God’s holiness carries a sense of loftiness and purity and awe-inspiring wonder and perfection. It is awe-inspiring, but it also can be intimidating and even terrifying. Sure, we worship the holy God for his holiness, but the more we see of him, the more we’re reminded of how unholy we truly are. It’s not a comfortable thought. The way we think — even subconsciously — about God’s holiness will likely impact our worship on Sunday morning.
The Scary God
Think of Isaiah, who when he was brought into the presence of the Lord, cried, “Woe is me! I am lost (or ruined or undone); for I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5). Or think of John in Revelation 1:17, who when he saw the Lord, “fell at his feet as though dead.”
Encounters with the holy God create fear. R.C. Sproul says,
Our fear is not the healthy fear that the Bible encourages us to have. Our fear is a servile fear, a fear born of dread. God is too great for us; He is too awesome. He makes difficult demands on us. . . In His presence we quake and tremble. (The Holiness of God, 45)
Holiness and Worship
We can’t relate to that kind of holiness. It exposes the dark, ugly imperfections in us. Our first inclination is avoidance — just stay clear of the scary God or reminders of his holiness. This might be why so much modern worship backs away from God’s awe-inspiring “otherness” and works very hard to make God more “familiar,” to bring God “down” to a level with which we can “relate.”
Today, many think worship should be casual. God is presented primarily as a friend, music lyrics focus on God’s nearness to us and responsiveness to our needs, and messages strive mainly to be “relevant” and easy to apply to our everyday modern lives. While all of these things have a place in worship, is it possible for the holiness of God to fall out of focus?
Is Perfect Even Possible?
As I pondered God’s holiness, I also wondered if we — so rooted in and shaped by our experience in this world — are inclined to be suspicious of the idea of perfection, even with God? We simply can’t conceive of another person being perfect. No matter how “holy” a person seems, eventually he or she will be found out. Other people need our help, our forgiveness. Do we subtly believe God does, too? Maybe we even make excuses for God when he doesn’t do all we want, thinking that if he really knew why we’d prayed for something he would have granted our prayer.
If we’re not taught well by the Bible, our experience with imperfect people may spill over in destructive ways to pollute our perception of God. If we’re loving this kind of made-in-the-image-of-man God, we’re not loving the true, holy, perfectly pure God.
Truly Perfect, Truly Worthy
To truly love and worship our holy God, we must embrace and rejoice in the reality that he is totally different from us, totally separate from us, and purer than anything we know. We need to get beyond explaining away “inconsistencies” that challenge our understanding, and truly trust that his ways are not our ways as we learn to glory in and revere the wondrous perfections that are his. His very surpassing separateness is a reason for us to love him!
He is so far beyond the petty, selfish, sometimes vile, realities of our life and world, and yet he desires to transform and perfect us to the point that we can have everlasting holy fellowship with him. God knows every single sinful flaw we possess. And because he knows we can’t do much better, he loved us enough to send his Son to die that we might be made righteous — pure and holy — supernaturally.
We should not be trying to bring God down to our level, but we must pray that God raises us up and opens our eyes to see and desire the beauties of his perfect holiness. And we must earnestly pray that our love for the perfections of God will stimulate a sincere desire to grow in holiness in our own lives, striving to “be holy as God is holy” (Leviticus 19:2).
Living with the Holy God
As we prepare for worship this Sunday, let us pray for God to fill our minds with awe and worship and adoration of the glorious One who could never make a mistake, who loves perfectly, acts perfectly, speaks perfectly, creates perfectly, chooses perfectly, punishes perfectly, teaches perfectly, parents perfectly, who radiates infinite goodness and beauty and holiness.
God’s holiness is so blindingly radiant that we, who are so flawed and filthy, cannot see it and live (Exodus 33:20), at least not yet. But a day is coming! One day, the dwelling of the holy God will be with man. We will be his people and God himself will be our God. One day, because of God’s grace and love toward us in Christ, we will be so holy ourselves that we will witness the infinite perfections of God face-to-face.
May this inspire our still sinful hearts to worship our holy God with all our soul, mind, and strength.