It is dangerous to write about holiness because others could easily draw the conclusion that the writer is holier than he really is. In truth, I write about holiness precisely because it is an area in my life in which I desperately need to grow.
I would like to begin by addressing the importance of mystery in life. I don’t know about you, but I like a mystery. I like the fact that there are unknowables, undefinables, and “black holes” in our data bank of spiritual knowledge. That God can be known and yet remain unknown is fine by me. I accept the fact that I can grow in the knowledge of him, yet never completely penetrate the deep mystery of his Being.
Religion, faith, and God are not just interesting – they are compelling, specifically because they can never be fully known. Finding the “X” in algebraic problems and in “who-done-it” mysteries is fascinating since they present the challenge of possible discovery or they remain forever elusive. In many instances we will never reach the bottom of certain realities. “X” won’t be found, and some real-life “who-done-its” will remain unresolved.
What part of
God’s mystery does he want to reveal to me?
I’ve read the sixth chapter of Isaiah many times. It is, therefore, quite easy to say to myself, “I know what this is about. It’s the call of Isaiah and his response to the Lord.” Taken like this, it is easy to overlook the drama that is taking place here. In so doing, we can miss God himself and his fresh word to us. So I ask myself the question: what is actually happening here and what part of God’s great mystery does he want to reveal to me today? In that spirit, let’s look at Isaiah 6:1-5.
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and his train filled the temple. 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. And one called to another and said:Encountering the King of all Kings“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. 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!”
As I read this, I thought, What a prayer time Isaiah was having! He thinks he is simply going up to the temple to honor the memory of his revered leader now deceased, but instead, he encounters the supreme King of all Kings! Wow – what an experience he had! He got a lot more than he bargained for! Prayer times are a mysterious business. A person can have a hundred regular prayer times and experience nothing particularly striking, but then there’s that one time, as in this instance, when the Lord reveals himself in a spectacular way. Like Isaiah, we sometimes think we’re simply going to fulfill our obligation to pray, and this King, whom we know in part, decides (when we least expect it) to break into our prayer and reveal his presence in some remarkable way.
The first thing I noticed in Isaiah’s experience was that the angels didn’t say God was holy; they didn’t even say he was holy, holy; but rather they declared God to be “holy, holy, holy.” He was three times holy! This was their way of describing the Lord in the superlative degree. I believe this is the only time in scripture that an attribute of God is mentioned three times in succession. God is never described as “love, love, love” or “just, just, just.” His holiness stands alone. It is the distinctive attribute of the Living God; it is the hallmark of who he is. His holiness stands above any other of his many qualities. He’s magnificent. He fills the temple. He is mighty. He is great. The seraphim know it and express it. They stand in his presence daily and acknowledge that he is three times holy. His majesty is boundless. The liturgies of many of our churches have taken up this anthem and proclaim it in this three-fold way. Through the centuries it stands out as a most solemn hymn of the church.
I was also struck by the fact that like Moses at the burning bush who took his shoes off because he was on holy ground, the angels in this passage cover their feet in this most holy presence. Apparently this is a kind of protocol that is followed by all of God’s creatures when admitted into the Lord’s sanctuary. I see them acknowledging their lowliness by covering their feet in his glorious presence. There is a deep reverence, humility, and mystery in this gesture.
“We shall see
him as he is”
A final observation for me from this passage was that in the presence of the Lord the door posts and thresholds quaked. And I think that Isaiah quaked as well. In fact, I think he shook the most in this charged atmosphere. The body of Isaiah must have been visibly moved as he pronounced judgment upon himself, saying, “Woe is me!” To put it another way, Isaiah was undone. He came apart at the seams. He was “blown away.” In a moment he was totally exposed before the absolute standard of holiness. He became aware of his complete unworthiness: “I am a man of unclean lips,” he says. He saw his sinfulness. At that moment he knew who God was and who he really was.
Awe draws us
near to God
In the end, Isaiah was no “Humpty-Dumpy” who couldn’t be put back together again by anybody in his kingdom. God, seemingly in an instant, put Isaiah back together while leaving his identity intact. His personality was overhauled; he was changed, but not destroyed. Isaiah was still Isaiah when he left the temple as a new man.
There is a pattern in this whole process we mustn’t miss. After a divine encounter, Isaiah is greatly moved. God forgives and transforms him, but then he sends him forth. In this temple visit, Isaiah goes from brokenness to mission. In the end he stands up as a volunteer: “I am ready,” he says, “I will go!” His mystical vision propels him to ministry. His worship isn’t an end in itself. It yields a mission. Grace contained is grace lost. Isaiah has received a great grace, and he is about to be a means of great grace to others.
I believe that like Isaiah we, too, need to move from conversion to
transformation to mission. We either need a missionary or we are
missionaries. There is in the call of Isaiah a challenge for every disciple
of Christ. Godliness demands manifestation. A world that cannot see Christ
must see Christ in us! I invite each one of us to heed the call and bring
others into God’s family by welcoming them into our homes, our churches,
our community gatherings, and our times of fellowship. Many of us have
experienced the Lord’s presence and work in our midst. Let’s share our
Good News. I believe that it’s time to step forward and say, “Here am I.
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