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Searching for Holiness: Pt. 2

I’ve been thinking about the subject of holiness for the last couple of years. Throughout the bible, when mankind encounters God, there seems to always be a statement about His holiness. Joshua was instructed by the commander of the LORD’s army, “Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.”  When we read about angels standing in the presence of God, they call to one another, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” Even in times of wrath and judgement, God’s holiness is declared, “Just are you, O Holy One, who is and who was, for you brought these judgments. For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and you have given them blood to drink. It is what they deserve!” The four strangely described living creatures, without ceasing, say, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” There should be no doubt in our minds that God is holy.

But what does it mean that God is holy? Why is the word holy used by angels and men to describe God and his presence?

While I was once serving as a juror, the defense lawyer in frustration at the witness he was cross-examining, sighed and stated, “Words. Words. What are words?” I was the only person in the courtroom who laughed. It’s easy to become familiar with words to the point that we lose their meaning and significance. So yes, we can look at the greek word for holy which is pronounced hagios, and see that it means “set apart.” However, does it capture the essence and characteristics that would cause us drop to our knees when we read that god is holy? Again, why would men take off their shoes and angels cry in acknowledgement that something holy is before them? 

Holiness communicates something of difference. Whoever encounters God realizes that there is a distinction between their being and His. They seem to experience a type of superior otherness to the point that the word holy is the forever repeated term. The worth, value and quality of God is sectioned off into a realm that is separate from creation. To put it simply, God is different. 

There is a hymn called, “Holy, Holy, Holy,” that expresses this idea of distinction and difference. Sometimes my family will put on repeat an arrangement of this song performed by Sufjan Stevens. His version reads like this:

Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty
Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee
There is a sign at the side of Thee, merciful and mighty
God in three persons, God in three persons, blessed trinity

Holy, holy, holy, though the darkness hide Thee
Though the eye of the sinful man, Thy glory may not see
Only Thou art holy, there is none beside Thee
Perfect in power, perfect in power, in love and purity

Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty
All Thy works shall praise Thy name in earth and sky and sea
There is a sign at the side of Thee, there is none beside Thee
God in three persons, God in three persons
God in three persons, God in three persons, blessed trinity

As Psalm 96:9 states, “Worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness; tremble before him, all the earth.” (NIV)