The Holiness of God: Chapter 2 – Holy, Holy, Holy

The Holiness of God: Chapter 2 – Holy, Holy, Holy August 26, 2014

The Holiness of GodAwhile back, I was explaining why I don’t get Christianity. A commenter suggested I read a book – “The Holiness of God” by RC Sproul [1985].

Before I start, I thought I should point out that you should take what I say with a grain of salt. It’s like hearsay – you’re reading what my interpretation/understanding is. There may be bits that I don’t understand, or didn’t mention because I thought they weren’t important.

As far as I understand, this chapter is supposed to explain what is meant by “holy”. We shall see.

Summary

Sproul begins the chapter by talking about prophets hired by God to do things that God can’t do, like spreading the Gospel and/or prosecuting sinners. He notes that Jesus was a prophet in a long list prophets who had short life expectancy, and shitty shitty lives.

It is clear that He [Jesus] stood in a long line of men whom God had appointed to such suffering.

Some people didn’t want the job, but God coerced them into it, anyway.

Some time is spent talking about King Uzziah, who generally had a good rein, and was supposedly a decent person who sought the holiness of God, and generally got it, until his last few years, when he charged into a temple and tried to claim the rights of God. Things went south for him, because there is only one master, and He does not share power.

Isaiah steps into the same temple where Uzziah pulled his stunt, and there sat God on the throne.

Before getting to deeply into Isaiah, Sproul spends about 400 pages talking about titles and names, such as “Lord” versus “LORD”.

LORD is the name of God; Lord is His title. We speak of President George W. Bush. George is his name; president is his title.

Just in case it isn’t clear what any of that had to do with “holiness”, Sproul clarifies:

In some ways, that is similar to my choosing to use capital letters when I use a pronoun to refer to God. Because God is unspeakably holy, I cannot bring myself to refer to Him as “him”, even though my younger readers may be bothered by what they perceive to be an outdated use of capital letters. To me it is a gesture of respect and awe for a holy God.

In addition, God is Medusa.

Humans are not allowed to see the face of God. The Scriptures warn that no person can see God and live.

The book does not explain why God decided to have a face that kills people.

Worry not; he had a plan, wrapped in a long sequence of tautologies.

“I [God] will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But,” he said [to Moses], “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” Then the Lord said, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove by hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.” (Exodus 33:19-13)

He could have just put on a mask, but since God forgot it, and since he refused to turn off his face, he took the only recourse available – using his hands (the only two he decided to have at that point), to block his face from Moses.

It’s not an exacting definition of “holiness”, but there’s one way of looking at it – face radiation. It’s not exactly how Sproul would put it, but it’s the only analog I can think of.

From Sproul’s description, this radiation seems to spread as well:

This experience of terror was directed at the face of a man who had come so close to God that he was reflecting God’s  glory. This was a reflection of the glory from the back of God, not the refulgent glory of His face.

Sorry – we seem to have switched words. The book isn’t clear, but it seems like “glory” and “holy” are synonyms, and equally dangerous. Not a single RadAway was given that day.

Sproul continues to discuss how terrifying God’s face is, and despite that, how we, and our souls really really want to gaze upon it. Why can’t we see his face, though?

Right now it is impossible for us to see God is His pure essence. Before that can ever happen, we must be purified … it is our impurity that prevents us from seeing God. The problem is not with our eyes; it is with our hearts. Only after we are purified and totally sanctified in heaven we will have the capacity to gaze upon Him face-to-face.

Reviewer’s note: You can think of it this way. If you watch a really good movie, but you’ve seen porn once, you’ll die. Same mechanism. I think. Sproul doesn’t explain how/why this would be the case, by what mechanism, etc, so I’m taking stabs in the dark.

Still not sure what “holiness” is? Sproul moves onto talking about the Seraphim to give another example.

You see, they’re basically angels, but lesser angels. They’re more like creature-angels. They have two sets of wings. One set covers their feet. When humans walk on holy ground, we’re supposed to take off our shoes to connect with it, since we have “feet of clay.” Seraphim don’t, so their bare feet touching that ground would be disrespectful.

There you go – another aspect of holiness.

Sproul then talks awhile on why the word “holy” is repeated 3 times. He explains that it’s a Hebrew literary device that is a form of emphasis.

The Bible says that God is holy, holy, holy. Not that He is merely holy, or even holy, holy. He is holy, holy, holy. The Bible never says that God is love, love love; or mercy, mercy, mercy; or wrath, wrath, wrath; or justice, justice, justice. It does say that He is holy, holy, holy, that the whole earth is full of His glory.

