition savoring of a dogmatism that borders on the primitive. For them, it sounds so arbitrary for God to label certain forms of behavior — often forms we find enjoyable — to be evil and therefore “sinful.”
Yet, to say that God is “holy” is to avow that He is offended by evil, and therefore truly “hates sin.” It is a strict conclusion of theology based on God’s justice, goodness, and love. Far from contradicting that “God is love” (1 John 4:16), the statement perfectly flows from that sublime truth.
Below, I have reproduced some pages from Christ the Ideal of the Priest, a work of Blessed Columba Marmion (1858-1923), the Irish Abbot of Belgium’s Maredsous Abbey. It is a sublime passage explaining God’s holiness, deserving to be savored slowly in prayer.
His argument is simple: God is infinite goodness. He loves His own goodness and, because He is just, He wills for Himself that which is His due. Included in this will is that His creatures honor this goodness, too. If God loves what is good, He must also hate that absence of goodness we call evil. The Apostle tells us, “Let love be without dissimulation. Hating that which is evil, cleaving to that which is good” (Romans 12:9). He here enjoins us to imitate God Himself.
Gary Potter recently made the point that, in the absence of the old Christian standards, “All that was left for judging was the legality of an action.” But without Christian standards, the law itself is insufficient, for the people become ungovernable. He concludes that, at a further point in this general decline, “Tyranny would be a substitute for government the way ‘values’ replaced Christian moral standards.” Such tyranny is what I described in my own essay on “the Nannie State.” Its alternative demands an appeal to conscience, a conscience based upon objective standards drawn from the first truths of religion. One of those first truths is that God is holy.
Dom Columba Marmion on God’s Holiness (from Christ the Ideal of the Priest)
In what does this sublime divine attribute called sanctity consist according to the teaching of theology?
God possesses a sovereign transcendence; He is infinitely distant from all His creation, from all imperfection, from all our world; this is the first aspect, and rather a negative one, of His sanctity. Moreover, according to our human manner of speaking, it may be said that God’s sanctity consists in the love which He bears His own essence, His own goodness. This adherence of love is wise and supremely justified, for it is in conformity with the absolute excellence of the divine nature. In other words, in the contemplation of His essence God loves Himself and wills for Himself all that is in accord with the perfection of His own being. It is in this love and in this will that we can say that sanctity exists in God. In Him, this will and this love are not only in conformity with His infinite goodness but are identified with it. From this springs their immovable strength.
In His work of creation and of sanctification God wishes to see His creatures act in accordance with the order and the subordination which becomes them. It is by this that they give glory to God. When man recognizes his absolute dependence in regard to his Creator, he is acting in complete conformity with the law of his nature, and God approves this submission and this glorification; just as, for the same reason, God must necessarily disapprove of any attitude of insubordination or revolt, and condemn sin. This is not from egoism or from pride, but on account of His sanctity which desires that all things should be accomplished in accordance with rectitude, wisdom, and truth. It is in this sense that we must understand that “God is holy in all His works”: Sanctus in omnibus operibus suis (Ps. cxliv. 13),and that “He made all things for Himself”: Universa propter semetipsum operatus est Dominus (Prov. xvi. 4).
This divine perfection dazzles the heavenly spirits. When Isaias and St. John saw for an instant heaven opened, what did they behold? The angels singing without ceasing: Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus (Isa. vi. 3; Apoc. iv. 8).
Sanctity in God is therefore the love which He bears to His own supreme goodness, a love which is supremely wise and of the most absolute rectitude.
In its full perfection sanctity exists in God alone, for He alone has a perfect love of His infinite goodness. The three divine Persons possess this essential attribute but each in His own personal “relation”.
It will always be beyond our powers of understanding to have an exact idea of divine sanctity in itself. On the other hand, when we contemplate it in Jesus, divine sanctity reveals itself to us and commands our admiration. Man recognizes it as something which is accessible, close to him.
Jesus, in His human nature, participates in the sanctity of the Word: He is far removed from all sin, from all imperfection; everything in Him is a reflection of the life of the Word: by a perfect love of the infinite goodness He refers Himself always and entirely to the Father Whom He glorifies in all His actions.
This is the model to which we make bold to raise our eyes, especially we who are invested with all the powers of Jesus Christ: “As the Father hath sent Me, I also send you” (John xx. 21).
If the Word — Who by His simple and infinite activity expresses all that the Father is — has revealed the secrets of the divine life in human language, and by examples adapted to our weak intelligence, is it not the height of folly on the part of men to be inattentive to His message, and to think of becoming holy in their own way without making Jesus Christ the object of their aspirations, of their confidence, and of their life?