“And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” (Isaiah 6:3).
“Who among the gods is like you, O Lord? Who is like you — majestic in holiness.” (Exodus 15:11)
We are told that God’s Holiness is so central to His being that, “Holy is His name.” (Luke 1:49); and, because we are told to, “be holy for He is holy” (several times in Leviticus and again in 1 Peter 1) it is important that we know what God means when He says that He is Holy.
Now this is not as easy a task as it may seem because God never tells us straight out what He means by His holiness. He can’t.
This is not because of any inability on His part but on ours. Words we would understand simply would do nothing to communicate what it means that God is Holy.
I like the way that A. W. Tozer put it. “He is holiness Himself… beyond the ability of thought to grasp or word to express. Language cannot express the holy, so God resorts to association and suggestion. He cannot say it outright because He would have to use words that we don’t know the meaning of, and we would then, of course, take the words He used and translate them downward into our terms.
“If He were to use a word describing His own holiness we could not understand that word as He uttered it. He would have to translate it down into our un-holiness. If He were to tell us how white He is we would translate it into terms of dingy grey.
“So, unable to communicate His holiness in words, God uses association and suggestion… he shows us His holiness by showing how that holiness affects the unholy.”
An illustration of what Tozer means by association and suggestion is seen when Moses comes into the presence of God at the burning bush (Exodus 3).
Moses is told to take off his sandals for he is standing on holy ground. Then, when Moses hears God say, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob” he hid his face, afraid to look at God.
Another illustration is given in the book of Isaiah (chapter 6). The Prophet was given a vision of the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted and when he hears the creatures around that throne crying, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory” Isaiah says that he cried out, “It’s all over! I am doomed, for I am a sinful man. I have filthy lips, and I live among a people with filthy lips.”
In R.C. Sproul’s, “The Holiness of God,” the author reaffirms that encountering God’s holy presence is the one thing that reveals to us our own great depravity and need.
“When we understand the character of God, when we grasp something of His holiness, then we begin to understand the radical character of our sin and hopelessness.”
How true. Jonathan Edward’s well known sermon titled, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” is often credited with beginning of a great spiritual awakening in America. It is unfortunate that both the title and the content lead readers to conclude that Edward’s emphasis was on the terrible flames of hell. On careful consideration, however, one realizes that the message reveals man’s utter sinfulness relative to a holy God.
Understood in this way, it becomes clear the theme of the message is not the fiery pit, but the Holy God who holds us from it, having prepared the way of rescue for those who believe. Edward’s sermon captured the essence of God’s Holiness in stark contrast to our un-holiness.
If we want to understand what it means that God is Holy, we must encounter that holiness first hand. When we do, that tremendous gulf that exists between His character and ours begins to sink in.
Only then do we begin to understand Proverbs 9:10 which tells us that, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”
Pastor David M. Grey
United Methodist Church