separated at birth :: whirled peas and God’s holiness

February 9, 2010

There’s this paradox.  It’s a pendulum swinging.  It’s a tug of war.  The truth about God.

God is Holy. God is Love.  God is Righteous. God is Merciful.  God is to be feared. God is to be adored.

You might be a church-goer.  Or not.  You might believe in God loosely, or you might embrace a detailed picture of God.  The God you imagine might belong to someone else.  Or maybe He is YOUR God.  But every one of you has a God-picture inside your mind, and what you think about God largely determines what you think about YOU.  So this God-picture matters.

“What I believe about God is the most important thing about me.”  – A. W. Tozer

My brain is only 3 lbs. of snarled jelly.  God breathed out the universe with a word.  It would take about 140 billion peas to fill Soldier Stadium in Chicago to the top.  That’s about the same number of galaxies astronomers now believe exist in the “known” universe.  Consider that our solar system whirls around only one star of billions in our galaxy.  And our galaxy is only one-pea’s worth in a Soldier Stadium sized universe full of galaxies.  Can you wrap your 3 lbs. brain around that kind of scope?  Nope.  Me neither. But God can measure the universe in the span of His hand.  (Isaiah 40:12)

So when we come to discuss who God is, it is wise to come humbly, recognizing that our deepest thoughts about God are utterly, hopelessly, comically incomplete.  But God does tell us who He is.  What He is like.  The Bible talks about the activity in heaven around His throne.  The angels and creatures surrounding the throne of God, in dangerous proximity to the radiant glory and unstoppable power of God, and they never ever stop repeating… “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come…”

God is “OTHER THAN US.”

This Sunday as we were preparing for our weekend gathering with our Worship Team, one of the singers on the team said to me, “Holy means ‘other than…’  Every time we sing about God being Holy, I think about that.  He’s ‘other than…’  He’s separate.  I’m just repeating in my heart, ‘You are not like me, God.  You are so much more and so other than me…'”  Thank God for lead-worshipers who embrace humility like that.  She is right.  Both in Hebrew (qodesh) and in Greek (hagios), the Bible’s words for “holy” mean “to be set apart.”

If you go to church, ask yourself an honest question about what you hear about God week to week.  Is the picture of God in your church All-Powerful / Separate / Other-Than?  Or is He reduced somehow to love and grace and your help in time of need?  Is God your friend or is God your God?

The pendulum is swinging for me again.  There is a danger in churches with a deep concern for human souls (read “evangelical,” “seeker-sensitive,” or “outreach-oriented”) to present an approachable God.  A mercy-first, ask questions later God.  Because we want to walk with people across that line of faith.  We know God loves them, and we love them on His behalf.  We ache to see God’s Kingdom expand and souls who were selfish and broken and hurting become whole again and in love with a Savior.  But is the open-arms, big-tent God picture obscuring our view of the Holy, Righteous, Other-Than God.  Is our picture exactly that?  Just “our” picture?

I think the hyper-grace oriented environment many churches seek to offer has robbed us of a proper view of God’s justice and vengeance and holiness.  But God Himself has surrounded His throne with the ringing refrain:  Holy! Holy! Holy!  God’s HOLINESS is the core of His nature.  Yes, God is love, and He is full of mercy, but He does not simply welcome one and all first and ask questions later.  God’s holiness first demands that sin must be accounted for.  Because our sin separates us from God at our very first breath.  He is other than us.

When we humanize God (which is often a step toward deifying man), we lose the breathtaking view of God’s holiness that is required for us to understand and properly grasp the WONDER of the gospel.  That God Almighty, Creator of whirled peas – all surpassing otherness – would stoop to love us.  Three lbs. of flawed self-righteous nerve gelatin.

And the Answer is JESUS.  Perfection, holiness, all-powerful righteousness bleeding out in pain on a cross in place of me.  In place of you, too.  That God’s perfect “other-than” justice might be satisfied.  Breathtaking mercy.

For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.  (2 Corinthians 5:21)

So I’m getting more comfortable with being uncomfortable.  I want to tremble when I think about God.  Because I tremble when I think I might be getting more comfortable with Him.  God my provider, my personal counselor, my friend.  He is those things to me.  But He is other than me. Amazing grace.

What is your God picture?  Is your church’s God picture honest? Do you understand how awesome it is that other-than God became a same-as man… for you?



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“separated at birth :: whirled peas and God’s holiness” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

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Psalm 24:7 & Luke 10:42 >> Like David, and Mary, I'm in pursuit of my one thing. I'm the Pastor at St. Olaf Lutheran Church in Montgomery, IL. Pastor, teacher, writer, communicator, designer, and drummer. I definitely got the better deal in my marriage to Amy. And I couldn't be any more proud of my five amazing boys. Deeply grateful.