Thursday, October 28, 2010

Reading the Classics Together – The Holiness of God, Chapter 3

This was a difficult chapter – not in the sense that I couldn't understand or comprehend, but in the sense that I find so little of the "fear of holiness" about me or in me. And that is frightening.

Sproul begins this chapter seeking to define that which is practically indefinable. He struggles with the attempt because any one word falls short of that which, to the author, seems all-encompassing. Holiness is not just purity, though it is that indeed. "To be separate" is about as close a reality for the whole word as any, yet there is a clear distinction between God, who IS holy, and us or anything else, for that matter, that may be MADE holy. In other words, our creatureliness prevents us from being holy, in and of ourselves. We may be made holy (in some respects, this is a passive process). We are to pursue holiness (this is the active response on our part to God's command – Be ye holy).

Sproul takes considerable time and goes to great lengths to help our minds attempt to get wrapped around God's transcendence – His "other-liness". I love this section of the book. When I first began to have the light of this great truth seep into my thinking, I embraced it, basked in its warmth and worshipped God. Many, however, despise God as "Other." They only want an immanent Being, One they can "relate" to, that makes them feel all warm and cozy, kind of like a Snuggie. While God does draw near to us, while He has sent His one and only Son as Emmanuel, God with us, He is far more transcendent than immanent when it comes to His holiness. And this frightens us.

This fear, this human-centered, human-generated fear is what brings on idolatry. Sproul provides a humorous look at the idol-maker (see Isaiah 44 for the biblical scene). What's really going on here doesn't appear fearful, but it is. It's an attempt to make God manageable, understandable, comprehendible when He is not. It's not that God has not made Himself known; clearly He has, in creation, in His revealed Word and most eminently, in Christ Jesus, His Son. No, it's when we are made to see our creatureliness: our finitude, our temporal nature, our conditional-ness; this is when we are frightened of the Thrice Holy God.

The mysterium tremendum is an odd thing, Sproul says. We're repulsed by it – it makes us want to flee. Yet we're drawn at the same time because there is something magnetic about the otherly nature of it. He uses the analogy of Vesta's fondness for horror movies to help us make sense of this concept. (Personally, I still have a hard time with horror movies – why do people enjoy getting frightened so?)

I wonder if we have any fear of God left in our churches today. We've made God so immanent, so personable, so likable that there really is no room for "the fear of the Lord." We don't want guests to be frightened away. We don't want to offend unchurched Sally, so we avoid the real holiness of God altogether, seeking to make Him approachable. What we end up doing, however, is succumbing to Satan's original temptation – we try to make ourselves like God – by warping the temptation: we try to make God like us.

For me, the awe-fullness of God's holiness is comforting. Oh, don't get me wrong. I'm not sure I want God to show up in all His holiness, as Isaiah experienced. This sinful heart of mine wouldn't bear it well. And yet, that is what draws me to God – the truth of the gospel. I can't stand the sight of God, but His Son can and He intercedes for me. I can't handle the truth, to quote a worn out movie line, but His Son, who is the Truth, bears it for me.

I love the holiness of God. May He make me more so this day, for His glory's sake. May He do the same for you as well.







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3 comments:

  1. Kevin, thank you for writing your review. I was overwhelmed by this chapter. I just loved the first part of it, in which Sproul defines holy- WOW! God is above us, no wonder why I can't comprehend every thing that comes from His hand.

    I love the way you said this: "I can't stand the sight of God, but His Son can and He intercedes for me." Yes! Amen, Amen, Amen.

    Soli Deo Gloria.

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  2. “We may be made holy (in some respects, this is a passive process). We are to pursue holiness (this is the active response on our part to God's command – Be ye holy).”
    This is an aspect that I’ve just started grappling with since reading everyone’s comments.

    “I can't stand the sight of God, but His Son can and He intercedes for me. I can't handle the truth, to quote a worn out movie line, but His Son, who is the Truth, bears it for me.”
    I don’t recall Sproul addressing that very much in this chapter, but I think it definitely needs to be brought up. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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  3. Kevin,

    Thanks for stopping by my blog and sharing your thoughts! As I continue considering the other ladies' reflections concerning the fear of God, I find your thoughts helpful. I especially appreciate the way that you "connected the dots" between our creatureliness, fear of God, and idolatry. Although I was challenged by each of those ideas, I hadn't quite put it together in that way. So, thank you!

    I, also, fear that I find too little of the fear of God within myself. I am more prone to think of Christ as friend (John 15:13-15) or my Father (Mathew 6:9). These thoughts remind me of John Piper's book "When I Don't Desire God" in that we know that we should fear God and desire Him more than we do. So we believers cry out to Him together and we fight to see Him as He is that we might grow, by His grace, in our desire of Him.

    "Therefore beneath the quest for satisfaction in Christ--which sustains the life of sacrifice for Christ--is always the quest to see the glory of Christ. All strategies in the fight for joy are directly or indirectly strategies to see Christ more fully" (pg. 60, When I Don't Desire God by John Piper).

    "Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord" (Hosea 6:3). May He answer this cry of our hearts for His glory! Praise Him for the desire to know Him more!!

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