“We know him who said, ‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay.’ And again, ‘The Lord will judge his people.’ It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”
Without a doubt, biblical Christianity has a view of God and His attributes that is much higher than we find in other religions. True, most other religions have some kind of teaching on the Creator’s mercy and justice, but the conception of justice found in these belief systems is profoundly inadequate because other religions fail to grasp truly the holiness of God. In other faiths, such as Islam and Judaism, the Creator simply passes over the sins of men and women if they confess belief in one God and do good deeds. These good works atone for sin or at least outweigh any sins and errors that have been committed. An infinite, holy God, however, cannot simply take the feeble good works of His fallen creatures and use them to cover sin. Sin against an infinitely just being demands an infinitely just punishment. For the Lord to remain true to His promise of eternal death — everlasting conscious punishment — for those who commit sin (Gen. 2:15–17; Rev. 20:11–15), He must pour out His just wrath on sinners. He cannot simply weigh the works of His creatures and accept people if their good outweighs their bad, for the good works of sinners are always mixed with impurity. Moreover, even if sinners could do works that are truly good, not even a lifetime of good works could make up for one sin against an infinite being. Indeed, “God is certainly merciful,” as the Heidelberg Catechism reminds us, “but he is also just” (Q&A 11). The catechism uses today’s passage as one of its proof texts for the justice of the Lord, and with good reason. In it we are reminded of the biblical teaching that God alone has a righteous vengeance, that He alone can ensure that justice is satisfied, and that He will not set aside the righteous and holy vengeance that all sinners deserve (Isa. 34:8; 2 Thess. 1:5–12). It is a fearful thing for impenitent people to fall into the hands of the living God (Heb. 10:30–31). His justice is absolute, and no sin will go unpunished. Because He is our infinite and transcendent Creator, there is no escape from His hand. John Calvin comments, “Mortal man, however incensed he may be, cannot carry his vengeance beyond death; but God’s power is not bounded by so narrow limits; besides, we often escape from men, but we cannot escape from God’s judgment.”
Coram DeoLiving before the face of God
When talking to unbelievers, we can point out that Christianity alone believes in God’s justice and holy hatred of sin. As long as the adherents of other faiths maintain that our good works can make up for sin and that God does not absolutely punish the sins of His followers, their deities have no true detestation for wickedness. On the other hand, we believe in a God who shows mercy to His people but also renders infinite justice on their transgressions in Christ.