By Pastor Glenn Pease
Most speeches and sermons have three parts to them. There is the introduction, the body, and the conclusion. Often they have three points in the body as well. Then there is another three fold factor involved. There is the message as written; then the message as delivered, and third what the speaker wishes he had said after it is all over.
Winston Churchill was one of histories greatest speakers, and he had this advice involving still another threeness in speech. If you have an important point to make, he advised, don't try to be subtle and be clever about it. He said use the pile driver. Hit the point once, and then come back and hit it again, and then hit it the third time a tremendous whack!
We do not know who the author of Psalm 99 was, but many centuries before Churchill he was already applying this wisdom in communication. This is called the holy, holy, holy Psalm because the word holy is used to conclude each of the main divisions of it. He says of God, he is holy, and then a second time, he is holy, and then third time he gives it a tremendous whack, and concludes, "The Lord our God is holy."
The attributes of God are numerous, but the only one that is given a threefold emphasis is his holiness. The seraphs above God's throne in Is. 6:3 are saying, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty." In Rev. 4:8 the wondrous four living creatures around the throne of God are saying ceaselessly, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty."
Repetition is used in the Bible to convey degree. If you repeat something you raise the degree of it's importance. Verily verily or truly truly I say unto you, was the way Jesus called attention to a very important message. R.C. Sproul tells of the battle of the kings in the Valley of Siddim in Gen. 14 where some of them fell into tar pits. The Hebrew says they were pit pits. In other words, there are pits, and there are pit pits. The pit pits are pittier than the pits. When you fall into these pits it is not just your typical pit fall. You are in deep deep trouble. If the bottomless pit was to be described by the use of repetition, it would be called the pit pit pit. The three fold repetition is the ultimate beyond which you cannot go. You can't get any pitter than a pit pit pit, for that says it all.
So when the Bible goes from holy is the Lord, to holy holy is the Lord, to holy holy holy is the Lord, it has reached the level of the ultimate in holiness. There is no other degree of holiness beyond holy, holy, holy. God is absolutely holy, infinitely holy, eternally holy. Of course, He is also love, love, love, and mercy, mercy, mercy, and justice, justice, justice, and we could go on through all of His attributes. But the fact is God's holiness is the only one of His attributes which is put into this Trinitarian form. It is the only one elevated to the third degree in it's verbal communication.
Other beings are called holy, and other things, and even one place is called holy of holies. It is raised to the second degree, but no where is there anyone or anything raised to the third degree, except God. He, and he alone, is holy, holy, holy. Hannah in her prayer in I Sam. 2:2 says, "There is no one holy like the Lord;...."
The holy can cease to be holy and become unholy. Even holy angels fell. The holy of holies can be destroyed, as it was several times, and ceased to be a holy place, but became rather a common place where God is no more present than anywhere else. But the holy holy holy can never cease to be holy or in anyway whatsoever deviate and do what is unholy.
God's holiness, like His love, puts limitations on His power. The tyrant does not need to worry about whether or not his actions are right, just, morally pure, and ethically fair. He does anything he has to do to accomplish His will. If it takes lies, thievery, and immorally, then so be it. Anything goes for the cause.
God cannot do that to get His will done. If He could He would not have sent His son into the world to die. A tyrant does not sacrifice for you, they sacrifice you for themselves. God sacrificed for you. If God could do anything to get His will done, would Jesus have bothered to teach us to pray, "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." What a strange prayer that is if God can do His will without limitations. If God was not limited by His love and holiness, this prayer would be as meaningless as asking the sun to shine, and the earth to revolve. But God is no vast machine cranking out His will automatically without any hindrance.
The history of Israel is the history of God's limitations because of His holiness. If God was not holy He could have said to Adam and Eve, "We will just overlook your transgression and pretend it never happened." If God was not holy He could have let Israel profane His name and desecrate His law, and still have blessed them, and made them rulers of the world. All of history could have been different if God was not holy. There would have been no flood and no judgments; no fall of Jerusalem and destruction of the temple.
Evil is so powerful and effective just because it does not have the limitations of holiness. The power of the Mafia, and the whole underworld system, is due to the capacity of evil men to ignore all that is holy. God cannot do that. He cannot lie, steal, cheat, and treat persons like things. God can only do what is holy without deviation, for as John says, "God is light and in Him in no darkness at all." That means God cannot cut any corners, and be unholy, even now and then, to speed up the process of getting His will done on earth.
Holiness and love have this in common: They both impose limitations on the power of God. God can do anything, we say, but forget that we are, in saying that, only referring to His potential power. If we refer to God's love and holiness, we can come up with an enormous list of things God cannot do, for He cannot do anything that is non-loving, and unholy, and that covers a multitude of possibilities. He cannot deny His essence, and be what He is not.
