Can God have in his presence people who have done significantly more good than evil in their lives?

The question in the title was posed to me by a friend, who is a self-described “secular Jew,” when I visited him during Christmas break. Let me first explain that “in his presence” means, for this discussion, living in the most intimate possible state with God for all eternity.

Three of us participated in this discussion; the other person is also a Christian alumnus of the University of Minnesota. We had a long discussion about my beliefs as a Christian and why I believe Christianity is the only true faith. He stated that he believes Christianity is a good way to live but not the only way to God. If God sits atop a metaphorical mountain, climbers can take many different paths up the mountain. He also believes that Christ’s death, while not necessary for our forgiveness, “illuminated the path” of service and sacrifice that he wanted his disciples to follow.

I argued that God is not on top of a scalable mountain but on the other side of an impassible canyon, and Jesus Christ is the only bridge. In the course of our discussion, I asserted that Christ was the only bridge because we all have some sin in our lives (Rom 3:23), that God cannot tolerate any sin in his presence, and that only Christ’s forgiveness can cleanse us of sin and allow us into his presence.

Our discussion resolved the various issues and controversies we had discussed into the single question that is the title of this post. If the answer is “no,” then the question becomes, “Why cannot God tolerate sin?”

I would appreciate any answers you might have.

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6 Responses to Can God have in his presence people who have done significantly more good than evil in their lives?

  1. Anonymous says:

    The goal of a good governor is to have a peaceful society. To that end, a good earthly governor spends a great deal of time and money separating those who want chaos from those who want peace.

    God can and does tolerate sin as today is witness of. As you so appropriately point out, the reference is to the future.

    God wants all of his creation in his presence by their own choice. Those who want peace and who follow him would like to be freed of the pain created by those who want chaos. To support that He must exclude one of the two groups. He has chosen to exclude the chaotic group. They don’t want to live with him anyway so why force them. And why mix them only to be continually having trials for and putting in prision those who injure? Separating them once is much more efficient.

    Now, the question comes up of where to draw the line. How much chaos should be tolerated? The answer is none. This is fair because he sent his Son to cleanse all who would of sin (as you point out). We take advantage of this gift by humbly accepting it. That humility will lead us to the desire for a peaceful life which will in turn take us into the eternal, peaceful presence of God.

    It is regrettable that not all will take the humble path!!! It is especially painful when one sees beloved family members refuse. The alternative though to God given free-will is God’s creating robots. One might easily agree that sitting in a room full of computers is not nearly as interesting as sitting in a room full of peaceful people who enjoy each other’s company and are continually working for the common good.

    God can tolerate sin in his presence. He is present everywhere and this universe is filled with chaos. He will not tolerate sin in his immediate and eternal presence for the benefit of those who put up with so much chaos during the mortal existence. This is so because he loves us.

  2. corwin says:

    This is an interesting perspective. I had mainly focused on God’s holiness rather than our peace in eternity.

    Thank you for your comments, but who are you? You can respond in private to my e-mail address:

  3. Anonymous says:

    It ends up being a definitional issue. What, exactly, is sin? Sin is any which separates us from God.
    A good bit of the Bible is devoted to explaining to human beings what sort of actions and decisions can cause a metaphysical disconnect between the Creator and His created, but the definition of sin itself contains the threshold. It is the nature of sin that anything that is sin is enough to separate a human from God. If something was “minimal” or “unimportant” enough that it didn’t have that effect, it wouldn’t be sin.
    Most things in the spiritual realm aren’t additive. Humans aren’t, souls aren’t, and deeds aren’t. The difference between zero and one is absolute, but the difference between one and a million is irrelevant. Once we realize that nothing in the spirit world works on the basis of addition or accumulation, many other things become more clear. For instance, there’s no longer any particular moral advantage to sacrificing one life to save many, nor can you “count” good actions and sins in any meaningful way.

  4. Paul Rimmer says:

    Hey Luke,

    Let me take a very uninformed “crack” at answering the question.

    From a bit of an Orthodox tradition (and answering in the spirit of the Early Church Fathers), sin is seen as being actions that are disordered, or that contain within them something that is evil.

    First we must have some idea of who God is. And for this, I hold God to be the supreme good, manifested in what exists: “I am that I am.” So all that exists is good and finds its source in God.

    Evil is seen as the lack of something which is good. So nothing is entirely evil, and the more evil something is, the less of “something” that thing is. Things are only so evil as a measure of how far they are away from God’s presence.

