I have been thinking about God’s holiness today. That is one of these words and concepts that we use a lot in the Church, but what is it?
Isaiah liked to call The Lord, “The Holy One of Israel.” That is hardly surprising, when you consider the nature of his call in Chapter 6 of the book that bears his name. In the presence of the Holy God he immediately becomes convicted of sin: in his case it was unclean language that he was convicted of. However his lips were touched with a coal from off the altar. There was mercy to be found in this Holy, Holy, Holy God. Indeed there was so much mercy that when, the very next minute, God was looking for a spokesman to deliver His message to His people, Isaiah felt his lips had been burned so clean that he had no hesitation in saying, “Here am I Lord! Send me!” The Holy One did just that.
In fact I would say this: the essence of God’s holiness is His mercy. Holy just really means separate, in the sense of being different or behaving differently or being set apart from other things, whatever the context may dictate as to what these things are that are being spoken of as holy or unholy; it could be food or people or behaviour etc. In Chapter 55 of Isaiah that thought is expanded like this: in the face of the sin of the people of God over the centuries, The Holy One of Israel says through Isaiah the once foul mouthed but now cleansed lip prophet with a message aflame, entrusted to Him by God:
6 Seek the Lord while you can find him.
Call on him now while he is near.
7 Let the wicked change their ways
and banish the very thought of doing wrong.
Let them turn to the Lord that he may have mercy on them.
Yes, turn to our God, for he will forgive generously.
8 “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord.
“And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.
9 For just as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so my ways are higher than your ways
and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.
10 “The rain and snow come down from the heavens
and stay on the ground to water the earth.
They cause the grain to grow,
producing seed for the farmer
and bread for the hungry.
11 It is the same with my word.
I send it out, and it always produces fruit.
It will accomplish all I want it to,
and it will prosper everywhere I send it.
12 You will live in joy and peace.
The mountains and hills will burst into song,
and the trees of the field will clap their hands!
13 Where once there were thorns, cypress trees will grow.
Where nettles grew, myrtles will sprout up.
These events will bring great honor to the Lord’s name;
they will be an everlasting sign of his power and love.”
In the face of persistent sinfulness there is a promise of a future marked by joy and peace, clapping and singing. This is how God shows Himself to be the Holy One. He is different from the other “gods” in that He forgives those who rebel against Him and offend Him. He is different from people as well. Human beings find it difficult to show continuing mercy in the face of continually being wrongly treated and despised. As David said to Gad the prophet when confronted with his rebellion, “I am in deep distress. Let me fall into the hands of the LORD, for his mercy is very great; but do not let me fall into human hands.”
It is interesting to note too, that if there is any sense of progression further away from God intended in what Paul says in Romans 1, then the furthest away we can get from being like God is when we are without mercy. Read the chapter when you get a moment and you will see why I say that. Sinning in other ways is the start of the journey that leads to that place of being so distant from the heart and will of God that we are ruthless and heartless without mercy toward our fellow human beings. Jesus taught more than once that to withhold mercy is a sure way of stopping the life-giving flow of God’s grace in our own lives.
If you want to mirror the essence of God’s holiness, show mercy to someone, even before this day is over. There is probably no way to come closer to mirroring the heart of Christ on the cross…
Some words from Malachi Chapter 3 to think through:
“I am the Lord, and I do not change. That is why you descendants of Jacob are not already destroyed. Ever since the days of your ancestors, you have scorned my decrees and failed to obey them. Now return to me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.:
God Bless you and I with his grace that we might be Holy as He the Lord our God is Holy.
Of course, it might be you or I that needs not just to show mercy, but to receive mercy from this Holy God for ourselves. Don’t stay away from Him. His desire is to abundantly pardon, to forgive generously! The cross of Christ tells us you can be sure and confident of that, so come to Him boldly for all the mercy and grace you need! Drink deep.