This explains a lot as to why the will of God is often so slow in being fulfilled. It would be even slower if God's holiness did not give balance to His love. Love controls God's power so that it is not the sheer power of the tyrant doing His will whatever the cost to other wills, and without respect to their freedom. Love is why God is long suffering, and why the sinner has time to repent. But if love was the only attribute of God, evil could go on endlessly abusing the will of God, and there would never be judgment. Holiness is that attribute of God that gives balance to His love. Holiness puts a limit on God's love, just as love puts a limit on God's power. God never ceases to love, for He is love, but He is holy love, which means, there comes a point where judgment is the most loving thing that can be done.
God loves the sinner, and forgives, forgives, and forgives. But God, being holy, can never love sin. By His nature He cannot love evil of any kind. He must condemn evil and judge sin. God never forgives sin, only the sinner of his sin. If the sinner does not at some point remove himself from his sin by means of repentance and forgiveness, there comes a point where God's holiness demands judgment.
This is why the holiness of God is not as appealing to man as the love of God. It is sort of the dark side of God from man's perspective. It is that side of God that produces His anger and judgment. It seems so opposite of love that many refuse to accept God's holiness, for it seems to contradict His love. How can God love sinners and yet still at some point let His wrath fall on sinners. It seems so contradictory that many have chosen to go with love, and reject holiness. Beside being a clear rejection of God's revelation, this is also a clear rejection of common sense.
The principle of the holy balancing the loving is built right into reality. Every power you can think of is the same as God's power. All power illustrates God's power, for all power has the same capacity to bless or blast. All power is both loving and holy. That is, it will be loving when you relate to it properly, but it will be holy, or judgmental, when you refuse to abide by it's laws.
Take electricity for an example. It is one of the greatest sources of blessings known to man. We don't have to list its blessings to prove the point. If electricity was personal we could sincerely say electricity is love. All of our daily lives are enriched by its power. But we also know it is dangerous power. Many people are killed and injured every year by this blessed power. If you violate its love you will see it is a holy power. It will not tolerate violations of its laws. It is much more legalistic than God is. He will put up with numerous violations with patient endurance. Electricity will zap you with one violation. Electricity is not personal, however, and so, nobody ever questions it or condemns it for its swift judgment.
When God's holiness operates like electricity, however, it makes men furious. There has probably never been a reader of the story of Uzzah in I Chron. 13 who has not gotten angry at God, or at least puzzled. Uzzah was moving the ark of God when the oxen stumbled, and he put his hand on the ark to steady it. God struck him down, and he died, just as if he had touched a live power line. David became very angry at God, and he was afraid to move the ark any further, for fear of what God's wrath might do next. So they left it at the house of one called Obed-Edom. The Lord blessed his house and all that he had. The ark was a great blessing to him, but deadly to one of those moving it because he got on the wrong side of this blessing, and violated its laws.
Here is the scary side of God. God is long suffering and slow to anger the Bible says. Yet here we have a picture of what looks like an instant boil. God exploded in fury and Uzzah was gone. God gave Ninevah forty days to repent, but Uzzah, who was no pagan, but a faithful servant, doesn't get forty seconds. It all seems so unloving and unjust that people get angry at God. But if you see the whole story in the light of God's clear revelation it all makes sense, and it illustrates the holiness of God.
Uzzah was a Kohathite, and they were specialist, just like a modern day electrician. They had clear teaching on what they could and could not do in dealing with the holy things of God. It was there job to move the ark, and all the holy things, as Israel moved. In Numbers 4:15, after describing how they are to carry everything, it is stated, "But they must not touch the holy things or they will die." Two more times in the next three verses God warns them as to what they must do so they may live and not die.
It was a dangerous job and the rules for survival were clear. Uzzah broke those rules and he died, just as skilled electricians do when they violate the rules of electricity. You know you cannot tamper with the blessings of electricity and keep it a blessing. It will become your enemy if you stick a fork into a socket. You will see a friend suddenly become a foe, and you could be killed by this violation. This is true for every power you can think of that is a blessing. It can also become your judge and executioner.
Fire is the source of so much life, health, and joy. Yet it is one of the most destructive forces on the planet, and it turns lives and property and dreams into smoke and ashes. Water is the very essence of life, and a blessing beyond words to convey. Yet it drowns, floods, and destroys. It has its loving side, and its holy side. The sun gets into the top blessings of all time, but it too will burn, blind, and turn gardens into deserts. The laws of men are a great power for blessing. They keep order in society, and protect us. They are the key to civilization. Yet if you get on the wrong side of these laws they will punish you, imprison you, and make your life miserable.