    The cause of sin is death, pain, propensity for more sin. Sin, then, is act that leads to greater evil. And the greater evil caused by the first sin is privation of being (death), and the propensity for more privation of being (sin nature). But each of these are symptoms of the cause: that humanity has removed itself from a relationship with God, and that this removal has caused a certain lacking. We know that something is lacking, as we desire things.

    Our desires are always for what will fill us, the source of all being, or God. So we attempt to fulfill these desires, either by seeking God, or by seeking something less than God (something that lacks what God has to offer).

    Sex before marriage is a good illustration. Sex is good. But sex before marriage takes something that is naturally good, and disorders it, it removes it from God, and so the act lacks some of its substance.

    Evil is the lack of substance, in this sense. But God is complete substance; God is complete being. So no one can be entirely separate from God’s love (the effects of God’s essence, or goodness). Anything that exists must have its source in a creator, and a good God can make no evil. So even in Hell, there is the Love of God that, as it has been and is constantly being denied in hell, causes those separated from God to burn with desire for Him.

    And now we get to the big question: why can’t God just allow evil people into His presence? This stems from the idea of theosis, that by being saved, by growing in Christ, even in Heaven, we are becoming more Christ like. We, by being saved, come into the most intimate of relationships with the Maker, whereby we partake in His Divine Nature. We, as the Church fully realized in Paradise, are His Perfect Mystical Body.

    So asking the question “Why doesn’t God just allow evil people to partake in His divine nature?” becomes the same question as “Why doesn’t God just become not-God?” For God to take anyone who lacks being into Himself, is for God to take non-being into being, or for a certain aspect of God to cease to be. But this violates what God is. “The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:6-7)

  5. jjhelmus says:

    I have always wondered and been confused with those who like to argue about the characteristics of God. Arguments on the lines of “I don’t believe in a God who…” or “My God is not one who…” don’t fit into my perception of God. I find this vein of this type of thinking in the posed question.

    Although I do find use in ontological and metaphysical arguments at times to be helpful in debates on the characteristics of God, I believe ultimately we must admit that, as humans, we cannot fully know or understand how God behaves. Does the logic of man force God to act in a certain way? Can man discover all there is about God with deep thought? Isaiah 45:9b follows this line: “Does the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you making?’” Why create in-depth arguments for or against an attribute of God when we can ask and search for answers from God himself? I suppose I like the answer to questions like these that I learned in children’s church “because the Bible tells me so.”

    Now this argument is pointless if one does not accept the Bible to be the Word of God, but still one must admit that man does not define what God is or isn’t, he merely observes who He is. Similarly the chemicals in my lab do not behave because Quantum Mechanics tells them too; rather QM is a good model for what is (usually) observed. So is it profitable to argue about the attributes of God with someone who does not accept the authority we find in the Bible? I think it is, but ultimately we must concede that our knowledge of the character of God comes from the source we accept to be authoritarian, the Holy Scriptures. I would argue that one’s time might be better spent explaining why you accept the Bible to be the Word of God.

    In my own life I struggled with the problem of logically explaining to myself if God existed and who exactly he was. Only when I accepted that logic in itself cannot prove of disprove God (a never-the-less positive trait for logic to have) was I able to search for God by other avenues and eventually find the answers and truth I was seeking. One does not need to give up one’s intelligence to be a Christian. Intelligence can lead you very close to God, but there is still some point where human certainty must be left behind and faith takes over.

  6. Mark Wistey says:

    A counter-analogy that I like to offer is that God is not atop a mountain, but is a point above a plane. Sure, other religions offer some truth, more or less, depending on how close their respective regions on the plane are to God. But only one point is closest, and (IMHO) Christianity occupies most of the area under that point (with varying degrees of error; we see through a glass darkly). Of course, Christianity also teaches that we can’t jump that gap from *anywhere* on the plane. Only Christ’s sacrifice can do so.

    I like this analogy somewhat better than the chasm/bridge because it breaks our tendency to think of God as reachable by our own effort. He’s “holy”: i.e. other, set apart, unreachable. Not on the human plane.

    Of course, I haven’t actually had anyone slap their forehead at this point, confess their error, and turn to Christ, so maybe the analogy makes more sense to me than to anyone else. 🙂 But maybe it’ll help.

    jjhelmus wrote: I have always wondered and been confused with those who like to argue about the characteristics of God. Arguments on the lines of “I don’t believe in a God who…” or “My God is not one who…” don’t fit into my perception of God.

    There’s nothing inherently wrong with reductio ad absurdum as a rational argument. The problem comes when the speaker draws conclusions from unstated or irrational assumptions. Putting your finger on the logical fallacy can be tricky, but it’s helpful to penetrate the defenses of Screwtape et al.

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