I have been thinking about the holiness of God lately. Specifically how does the holiness of God work with the love of God?
The meaning of “holy” is “to be set apart.” When we think of God being holy, there is an idea that He is set apart from us. Which granted, He is in a way, which I will explain later. However, what I have experienced in the church and my background is the idea that God is so holy that He is untouchable and/or unapproachable. This particular idea of His holiness seems to negate His ability to love and forgive us freely. Holiness and the wrath of God intertwine so tightly that there is no room for love. When one hazards the legitimate question of how a loving God can send people to hell to burn for eternity just for not believing the exact right thing – the answer is always, “God is HOLY.” Because He’s holy and we are utterly depraved, God feels pretty wrathful towards us about that, so not even His love can protect us from His holy wrath. His holiness and wrath demand blood one way or another, and only then can he offer his love and forgiveness to us, assuming we believe the right thing about all of this. If that doesn’t make you nervous about God’s holiness, then word pictures from the Bible and from some well-known pastors can help you move in that direction. I’ve heard descriptions of God’s glory and holiness being so unapproachable and overwhelming that we would burn in God’s presence if we were even allowed there. Not much indication of unconditional love there. This is an exclusive holiness.
So I’ve been wrestling with the idea of God being Love and Holy and what that really looks like. I have concluded that it is because of God’s love – because He is Love – that He is holy. He is set apart from us because He loves us perfectly and unconditionally. He has the kind of love that we cannot seem to manage even under the best of circumstances. But God – He does it in the very worst of circumstances! That is holiness. That is the glory of God! I find it hard to see any wrath in that kind of holiness. His holiness is not something that excludes us. The virtue of His holiness is that He wraps us in His love and calls us His own. We are the ones that have created the language of Holy exclusion – not God.
And some would argue that the Bible says that He is untouchably holy…..And to them I say, the Bible says a lot, but most importantly that God is Love. It tells us that God is so in love with us that he became one of us. Born in dirt, made with dust. Suffered with us. Touched and restored the ones deemed untouchable and unclean. The ones excluded from a holy God that demanded sacrifice. Turned that idea upside down by reminding them that God desires mercy, not sacrifice. Told a “this is God” story about a rich Father that loved his wayward son so much that he swept him up – pig stink and all – into his arms and welcomed him back lavishly. And when they killed him for turning the ideals of power upside down, for letting all in, he did not invoke the wrath of God with His dying breath, but instead asked God to forgive them. That is holy.
When I watch the way my dad is with my mom, how much he loves her, reaches out to her, and stays with her in the midst of her disease, I witness God’s love in action and those are the holiest of moments. When I feel compassion or watch my husband’s gentleness with my child during a difficult moment – God’s love is real there, and it’s holy.
I have come to the conclusion, through my experience with this holy God, that His holiness is defined by his love, not the other way around.