By Pastor Glenn Pease
There is no subject on which the human mind can focus that is more significant, more important, and more vital than the subject of God. In the Great Books Of The Western World almost every great author that has influenced the Western World in any realm of knowledge has had something to say about God. Of the 100 great ideas that have changed the course of history, the chapter on God is the longest of the 100. The introduction says, "The reason is obvious. More consequences for thought and action follow from the affirmation or denial of God than from answering any other basic question."
God is infinite, however, and so there is no end to what can be know of God. We can never know all about God, but we can know what He has revealed about Himself. Among the many things He has told us, one of the most important of all is that He is holy. Not only is His holiness exalted to the level of being repeated 3 times, as no other attribute is, it is also the only attribute that is so beautiful that it is associated with beauty over and over again. In I Chron. 16:29 we read, "Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness." We read it again in Psa. 29:2 and 96:9. Holiness is that which makes all that God is glorious and beautiful.
A. W. Tozer in his book The Knowledge Of The Holy writes, "It is my opinion that the Christian conception of God current in these middle years of the 20th century is so decadent as to be utterly beneath the dignity of the most high God and actually to constitute for professed believers something amounting to a moral calamity." He writes again, "I believe that there is scarcely an error in doctrine or a failure in applying Christian ethics that cannot be traced finally to imperfect and ignoble thoughts about God."
Russel Metcalf Jr. in his book on worship tells of two colonial churches in his state. One has a steeple so large for the size of the church that it looks like an architectural case of the tail wagging the dog. The other has a steeple so small it looks like a birdhouse perched on the Parthenon, a blemish instead of a crown. He points out that beauty is the blend of all component parts into a graceful whole so that the parts do not call attention to themselves, but to the over all impression of beauty. Holiness takes all the attributes of God and blends them into one symmetrical whole so that God is seen as glorious, and so perfectly balanced that He is beautiful. If God is not beautiful, you see some aspect of His being without the balance of holiness. Get that into the picture and you will see, not a God, which makes you angry or bitter, but one who makes you worship.
This fits the case of the believer as well. A Christian ceases to be beautiful when holiness is not the key element that holds the pieces together. If a Christian gets lopsided and does not have a beautiful life it is due to the lack of holiness. Holiness balances all virtues in proper proportion so that one is Christ-like. Jesus was the perfect man, or the most beautiful and attractive man whoever lived, and it was because He was holy. Holiness is what made Jesus exclusive. He was tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin. He was in the world, but not of it. He could be in the presence of sin and not be contaminated by it because He was holy.
It is holiness that enables love to be inclusive. He loved everyone. This is dangerous without holiness, for love of the sinner can easily lead to becoming like the sinner in his sin. Jesus had no such problem because of His holiness. Holiness has no interest in sin, and so it keeps love from loving the sin as well as the sinner. It enabled Jesus to live the paradox of being inclusive in loving all, and yet exclusive in being unlike anyone he loved. Nothing is really and fully good, true, and beautiful unless it is balanced by holiness. This paradox of love and holiness is basic to the Christian walk. Love calls us to inter the world, but holiness calls us to withdraw from the world. The tension is always there to both love and hate the world. When that tension ceases something is wrong. The Christian will either so love the world that he becomes a part of it, or so hates the world that he parts from it and loses his saltiness. Both are mistakes. The goal is balance so that one is in the world loving it, and yet keeping unspotted by the world. Only love and holiness together can make this balanced walk possible. We need to see the holiness of God better in order to have some measure of His holiness.
I. GOD'S HOLINESS IS AWESOME.
The more we grasp the holiness of God, the more we feel a profound awe and smallness. The key idea of holiness is set-apartness. God is so far above the dimension of reality that we inhabit that His presence is a shock to our system. Because the Lord reigns and is seated between the cherubim, and is exalted over all the nations, the response to those who become conscious of it is that of trembling, shaking, and praise of His awesome name. He is holy means that He is above all and apart from all. God is not contaminated by any aspect of fallen man, or fallen creation. He is transcendent. This is the theological term used to describe the fact that God is wholly other. It makes God hard to grasp, for there is no one to compare Him with. He is one of a kind, and so unique that He is in a class by Himself. Man cannot even invent ideas of God that can rise to His level and be in any way in the same category with Him.