We could go on and on illustrating the point, that all beneficial power is also power that will express judgment if you violate its laws. There is no such thing as a power that is one hundred per cent loving regardless of how you relate to it. So when we come to God, the source of all these other powers, it makes sense that he will also fit this same pattern, and be both loving and holy.
Men like to think it is a contradiction that God can be both loving and holy. It is no more a contradiction than it is that electricity can broil your steak, and also burn your finger. Heaven and hell are not contradictions. They are simply the finals in the series that characterizes all of life. When you are on the right side of a power, you will be helped by it. When you are on the wrong side of a power, you will be hurt by it. Reject the proper relationship to fire and you will get burned. Reject the proper relationship to water and you will be drowned. Reject the proper relationship to electricity and you will be electrocuted. Reject the proper relationship to law and you will be arrested.Reject the proper relationship to God who is love, and you will get judgment.
This whole principle that is built into all of reality is based on the fact that God is holy. This means He has standards. He does not operate on whim and feeling, but on what is good, right, just, and fair. It is His holiness that demands that all sin and evil be eventually entirely eliminated. He cannot accept any lesser goal because He is holy.
Love can live with, and tolerate, sin, temporarily. If God was not love, but operated as all other powers in an impersonal legalistic fashion, all men would have long ago been annihilated. Love is what keeps history going, but holiness is what keeps it heading for the goal of total elimination of all evil. These two attributes of God-love and holiness, are often seen in conflict, but they are not. They are partners. God is love, but for love to be truly authentic it must by necessity be balanced by hatred for all that destroys love. That is what holiness is. It is that in God which hates all that is not loving. Holiness is just the other side of the coin of love. You cannot have heads without tails, and you cannot have love without hatred for what is the enemy of love.
If I love good music, it follows that I will hate rotten music.
If I love harmony, I will hate discord.
If I love beauty, I will hate what is ugly.
If I love what is pure, I will hate what is contaminated.
If I love what is clean, I will hate what is dirty.
If I love truth, I will hate falsehood.
On and on we could go, showing that love and holiness are partners, for holiness is that which backs up love by being an enemy of all that is unloving. God is love, but because He is also holy, He is the enemy of all that is non-loving. God cannot love both justice and injustice, mercy and cruelty, right and wrong, truth and error, good and evil. God's love is limited by His holiness so that He cannot love what is a contradiction to love. His love is kept pure by holiness, for all that is non-loving is excluded from His love.
All judgment is simply love being protected by holiness. If love had no such protection it would become so weak and watered down that it would cease to be love. It happens all the time on the level of human love. Love for, and tolerance of, evil, gets to the point where love becomes the support of the evil. In the world of alcoholism, for example, there are what we call enablers. These are loved ones of the alcoholic, who by their love keep enabling the alcoholic to go on drinking. They have love, but lack holiness to balance that love. There is never judgment, but only tolerance, and the end result is the evil goes on and on until love itself is destroyed. Love without the balance of holiness is a love that will self-destruct.
We do not like the holy side of God we think, but in reality, without it He would not be a God worth worshiping, for His love would soon become meaningless, for evil tolerated endlessly would eventually win the battle of light against darkness. Stress the love of God without the balance of the holiness of God, and you will lean toward liberalism. Stress the holiness of God without the balance of His love, and you will lean toward legalism. Put love and holiness together, and you have a Biblical theology of balance where there is hope for the sinner, but also serious danger if the gift of God's love is not accepted.
Holiness is that which makes God beautiful. We are told repeatedly in Scripture to worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness. Holiness takes all of the attributes of God and blends them into a symmetrical whole so that God is seen as glorious. Holiness balances all of God's attributes so that there is perfect harmony. John Howe wrote, "It is the transcendental attribute that runs through the rest and casts a glory upon every one of them." Jonathan Edwards said, "No other attribute is truly lovely without this, and no otherwise than it derives its loveliness from this." Spurgeon said, "Holiness is the harmony of all the virtues...His power is not His choice virtue nor His sovereignty, but His holiness." Just as all the colors come together in the light from the sun, so holiness is that light of God's glory that combines the beauty of all his attributes.
Startling beauty should always make us think of God. He is the author of all that is beautiful. His nature is beautiful and He created what was perfect beauty and flawless harmony. Sin has messed up his creation, but the fact is there is still enormous beauty that is everywhere reminding us that the Creator is a God of beauty.
The goal of God is that His people would be holy as He is holy and be beautiful people in character. All evil will be eventually eliminated, and we will be like Him. This means the Christian goal in this life is not success, or even happiness, but holiness. God is not impressed by human success, but by our conformity to His will and by our partaking of His nature. This means we cannot use power in any way we choose. Our power must, like God's, be limited by love, and our love be limited by holiness. We have the highest obligation to be separated from all that is unholy that we might bring honor and glory to Him who was, who is, who will ever be holy, holy, holy.