Can God Look Upon Evil?

Posted by in Bible & Theology

A few days ago, I was perusing some new blogs and came across the following statement: “God cannot bear to behold such things but responds to them only by turning Himself away and executing justice against such evil.” I copied the statement because I knew I wanted to write about it but I neglected to get the blog reference. If this statement is from your blog, please let me know and I will give you the proper credit.

The statement above was written in the context of saying that God the Father turned His back on Jesus at the cross because as God, while He was carrying out His justice against sin laid on Christ at the cross, He was too holy to look upon it.

Now this is a theological position I have heard many others take as well. As a matter of fact, a few years ago, I attended an Easter drama at a large church near me during which this particular view of God was on display. The choir were supposed to be angels in heaven looking down on Jesus at the cross. At the point when the narrator said, “And God turned His back on His Son because He is too pure to look upon sin,” the entire choir turned their back to audience as the lights dimmed in the auditorium.

Did God the Father turn away from God the Son while He was dying for our sin? Not according to the Gospels. There is no explicit statement in the Gospel accounts of the life of Christ that says God turned His back on Jesus at the cross.

This view of God forsaking Jesus at the cross seems to be derived from three verses of scripture: Hab. 1:13; Matt. 27:45-46; and Mark 15:34.

First, let’s examine the question of whether God can look upon sin. Many scriptures tell us that God is all-seeing. Here are a few:

“For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him.” 2 Chr. 16:9

“For His eyes are on the ways of man, And He sees all his steps.” Job 34:21

“The Lord looks from heaven; He sees all the sons of men. From the place of His dwelling He looks On all the inhabitants of the earth; He fashions their hearts individually; He considers all their works.” Ps. 33:13-15

“For the ways of man are before the eyes of the Lord, And He ponders all his paths.” Prov. 5:21

“The eyes of the Lord are in every place, Keeping watch on the evil and the good.” Prov. 15:3

“For My eyes are on all their ways; they are not hidden from My face, nor is their iniquity hidden from My eyes.” Jer. 16:17

“You are great in counsel and mighty in work, for your eyes are open to all the ways of the sons of men, to give everyone according to his ways and according to the fruit of his doings.” Jer. 32:19

“And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.” Heb. 4:13

Does God look upon evil? IMHO, the preponderance of the biblical evidence leads me to conclude a resounding “Yes!”. But what about Hab. 1:13? Doesn’t that say that God is too holy to look upon evil? Let’s take a look. The following are Hab. 1:13 translated in several different translations:

Hab. 1:13 (NKJ) – You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on wickedness.

Hab. 1:13 (KJV) – Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity.

Hab. 1:13 (NIV) – Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong.

Hab. 1:13 (ESV) – You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong,why do you idly look at traitors and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?

All of these transaltions seem to suggest that God cannot look upon evil. However, when we look at the NASB, we see a different translation:

Hab. 1:13 (NASB) – Your eyes are too pure to approve evil, and You cannot look on wickedness with favor (emphasis mine).

In the NASB, a more complete translation of the Hebrew “nabat” is rendered. According to Strong’s, the word “look,” in Hab. 1:13 is the Hebrew word “nabat” (5027) and the definition is as follows:

“nabat” def. “to look intently at; by implication, to regard with pleasure, favor or care.”

Therefore, what Habbakuk is saying in 1:13 is not that God cannot look upon evil. He’s saying that God cannot look upon evil with approval or favor. The NASB transaltion of Hab. 1:13 seems to be the more accurate rendering of this verse and it squares with the rest of the biblical witness regarding the ability of God to see everything, including sin.

Therefore, I conclude that when Jesus cried “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?” (Matt. 27:45-46; Mark 15:34.), the Father did not turn His back on Jesus. No. Sin separates us from God (Isa. 59:2), not God from us. When Jesus was on the cross, He became sin (2 Cor. 5:21) and thus, for the very first time, He could not sense the fellowship of the Father. Our sin blinded Christ to the connection to the Father and He cried out in His agony of separation by our sin. God did not forsake Jesus on the cross (John 16:32; 2 Cor. 5:18-19).  God will not forsake His Son nor His people. This biblical fact should be a wonderful encouragement to us all.