Holiness: Relational and Ethical

Exalt the Lord our God;

worship at his footstool!

Holy is he!

Themes of God’s holiness have been recurring in my Bible reading lately.

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come. 

Holy is he!

The Lord our God is holy.

While meditating on Psalm 99 today, I wondered whether I was just assuming I knew what God’s holiness is.  I remembered that Louis Berkhof had a great section on the attributes of God in his Systematic Theology (free, here!)

Intuitively, I consider holiness as something that refers to God being completely Other, and so I was surprised to see that Berkhof places that in the category of God’s communicable attributes.

Communicable attributes are aspects of God which He can pass along to us, as humans — such as spirituality, knowledge, morality, grace and mercy. Incommunicable attributes are aspects that are wholly God and can not be exhibited in us — such as God being an absolute being, self-sufficient, unchangeable, infinite, perfect.

Berkhof talks about the nature of God’s holiness having both a relational aspect and an ethical aspect.  Relationally, God is wholly distinct from us — His infinite majesty reinforces to us our creatureliness.  He is our Creator, we are His beloved created.

“The numinous” is how this Berkhof (citing German theologian Rudolf Otto) describes this aspect of God’s holiness:

“It is this holiness of God…“the numinous,” [is] part of the non-rational in God, which cannot be thought of conceptually, and which includes such ideas as “absolute unapproachability” and “absolute overpoweringness” or “aweful majesty.” It awakens in man a sense of absolute nothingness, a “creature-consciousness” or “creature-feeling,” leading to absolute self-abasement. ”

You may be familiar with the idea of “the numinous” from the writings of C. S. Lewis, and experienced something like what he described in “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe:”

“None of the children knew who Aslan was . . . but the moment the Beaver had spoken these words everyone felt quite different. Perhaps it has sometimes happened to you in a dream that someone says something which you don’t understand but in the dream it feels as if it had some enormous meaning . . . so beautiful that you remember it all your life.

 

In addition to the relational aspect of holiness, holiness is an ethical attribute of God.  As revealed in the Bible, God is completely unassociated with any sin and is completely filled with moral excellence.  Berkhof defines this ethical holiness as “that perfection of God, in virtue of which He eternally wills and maintains his own moral excellence, abhors sin, and demands purity in his moral creatures.”

I know that I understand (and can understand!) God’s holiness only in part.  My mind and heart are finite, and God’s holiness is infinite.  Yet as get glimpses of God’s holiness in Scripture and in commentaries, my heart is drawn to worship and continued meditation.

Holy is he!

 

 

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