In Ex. 15:11 Moses asks, "Who among the gods is like you, O Lord? Who is like you-majestic in holiness,.." In I Sam. 2:2 Hanna sang, "There is none holy like the Lord, there is none beside Thee." God asks the question Himself in Isa. 40:25, "To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal? Says the Holy One." God is praised with holy, holy, holy because in him you have reached the ultimate of holy, beyond which there is no going. The holy of holies was where the high priest could meet with God on the Day of Atonement. Any other entering would die in the presence of such holiness.
If God was only holy, we would not know He even existed, for He could have no contact whatever to that which is not holy. But God is love, and so He not only made what is not Himself, but He relates to it, and He relates to us even as fallen creatures. But when He does His holiness is awesome, and man is made fearful in His presence. Some of you may be old enough to remember the scary radio program called The Inner Sanctum. When that creaking door began to open there was silence in our home. I did not know then that Inner Sanctum meant within the holy. But I enjoyed the eeriness of dealing with the mysterious. I don't thing I ever connected that scary feeling with the awe that should be a part of the worship of God. We have not stressed the holiness of God enough to produce that kind of awe.
We want to experience the presence of God in worship, but here is a side of God's presence that is not always pleasant.
Isaiah in chapter 6 describes his scene the Lord high and lifted up. He heard the Seraphs singing holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty. He does not say that he clapped his hands and shouted for joy in the presence of God's holiness. Instead he says in verse 5, "Woe is me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among the people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty." He was frightened by the awesome scene and felt very unholy. I have read of the shock that people have had to endure when their prayer for revival was answered and they felt God's presence. The Holy Spirit was present in such power that people who thought they had it all together were convicted of their deep sinfulness. They wanted revival for the rest of the unholy world, but in the presence of God's holiness they saw how unholy they were.
They were worse off than before, for before they felt sanctified and worthy of God's presence, but in His presence they felt unclean. The more you sense the presence of God, the more you will realize how sinful you are. This is not a pleasant revelation, and so we do not really go all out to see the holiness of God. Martin Luther froze at the altar the first time he led the mass. His father sat in the congregation and felt a wave of parental embarrassment sweep over him as he saw his son fail. Luther's lips began to quiver as he tried to speak, but nothing would come out. Later Luther explained what had happened to paralyze him.
He wrote, "I was utterly stupefied and terror-stricken. I thought to myself, 'With what tongue shall I address such majesty, seeing that all men ought to tremble in the presence of even an earthly prince? Who am I, that I should lift up mine eyes or raise my hands to the divine Majesty? The angels surround him, at His nod the earth trembles. And shall I, a miserable little pigmy, say 'I want this, I ask for that'? For I am dust and ashes and full of sin and I am speaking to the living, eternal and the true God."
The holy is a mystery. It is so far removed from what is normal to us, and so we are mystified by the very thought of it. People love ghost stories even if they do not believe in ghosts because the very thought of such a thing produces a sense of awe. People go crazy to see and experience what makes them scream, and what makes their skin crawl. They go to horror movies and take rides on fear producing machines. All of this craving for thrills so natural to man is a hunger for the supernatural. People want to relate to the world that is beyond, and which is fearful and awesome because it is so different. They do not choose the way of spirituality, and so they go the way of secular experiences to get a taste of the mysterious and the holy. Man wants to rise above the ordinary and taste the extraordinary. He gets bored with the commonplace and needs the feeling that there is more. He does not seek the awesomeness of God to get this experience because it is not fearful in a fun way, but in a scary way. Without a relationship to God, man feels threatened by the holiness of God.
The miracles of Jesus met with great joy among the people, but the Pharisees were offended because they felt the presence of what they thought was evil and not good. They said he was doing them by the power of Beelzebub. Some felt God and they felt the devil in the same setting. Two people eat the same food and one feels great and the other gets sick. The problem then is not the food but the state of the body it goes into. One is ready for it and the body is compatible. It is a blessing to this one, but to the body not ready to receive it, there is the curse instead of the blessing. One receives riches and becomes a great blessing to mankind by his generosity. Another receives riches and becomes a greedy evil power that is a curse to mankind. The point is, we must be in the right state of mind and soul to benefit from the holiness of God. If we are out of fellowship with God his holiness is like grabbing a live wire, and we will be electrocuted like Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 who were struck dead because of trying to deceive the Holy Spirit. But if we are in the right state of mind and soul as were the believers at Pentecost, we will be filled with power and joy. May God give us the joy of being in that state where we can appreciate the awesomeness and beauty of His holiness.