God is holy.
And His holiness is scary.
When Moses encountered God in the burning bush of Exodus 3, he was ordered to take off his sandals, because he stood on holy ground. (The entire top of a mountain was made sacred by the mere presence of the Almighty.) Years later, in Exodus 20, God Himself delivers the Ten Commandments, and the people object, pleading for Moses to hand down the rest of the Law: “But do not have God speak to us or we will die.”- Exodus 20:19b. (The sound of His voice brought the Israelites to their knees.) Check out Isaiah and Ezekiel for other Old Testament encounters with God and see how humanity rightly quivers in His presence.
And, really, it continues in the New Testament. The Transfiguration of Christ turns Peter into a babbling buffoon for a few minutes (Check out Mark 9:5-6). And in the opening verses of Revelation, the Apostle John – one of the human Jesus’ best friends – fell at His feet as though dead when he encountered the Son of Man in all His glory.
Even the pre-Good Friday Jesus was a little remote, don’t you think? I mean, he clearly loved the people He interacted with, but He wasn’t exactly all high-fives and hugs, was He?
Wiktionary provides a number of potential definitions for the word ‘holy’, but the two that are relevant, I think, are “perfect or flawless” and “separated or set apart from (something or someone else).”
This reality can make us a bit uncomfortable, because it underscores the fact that we are far from perfect, and therefore, we’re what God is set apart from.
This is a tough one for me.
I have trouble remembering to factor God’s holiness into my spiritual picture of Him. I fixate on the fact that God is Love and I focus on the greatness, goodness, kindness and patience of my Daddy, and tend to subconsciously downplay the holiness of God – the fact He’s set apart from me, because He’s perfect and I’m not.
And as a result, my personal life and my prayer life tend to lack reverence, although that’s also partly because I’m not a big fan of false reverence and I’m not sure what true reverence is supposed to look like.
I have some fairly firm ideas about what true reverence isn’t: I’m convinced it isn’t peppering your prayers with thees, thous and thys, or with the biggest, fanciest words you can think of (although I confess I employ such verbiage during my heavenly petitions all too frequently) or using churchy jargon in everyday conversation with other Christians.
But I’m less sure of what true reverence is. So in absence of genuine reverence, I generally default to non-reverence (approaching God like a powerful person who happens to be a very close friend). But that is a quick and easy step away from irreverence. I tend to make this step often, realizing only in hindsight that I’ve thrown the baby out with the bathwater.
It would be easier to react properly to the holiness of God, though, if I were able to comprehend how this quality can exist in harmony with those other qualities I mentioned. Infinite patience and uncompromising holiness seem mutually exclusive to my gnat-like brain and heart.
All the more confusing is the reality that it’s only the holiness of God that makes it possible for unholy us to be in the presence of the holiness of God! Only the sacrifice of a perfect and holy God could be sufficient to overcome the sins of the whole world, and therefore dismantle the wall separating imperfect, unholy humanity and perfect, holy God.
I don’t think we’re meant to fully grasp this reality. We’re welcome to wrestle with it, as long as we know we’ll never pin its shoulders to the mat, and are prepared to revere God in the most genuine way we know how.
As I said, I’m no expert in what true reverence looks like, but when I remember to move beyond my non-reverent default, I start with gratitude.
I don’t know how any of this works, Lord, but I trust that it does. And I trust You. And I thank You.
Peace be with you.