Friday, April 5, 2019

Reacting to God's Holiness

Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the king, the LORD Almighty” (Isaiah 6:5).

Each of us has a tendency to dilute the biblical portrait of God. Because of sin, we desire to strip Him of His power and authority, refusing to acknowledge Him or submit to His Lordship. Beyond this, even as redeemed and regenerated people, we still find God’s holiness uncomfortable. It is traumatic to encounter the holiness of God.

In his Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin wrote of “that dread and amazement with which, as Scripture uniformly relates, holy men were struck and overwhelmed whenever they beheld the presence of God.” Calvin was saying that there is a pattern to human responses to the presence of God. The more righteous and spiritually sensitive a person is, the more he trembles when entering the immediate presence of God.

There was nothing cavalier or casual in the response of Habakkuk when he met God. After God spoke to him (Habakkuk 2) the prophet’s response was “I heard and my heart pounded, my lips quivered at the sound; decay crept into my bones, and my legs trembled” (Habakkuk 3:16). Similarly, after Job heard God’s voice, he said, “I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6).

Isaiah was as righteous a man as could be found in the year of king Uzziah’s death. Yet when he encountered the holiness of God he cried out in terror, “Woe is me, for I am ruined.” The prophets brought God’s message to the people, and such messages were either oracles of weal or oracles of woe. The oracle of weal or well-being began with the word “blessed,” while the oracle of woe began with the word woe. Jesus, in pronouncing judgment upon Israel, said “woe unto you” (Matthew 23). In fact, just as God’s holiness is thrice repeated for emphasis in Isaiah 6, so “woe” is tripled in Revelation 8:13.

What stands out in Isaiah 6:5 is that the first oracle pronounced by this righteous prophet was one of woe against himself. When Isaiah saw God in His glory, he saw himself as he truly was. He had a sense of being “undone,” of personal disintegration. Whatever illusions of partial righteousness he entertained disappeared in the presence of God. He found himself utterly helpless and cast himself wholly on the mercy of God.

When you go before God in prayer, do you perceive His awesome holiness? As your inflated view of self is diminished in His presence be moved like Isaiah first to repentance and then to praise.