Holiness carries connotations of stuffiness. Typically it conjures up images of dour old spinsters sanctimoniously reading their King James Bibles as they pass judgment on anyone who tries to enjoy life. Not exactly appealing, even to the best of us.
Generally, we don’t like thinking too seriously about God’s holiness either. We don’t mind singing popular praise songs that mention it, mind you. We just prefer not to delve deeply into its implications. That reluctance comes, in large part, from instinctively sensing that facing His holiness inevitability means confronting our unholiness.
Indeed, the prophet Isaiah had an encounter with God’s holiness that completely devastated him.
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one called to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!”
4 And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. 5 And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; 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 6:1-4 (ESV)
How different Isaiah’s encounter with the Lord was from 21st Century claims of God appearing to people in visions or speaking to them. The accounts I’ve heard, even of God supposedly speaking personally to them, rarely included remarks of wonder at His presence, and almost never mentioned any conviction of sin. In fact, they usually expressed a casual attitude, practically ignoring His holiness altogether.
In reality, the Lord’s holy nature should cause us to tremble!
Think about the apostle John, who had such a deep friendship with Jesus during the Lord’s earthly ministry that he laid his head on Jesus’ chest. 70 years later this faithful man saw Christ in all His glory.
12 Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, 15 his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.
17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. ~~Revelation 1:12-17a (ESV)
John’s personal friendship with Jesus did not negate his sense of awe at being exposed to Christ’s unvarnished holiness and glory. There was nothing casual about it. Like Isaiah centuries earlier, John was overwhelmed by the Lord’s holiness.
God’s glory and holiness have a power and beauty that few men could handle. Only in our resurrected bodies will we be able to withstand such magnificence. And even then, I wonder if, like the holy angels in the Temple with Isaiah, we’ll cover or faces because of the brilliance of His holiness.