After the literally mechanism is thoroughly explained, Sproul moves back to Isaiah. When Isaiah found God sitting on the throne, in the temple, he screamed “Woe is me!”  Sproul spends pages explaining this phrase, and how Isaiah essentially cast a curse upon himself, and he then suffered a “personality disintegration”, where his sins were scrubbed away by God. This was traumatic for Isaiah because God usually lets us know our faults little by little, but Isaiah was shown all his faults at once, and that totally disintegrated his personality.

Then he caught one sudden glimpse of a holy God. In that single moment, all of his self-esteem was shattered.

Sproul then describes Isaiah’s realization that we all have “dirty mouths”, because as Sproul puts it, “the tongue is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

God did his Souron impression upon Isaiah.

I see you!
I see you!

Isaiah was groveling on the floor. Every nerve fiber in his body was trembling. He was looking for a place to hide, praying that somehow the earth would cover him or the roof of the temple would fall upon him – anything to get him out from under the holy gaze of God. But there was nowhere to hide.

But back to the humans-have-dirty-mouths problem. Relax, God has a solution for that. He has a remedy.

The seraph pressed the white-hot coal to the lips of the prophet and seared him. The lips are one of the most sensitive parts of the human flesh, the meeting point of the kiss. Here Isaiah felt the holy flame burning his mouth. The acrid smell of burning flesh filled his nostrils, but that sensation was dulled by the excruciating pain of the heat. This was a severe mercy, a painful act of cleansing. Isaiah’s wound was being cauterized, the dirt in his mouth was being burned away. He was refined by holy fire.

There’s no explanation as to how this actually fixed anything, other than that God is mad has his dirty mouth, and wants some kind of punishment. Does it sound like cruel and unusual punishment?

His was no cruel and unusual punishment. A second of burning flesh on the lips brought a healing that would extend to eternity.

Again, the book offers no explanation of how that works. Maybe the problem was bacteria in the mouth that had to be sterilized?

In a moment, the disintegrated prophet was whole again. His mouth was purged. He was clean.

After disintegrating Isaiah’s personality, violating his free will by washing out his dirty mouth with hot soap, Isaiah’s personal identity remained intact, and he volunteered to be God’s new prophet after King Uzziah.

Now THAT’S holiness! I guess.

Sproul finishes by explaining that just because one studies holiness, that doesn’t make one holy.

Commentary

I’m not sure I have a whole lot to say, actually. Outside of a series of Biblical study lessons, discussed as though all the asserted events actually happened, the chapter did little to explain what “holiness” is. Going back to the “holy, holy, holy” versus “love, love, love” part… This may not tell us what holiness is, but we can rule out several possibilities.

This is how we can figure out what God’s priorities are. Clearly, love, justice and mercy are not in his top list. Holiness is, and if you thought that holiness was a combination of love, mercy, justice, etc – you know, general goodness – here we have it clearly contrasted with those attributes.

Suppose, instead of “holiness”, we’re trying to explain what “perploxiness” means. Sproul’s approach would be to say something like:

Fred walked into the room, where he found Bobgor, who by his presence, caused everything into the room to become perploxy. There was a metaunicorn there too, but he had to wear earplugs, otherwise, that would disrespect the perploxiness of the couch Bobgor was sitting on. You may want to see Bobgor’s t-shirt, but it’s so perploxy, that your skull will implode, if you do. That is, if you see it, after having watched Fox News, and before having your eyes washed with strangelet soup.

There, you should now know what “perploxiness” means. The descriptions aren’t that far away from the Vogon Poeotry Threshold of Total Word Salad.

It doesn’t help that Sproul is talking about mythological things and events as though they were true. Trying to explain one unintelligible concept by referencing other unintelligible or mythological things only deepens the incoherence.

Going into the chapter, I thought “holiness” had something to do with “goodness”, but the chapter left that idea in tatters.

 

Sorry if this summary was a bit longer. The chapter was 20 pages, and I probably left a lot out.

Questions

I’m really getting the impression that these questions are geared towards a Christian audience.

Have you ever had an experience in which you were overcome by God’s presence, in which you were “undone” by God’s presence?

No. Well, maybe in a game.

Isaiah’s response to God’s revelation of His holiness was, “Woe is me.” What is your response?

My response would have been “Turn off your damn face! The fuck?!

In what ways do you need to be refined by the fire of God’s holiness.

How about no? He can keep his Souronesque solutions to himself.

What aspect of God’s holiness, as descriptive in this chapter, causes to you to worship Him more fully?

Virtually everything you wrote causes me to worship him less… of course, assuming there’s anything there to worship at all.

Use the hymn at the end of this book to express your worship to God.

No. I don’t sing. That’d explode skulls worse than seeing God’s radiation-pulse-cannon-face.

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