The Sight that Flips the Soul
There are certain sights that are more like a step through a magic wardrobe than a vision of a new object on the shelf. Realizing that the woman sitting across from you is your future wife is one of these, as are the sights of a newborn child in your arms and the first prolonged glimpse at the borderless ceiling of the stars above. Yet, the most revolutionary vision of all is a view into holiness, the insight that the universe is the shell of a greater truth, a veil hiding the face of an infinite presence. A radical reorientation of the soul occurs the moment a man awakens to the fact that he lives under the shadow of the Almighty. To read and understand Genesis 1, Psalm 139, Psalm 145, the book of Job, or Isaiah 40 is to experience nothing less than a Copernican revolution of the soul. My selfish instinct is wrong. God is all-in-all; I am not. Next to Him the entire universe is tiny, simple, and barely getting started. He is there and alive – two facts significant enough to startle the soul into a new spiritual alertness.
The Nature of Holiness
Men, if we are serious about Christian growth, we need to pursue a vision of holiness with the dogged persistence of a thirsty man looking for water. The reason for this is because holiness is one of the few insights that has the power to transform us inwardly. The more we see of holiness, the more we will hunger for God. The more we hunger for God, the more we will be reshaped into His likeness.
Yet, we must pause here and ask a question: what is holiness? Holiness is a word used by many, but understood by few. Therefore, to avoid all confusion, we must be clear about what we are after. Here are three words to help ordinary guys understand what holiness is – otherness, intensity, and beauty.
First, otherness. The universe can no more reveal the nature of God than a palace lawn can make known the identity and character of a king. God is not material, He is spirit. He is not finite, He is infinite. Just as our eyes cannot see all that there is in the night sky, our minds cannot understand all that there is in God. He is always more and greater than anything we could think or imagine, which is why silent awe is such an appropriate mood for worship. Although we do have some real knowledge of God, we are like travelers who have only seen a single face of an enormous mountain, and who will require the rest of eternity to explore the endless valleys, caverns, and peaks therein.
Second, holiness is intensity. The fullness of God’s presence is best described by images like ‘inaccessible light’ (I Tim. 6:16) and ‘consuming fire’ (Deut. 4:24). A man could more easily build a house on the surface of the sun than walk into the immediate presence of God. The purity of God is of such blinding heat that even the angelic beings shield their faces before Him. If their unblemished eyes are overpowered by the divine radiance, imagine what a full revelation of God would do for a human being. A nuclear blast is no more than a lit match compared to a full unveiling of divine glory.
The third is beauty. Picture a sunset that is in fact a sunrise – a turning of the sky into a canvas of color that forever increases in vibrancy, movement, shape and complexity as time stretches on. Moment by moment one template is replaced by another, each more elaborate, unexpected, and engrossing than the sum of what came before. So it is with holiness. Men, never succumb to the childish belief that being in the presence of God could grow boring. Paul was not exaggerating when he said, ‘Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things that God has prepared for those who love Him’ (I Cor. 2:9). The stalest crumb of heaven will be enough to satisfy the heart of man for all of eternity.
Questions for Small Groups/Self-Reflection
1. Think about a time when you were overcome by the beauty of creation. Why does that experience reveal about the nature of God’s holiness?
2. What are some mountaintop passages of the Bible, passages that lift us high enough to see the outer courts of heaven? What do we learn from these passages about the nature of God’s holiness? (If no passages come to mind, read the chapters mentioned at the beginning of this post.)
3. Are there any Psalms or praise songs that you sing in church that help you think about the holiness of God? Reflect on a line or stanza of one of these songs? What does it teach about the holiness of God? (If no song comes to mind, google ‘Eternal Power Whose High Abode’ by Isaac Watts; the hymn is jet fuel for worship.)
Questions for Small Groups/Self-Reflection
1. Read Isaiah 40. How does the chapter shift your perspective on life, on history, on the universe, on the purpose of existence?
2. Think about the life and ministry of Jesus. What moments in his life and death do you find most startling, most unexpected, most worthy of praise, admiration, and worship? Be specific. Think of actions, reactions, words, miracles, and teachings. Why is Jesus worthy of your deepest reverence and love?
3. What kind of life do you desire more than any other: a successful life full of professional achievement, a comfortable life full of fun and amusement, or a godly life full of courageous obedience and sacrificial love (Luke 9:23)?
4. What do you think a Christian man can do in order to increase his love and desire for Christ?