For a guy who generally tries to average about one book a week, I have to admit that I’m a bit behind my intended pace. Ok I’m a lot behind. This is actually the first full book I’ve finished this year. Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve spent some time reading lots of different things, I just haven’t finished anything until now.
One of my goals this year
Every year I try to read from a wide variety of books, but I’m always attempting to read all of the things that I should have read a long time ago. I’ve read very few classics in either literature or Christian theology, and I want to be better acquainted with important works. So, I began this year with the intent of reading three important theology books that I’ve never read before (sort of modern classics). The first is this one: R.C. Sproul’s The Holiness of God. I plan to follow this by reading Stott’s The Cross of Christ, and Packer’s Knowing God.
Not that I Can Probably Add Anything
I’m quite sure that I am not able to add anything to what’a already been said about The Holiness of God, it was originally published in 85 I think, and it’s fairly beloved. But, I’ll go ahead and tell you a few thoughts. (This is really less of a review and more of a collection of loosely collected thoughts).
It’s Better Than I Thought
Theologically I’m a reformed guy, but my heroes of the faith aren’t always made up of the typical cast of characters. I’ve never been much of a Sproul guy. In the previous little exposure that I’ve had to his writings, I haven’t been that impressed (I’m not sure I should say that out loud, but it’s true). It’s not that I disagree with anything he says necessarily (although I’m sure I do), It’s just that I had a hard time getting excited by his writing style, or tone, or something along those lines––I’m not really sure. So, I began this book thinking of it more as a chore than a delight. But, I’ve got to say that The Holiness of God really surprised me. It’s a good book. There’s apparently a reason it’s considered a modern classic. wink. wink. Sproul writes well, better and more creatively than I expected. He uses lots of examples and illustrations to get his points across, and he remains scholarly but easy to read.
This Book Made Me Wrestle with My Faith
I’m probably most thankful for this book because in God’s providence, He used it to make me wrestle with a few areas of my faith. Specifically, chapter 6, aptly named “Holy Justice,” caused me to struggle. Sproul says in the second paragraph of the chapter:
“Whoever reads the Old Testament must struggle with the apparent brutality of God’s judgment found there. For many people this is as far as they read. They stumble over the violent passages we call the ‘hard sayings’ (99).”
In chapter 6, Sproul deals with issues like Uzzah touching the arc of the covenant and being killed on the spot by God , and God’s destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. And I’ve got to be honest, though I’ve read and even wrestled with these passages for years, and though I could easily have answered the typical objections to these passages, I was still rattled as I reexamined them for myself. I wasn’t rattled so much in my head as in my heart. Did I really believe that God was just to kill people in these situations? And further, did I really believe that God was just to judge me as a sinner? Sure, I know I’m a sinner, but why is that such a big deal? Why is God so much about Himself that He must receive glory and must punish sin? I know the biblical answers to these questions. I’ve heard John Piper talk about this for years, and I know justice is a biblical idea and the cross only makes sense if God cares about justice. But for some reason while reading Sproul, my heart began to wrestle. Doubts began to pop into my head. I didn’t know if it was demonic attack, or stress, or a crisis of faith, or what. To be honest, it scared me a bit. I mean, I’m a pastor for crying out loud! But it was a good, healthy wrestling match, and it helped me.
Ultimately, as I begin calling out to God and dealing with my heart, I felt like this is what He spoke to me:
16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith” (Romans 1:16-17).
In verse 17, the Apostle Paul says that the righteousness of God is revealed only from faith. As I read this verse for probably the 500th time, God seemed to be saying, “Ben I know you know the answers in your head, and I know that your heart is struggling to understand my justice and my righteousness, but realize this: You can only understand it by faith. My righteousness and justice will never completely make sense to you if you’re thinking about it in a human way. It can only be understood by faith. It can only be accepted by faith.” And that helped me. I began to trust God more deeply and truly. I began to re-accept the things that were hard for me to hear, but that I knew were true.
My faith has been strengthened. I recently told our congregation that we must wrestle with our doubts. If we don’t wrestle, our faith will remain shallow and weak. I feel like God took me through this experience so that my trust and faith in Him would increase.
You should read it. It is actually really good. You’ll understand the Christian faith better by reading this book. And if you’re due for some wrestling with God, you just might wrestle.