The Constraints of God’s Holiness

A Twilight Musing

Alternative Scenario for Immediate Post-Lapsarian response by the Creator

(see authorized version in Gen. 3):

God looked down in sorrow and disappointment at Adam and Eve chewing on the Forbidden Fruit and noted their being chagrined at the first thing their newly-opened eyes saw—their nakedness.  They didn’t realize yet why it was a problem, but of course God knew, and He was ready to help them fix it.  Poor babies, they had truly bitten off more than they could chew.  So God came down and stood beside them (though He had to hold His nose to do it—the stench of corruption had already set in), and He set about making them garments to replace the pathetic stitched leaves they had cobbled together to cover their newly embarrassing private parts.*  He then sat down and held their hands and chided them for being so foolish, but He also encouraged them to buck up and learn from their error.  They wept on His shoulder and vowed they would never repeat their mistake, and both they and God saw it as a growth experience.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

As fallen human beings in the lineage of Adam and Eve, I think many of us might be inclined to say, “Yeah, why couldn’t God have cut Adam and Eve (and us) some slack?  After all, He sort of set them up for failure by planting that Forbidden Tree and then letting the Tempter in the Garden.  Why make such a big deal of their failure and then pass it on to all human beings afterward?  We all make mistakes. It wasn’t fair; the penalty far outweighed the offense.”

Such sentiments, though understandable, fail to consider the implications of God’s immutable, innate, essential qualities, such as Goodness, Love, Justice, and—most relevant to this discussion—Holiness.  Strange as it may seem to contemplate, the biblical picture of God indicates that His immutability constrains His choices in ways that are not true of fallible mortals doomed to the ultimate form of mutability, death.  It is expected that humans will achieve only relative degrees of goodness, love, justice, and holiness, since even though we cannot know perfectly, we have nevertheless to act on the limited knowledge we have, i.e., we make choices.  But God, of course, has perfect knowledge and wisdom, and there is no excuse, as it were, for Him to act in any way contrary to His immutable, innate qualities.  He “cannot,” to put it in human terms, do anything that is not in accord with who He Is.  His very name, He tells Moses, can be expressed in human terms only as “I AM WHO I AM” (Ex. 3:14).  James 1:17 describes God as “the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to turning.”

So it is that God could not have merely overlooked the sin of Adam and Eve and reset the program to give them another chance.  When their disobedience broke the bond of identity and oneness between them and God, it became impossible for God in His Holiness to walk with them in their sin—not because He “chose” it so in the way that we use that word, but rather they had removed themselves from the realm of His Holiness.  He could, in perfect justice, have separated Himself from them entirely and left them to the unmitigated consequences of their sin; but, in fact, He not only spoke to them of the negative consequences of their rebellion, but He clothed them and hinted at a mortal blow that would be dealt to their Adversary in the future by Someone born of woman.  God already had a plan by which He could overcome the barrier between sinful mankind and His holiness.  It was a radical and unbelievably costly solution that only He could implement.   That brings us to the Incarnation, in which He let a part of Himself, with the essential qualities of divine Holiness and Justice intact, be injected into the morass of the death-bound fallen world and emerge from it having fulfilled Divine Justice and paid the penalty of death so that forgiveness could be extended without violating God’s Holiness.

Chapters 8-10 of the book of Hebrews present the Incarnation as the culmination of God’s plan to bridge the gulf between His holiness and sinful humans.  After establishing the special priesthood of Jesus according to the order of Melchizedek  (Heb. 7:11-17), the writer makes clear that Jesus as priest has entered into the eternal Holy Place at the right hand of God, not merely into the earthly space into which the Aaronic priests enter once a year to offer the sacrifice of atonement (8:1-2). These Old Covenant priests served only “a copy and shadow of the heavenly things” (8:5) prescribed by the Law of Moses.  In the same way, Jesus’ entry into the eternal Holy of Holies and the sacrifice He made there was not merely “gifts and sacrifices   . . . that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, but deal only with regulations for the body” (9:9-10).  Rather, “he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption” (9:12) and establishing a New Covenant through His self-sacrifice.

This New Covenant, in contrast to the Old Covenant, went beyond physical purification that provided temporary access to God’s Holiness and Presence:

But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.  (Heb 10:12-14 ESV)

Through the patient development of His plan over the millennia between the first Adam and the Second Adam, God overcame the necessary separation of His Holiness brought about through the Fall with the loving sacrifice of a part of Himself.  As the first Adam fell, so the Second Adam descended into the wounded world and ascended to the Father to make it whole.

*See “And They Realized They Were Naked” in the poetry archives of Moral Apologetics.

Image:By Carl Heinrich Bloch -, Public Domain,


Elton Higgs

Dr. Elton Higgs was a faculty member in the English department of the University of Michigan-Dearborn from 1965-2001. Having retired from UM-D as Prof. of English in 2001, he now lives with his wife and adult daughter in Jackson, MI.. He has published scholarly articles on Chaucer, Langland, the Pearl Poet, Shakespeare, and Milton. His self-published Collected Poems is online at He also published a couple dozen short articles in religious journals. (Ed.: Dr. Higgs was the most important mentor during undergrad for the creator of this website, and his influence was inestimable; it's thrilling to welcome this dear friend onboard.)