Wednesday, May 22, 2002

Posts are in reverse chronological order.


Surely the most sublime of God’s attributes is Holiness. I believe it is the least understood aspect of His character, and also that it is the ultimate explanation for what are, in my mind, the great mysteries and spiritual questions.

I don’t understand holiness because I don’t believe I have ever met a person of whom I thought of as holy. In all other of God’s attributes: He is loving, patient, merciful, etc., you can see small, imperfect doses of these same traits in man – and then at least try to extrapolate to the infinite and perfect to get a mental picture of God. But not holiness—it is not found in fallen man.

But, you protest, we are called to be holy:

but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior;
because it is written, "YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY." If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one's work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth;
(1 Peter 1:15-17, NASB)

Not being a bible scholar, and not able to read Greek or Hebrew (Peter is quoting from the Old Testament) I do not know if holy, as used here, is what I am talking about—or if it (holy) is used here (as I have been told) as a synonym for sanctified—at least when applied to man.

God’s holiness is something so profound that we, lacking understanding, cannot really understand His ways. Of course we know that if man is accorded even a glimpse of God the results are fearsome – as it was for Isaiah:

Then I said, "Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts." (Is 6:5, NASB)

Holiness results in sin being, not just repulsive, but intolerable. Holiness and sin cannot exist in close proximity. That is why I stand by my statement that I have never met a holy man.

Mysteries Explained!

Actually, not really. With this view of holiness, ironically the very idea that holiness is utterly non-human and thus unknowable, I can start to get handle on some profound mysteries. It is not that I truly understand them -- it is more that I can at least perceive a vague thread of an explanation, which will probably have to suffice this side of eternity. A few examples:

  • Why do we need a savior? God is all powerful and no doubt could open wide the gates of heaven and institue an open enrollment policy. Yes, we have a committed a crime. Yes he is a God of justice. No, we cannot pay the penalty. Yes Christ’s death pays the penalty for us (in full). But that begs the question: Why is it seemingly impossible for God to merely waive the penalty? I believe simply saying He is a God of justice merely recasts the mystery as an attribute-- a tautology if you will. His need for justice is a result of His holiness, which requires justice while allowing for mercy.
  • Heavenly Absences. How is it that in heaven we won’t be utterly devastated by the absence of unsaved loved ones? Somehow witnessing God’s holiness firsthand will overwhelm any feelings of loss. How can man understand this? No matter how many times I am told I won't grieve for lost family members... well I believe it but I don't really believe it, if you know what I mean. I can only imagine that God's holiness is the answer.
  • Heavenly Activity. There is not much in the bible about what we do in heaven, but it seems (mostly from the book of Revelation) that we will be praising God 24/7.

    And when the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, to Him who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders will fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and will worship Him who lives forever and ever, and will cast their crowns before the throne, saying, "Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created." (Rev 4:9-11, NASB)

    Something about God’s holiness will mean that, as we praise Him and worship him forever, we will be in a state of great joy rather than (admit, you worry about this too) bored. Without even a glimpse of his holiness our fantasy of heaven usually involves thinking we can wake up any giving morning, stretch and exclaim: “I think I’ll spend the next few thousand years mastering the oboe.”

Often I try to think about what holiness actually means. I always conclude: I don't know.

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