Why Does My Sin Hurt God?
At first glance, it seems odd that human acts of any kind could affect God. After all, the distance between the Lord and us is infinitely greater than the distance between us and a worm or a fly or a slug. It’s true that we are uniquely created in His image. But He is eternal, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, the Creator of the universe, while we are here today and gone tomorrow, full of weakness and corruption and wickedness.
That’s why many atheists and agnostics reject the very concept of the God of the Bible. If such a deity existed, they reason, His last concern would be how human beings lived — unless, of course, He was a petty, mean-spirited, tyrant bully. Otherwise, why would our sins concern Him?
But it’s not just atheists and agnostics who have raised this question. It is actually posed in the Bible itself, as Job, in the midst of a tormenting trial, cries out to God, “If I have sinned, what have I done to you, you who see everything we do? Why have you made me your target? Have I become a burden to you?” (Job 7:20)
Put another way, “Since You are the Almighty Creator, how does my sin affect You? Why should it bother You? What impact could it possibly have on You, seeing that you are an Eternal Spirit?”
Our Wicked, Painful Ways
I was struck by this question again while meditating on the last verse of Psalm 139 in Hebrew. I had memorized this verse more than 50 years ago in the King James Version, where it reads, “And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:24, my emphasis).
This is in keeping with many other English versions, including the NKJV and NRSV, both of which render with “wicked way,” the NIV, which renders with, “offensive way,” or the NLT, which translates, “Point out anything in me that offends you.”
These translations all understand the Hebrew word ‘otzev, to mean “wicked” or “offensive.”
The NET, understands ‘otzev differently, rendering with, “See if there is any idolatrous way in me.” This is certainly possible, but in my mind, it is not the most natural translation of the word.
Instead, the Hebrew root ‘-tz-v has to do with pain, as in 1 Chronicles 4:9–10: “Jabez [ya‘betz] was more honorable than his brothers. His mother had named him Jabez [ya‘betz], saying, ‘I gave birth to him in pain [‘otzev].’ Jabez [ya‘betz] cried out to the God of Israel, ‘Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain [‘otzbi, lit., my pain].’ And God granted his request” (my emphasis).
It is that same word, ‘otzev, which is used in Psalm 139:24, which is why the NASB translates with “hurtful” and the ESV translates with “grievous.”
David was praying (beginning in v. 23), “God, search me out! Examine my heart! And see if there is any practice in my life that is hurtful” – see if there is a derekh ‘otzev, a hurtful way inside me — “and lead me in the eternal path.”
What Does Hurtful Actually Mean?
As I meditated over this verse, what struck me immediately was the use of this word ‘otzev here. What does “hurtful” actually mean?
Two thoughts immediately come to mind.
First, are there any habits or practices or attitudes in my life that are hurtful to others or to myself? Are there things I am doing or ways I am living that will have a negative impact on my family or my friends or my colleagues or my constituents — remember that David was the king of the nation — or myself? If so, expose it, Lord!
Second, are there any habits or practices or attitudes in my life that are hurtful to You? Are there things I am doing or ways I am living that grieve You or cause You pain?
But that brings us back to our initial question: Why does our sin cause God pain?
God’s Love For Us
The answer is simple.
It is because God is love (1 John 4:8). It is because He cares for us deeply. It is because He created us for a purpose. It is because He designed us with the utmost, beautiful intricacy. It is because He made us to thrive and to shine and to flourish.
Think of an artist working on a portrait for years. How much more are each of us a work of divine art!
Think of parents pouring their lives into their child, always thinking of that child’s best interests. How much do we have a Parent who cares for us!
But when we sin, we work against the very purpose of our Designer (and Father). As I have often said, sin in our spirits is more deadly than cancer in our bodies. The ravaging effects of sin are beyond our comprehension — but not beyond His comprehension.
He alone can see the vile poison developing in the heart and mind of a young Adolf Hitler, knowing that it will one day produce bloodshed and destruction beyond belief.
He alone can see just how profoundly sin distorts and twists and defiles what He has made.
And it is because He loves us so much and is so deeply committed to our wellbeing that our sin actually hurts Him.
In that way, this is the exact opposite of the atheistic objection to the idea that human sin could affect an Almighty Creator. It is because He is so near, not so distant, that He is affected by our actions.
It is also true that, being perfectly holy Himself, our sin is offensive and hurtful to Him.
It is also true that, being our Creator and Sustainer and King, our sin is an act of rebellion against Him. As Isaiah said about ancient Israel, “Yet they rebelled and grieved [again, the Hebrew root ‘-tz-v] his Holy Spirit” (Isaiah 63:10).
But for me, as I prayed over Psalm 139:24 on my knees before God, what struck me afresh was the reality that my Father loves me so deeply that my sin actually causes Him pain.
That leads me to pray, “Father, as Your children, may we bring You joy, not grief all the days our lives!”
Dr. Michael Brown (www.askdrbrown.org) is the host of the nationally syndicated Line of Fire radio program. His latest book is Why So Many Christians Have Left the Faith. Connect with him on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube.