In all honesty I cannot remember the last time I heard a sermon or a lesson come from the book of 1 Chronicles. In general I think it is one of the books that gets "lost in the shuffle" sometimes in favor of, what we see as the, more meaningful portions of the Scripture. However, there are some important truths that can be drawn from books like 1 Chronicles. The incident that I would like to expand on today comes from 1 Chronicles 13:9-10. At this point in the narrative David is having the Ark of the Covenant moved to Jerusalem because it was largely ignored during the reign of King Saul. What happens is tragic and shocking to say the least and it brings up some very interesting questions about the character of God. Here is Uzza, a man who is accompanying the Ark, and he sees that the oxen are about to upset the cart upon which it is riding. He reaches out to steady the Ark and God strikes him down. The Scriptures tell us that "he died there before God." This not only upsets David but it also may upset many of us. Why would God strike down poor Uzza who was just trying to help? His intentions were good, were they not? Yes, his intentions were good but, as the saying goes, "The road to Hell is paved with good intentions." I am not suggesting that Uzza ended up in Hell because of his mistake, that is something that only God knows and it is not addressed in the passage. What we can draw from this incident is a very important lesson for us today and that is, God's holiness makes no exceptions.
Our instinct in these modern times is to weight God's attributes differently. If we were to make a list of His attributes they may include things such as: just, loving, compassionate, holy, perfect, unchanging, etc. What we tend to do is say that certain ones outweigh the others. For instance, we might say that God's love overrides His justice. I would submit that this is the most popular example. We are probably all aware of Rob Bell's new book entitled Love Wins. It is not my intention to refute or even discuss this book, primarily because I have not read it. However, from what I've been able to gather from things I've heard and seen the idea is that God's love outweighs His holiness and justice in the end. This is inappropriate on many levels and I will try to explain why in what follows.
The starting point for this discussion has to be the percentages that we give each of God's attributes. What I mean is that we may think that God's love takes up a higher proportion of His character than justice, or holiness. Let me give a worldly example to illustrate this point. If the Congress in the United States is made up of 60% conservatives and 40% liberals then we would describe it as a conservative congress. That doesn't mean that it is completely conservative but that the overall ideology would be such. When we translate this onto God we would say that He is 60% loving, 20% holy, 10% just and 10% unchanging. This, of course, is far from the orthodox way of viewing God and His character. The more accurate description would be that God is 100% loving, 100% just, 100% holy and 100% unchanging. Naturally, this looks like a mathematical impossibility. Thankfully, God is not limited by our earthly concepts of math. We see this in other places as well. For instance, the orthodox and biblical position is that Jesus was 100% man and 100% God. This would make Him 200% which is impossible. Also, when we look at the Trinity we have this strange equation, 1+1+1=1. Ultimately, this is a divine mystery that we will never completely comprehend or understand until all is revealed in glory.
Let me apply this to the discussion at hand. God's love and compassion do not work against or override His justice and holiness. What they do is work in concert with each other. We see the most beautiful and grizzly (another paradox perhaps) evidence of this on the Cross. It was here that God's love met with His justice and holiness working together to provide a means of salvation for the world. By nature unholy beings cannot enter into God's perfect, holy presence. The solution was to apply His loving character to the situation and provide a way for humanity to be holy and thereby gain entrance into Heaven. His holiness would not budge... nay, could not budge, on the issue just as His holiness could not be withheld from Uzza.
Now let me take this a step further towards practical application. It was Uzza's sin that lead to his instant and tragic demise. Sin is that which we do that is contrary to God's commandments and standard. Uzza's intentions had no bearing on His personal holiness. Likewise, our good deeds, done with the best of intentions have no bearing on our personal holiness. A person can no more become holy through his or her deeds than a horse can become a human by walking on two legs. Isaiah makes this point clear in 64:6, For all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; and all of us wither like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. It is not God's justice that sends one to Hell, it is their iniquities and sin. It was Uzza's trespass that lead to God striking him down because he, and we, live in a world that is subject to the framework of God's justice and holiness. In an athletic competition we would be appalled if people who broke the rules were allowed to continue the competition and far more so if they were rewarded for their rule breaking. The problem is, we don't apply those same feelings of outrage to God. If we repeatedly break the rules that He has put in place we are shocked when we must bear the consequences. Our belief is that God's love would not allow such a thing, but we fail to see that His love has provided an escape hatch, His Son. Through our faith and trust in Jesus Christ we are made holy so that we may enter into God's holy presence. What more loving thing could ever have been done?!
Here is the bottom line, and it comes from the words of Christ in Matthew 7:22-23, Many will say to Me on that day, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?" And then I will declare to them,"I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness." Our good deeds will be beyond meaningless when we stand before God Almighty. Uzza's good deed was helpless to divert the holiness and justice of God. God's infinite love and compassion have been seen in the Cross of His beloved Son, Jesus Christ. His love is further evidenced in the fact that He allows all who call on Him and trust in His Son to be saved from the wrath to come. That is not to mention the countless opportunities we are given to embrace the sacrifice of Christ while we are on this earth. God's holiness will not allow uncleanliness into His presence, God's justice demands payment for the sins we've committed and God's love made that payment. The only possible course of action for us is to believe and trust in Christ.