Did You Forget Something?

If you read my last post about leadership and worship, you might recall it was about what a leader worship. Some leaders worship fame, others power, and some even themselves. I gave two case studies: Joshua the Hebrew leader after Moses, and General Douglas MacArthur. One worshiped God and the other forgot that he ultimately answered to someone greater than him.

It was long and I forgot to bring up another major point.

But then, in terms of editorial choice and clarity, it probably makes more sense to start a new post. To be honest, I spent more time trying to come up with a good title than the subject matter. Kinda like when you spend more time trying to choose the right fonts to write your thesis than actually writing the paper. Or making a brilliant, color coded, bullet point PowerPoint slide deck – and forgetting to rehearse your speech to be under 30 minutes.

Sorry. I could not resist that last cartoon and the long introduction. Anyway, in this post, I ask if we have forgotten something. Something very important that changes everything we know.

What I am talking about is the holiness of God. Yes, the holiness of God. We emphasize the love of God, or the greatness of God in creation, or his faithfulness. We emphasize the lost art of discipleship, or take courses in servant leadership and the challenge of Jesus. We talk about financial responsibility and our stewardship of God’s gifts to us. What we forgot is God’s holiness.

And there is the problem. Why is holiness so important? Isn’t God’s love enough? When atheists and agnostics and LBQT community accuse of Christians of being judgmental and hypocritical, in effect, they are saying that Christians don’t love them if God is supposed to be a loving God. Fair enough; sometimes the way Christians express truth more like a sledgehammer than a scalpel. And after all, Jesus welcomes saints and sinners alike.

My problem with such accusers is that they have redefined God’s love to be blind tolerance and forced acceptance of their behavior. That is not love. If you are a math teacher and a student turns in homework with 8 out 10 incorrect answers, is it “love” to give them an A? Of course not, but that is what these people are saying. In fact, the opposite is true: when a person truly comes to God, their eyes are opened and they realize just how sinful they are.

Just ask Joshua: when the Commander of the Lord’s Army says the ground is holy, Joshua took off his sandals in obedience and worshiped Jesus.

Or ask the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah had a chance to see God in his full glory and his first response to fall and confess his sins. Isaiah called himself cursed/judged “Woe is me! I am ruined!”

Or ask the Apostle John. In the book of Revelation, John is caught up to heaven for a glimpse and sees the heavenly choirs. The choir sings “Holy, Holy, Holy, Who was, and Is, and Is to come.” In fact, it is the same chorus that Isaiah heard.

Better yet, ask Reginald Heber. Heber wrote the famous hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy! The Lord God Almighty.” This hymn was first published in 1826 and was sung traditionally on Trinity Sunday. Now, it is pretty much ever Sunday after that. The hymn has been covered multiple times. Just search on Youtube and you will find the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and Hillsong. And those are just the first three.

Holiness is the filter for all of God’s other characteristics that we admire. Holiness means a separation, something set apart for a noble purpose. Holiness is not superiority, but it is consecration.

Holy faithfulness versus profane faithfulness. God is faithful to his people, like a husband to his wife, NOT like the coarse faithfulness found in the mafia or the so-called honor among thieves.

Holy justice versus human justice. God’s justice is correct 100% and there is no need for appeals. Human justice can be either too severe or too little. And human judgments are always subject to appeal. God’s justice is not petty or vindictive but exact. Human justice can appear like victor’s justice, like the accusation made during the Nuremberg Trials.

Above all, holy love versus human love. In his book The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis describes the four types of love in the world: storge (familial love), eros (sexual/ romantic love), filios (brotherly love), and agape (soul love). Lewis noted that three of the four are reciprocal and corruptible. The love of a parent can become controlling and domineering; chaste sex becomes lust; friendship becomes mere association and even criminal conspiracy. All three are based on give-and-take. Only agape is pure because it is NOT reciprocal and incorruptible. Agape love is how God loves us.

Lewis also illustrated this point in his book Til We Have Faces. It is a comparison of pure love versus profane love. It is a pretty sad book through out the story and I don’t recommend this if you are battling depression at the same time. The book is a retelling of the Greek myth Cupid and Psyche from the point of view of Psyche’s oldest sister Orual. In the Greek myth, the demi-god Cupid falls in love with Psyche but there is one condition. She must never see his face or suffer the consequences. Sadly, Psyche disobeyed and was banished.

In Lewis’s view point, Orual the oldest sister is the one response for Psyche’s disobedience. However, rather than acting out of spite or jealousy, Orual thought she was acting in Psyche’s best interests because she herself could not see Cupid. In Orual’s mind, Psyche was too naive and was being taken advantaged of by a stranger. And in Lewis’s mind, familial love between sisters was corrupted by a desire to control.

In the book, Orual suffered the loss of her sister when the gods in the story banished her sister. But every now and then, we get glimpses of Psyche who bore the punishment and never stopped loving her older sister. Lewis considered this the more pure form of love. It is sacrificial, different, and almost holy.

I have to wonder: has Christianity lost sight of this one characteristic about God? Have we gotten in trouble in our doctrine and ethics because we forgot that God is holy? It is like cleaning a kitchen and forgetting to take out full trash bin. You can even make the rest of the house spotless but until you empty that stinky trash can, it’s not really clean.

Or, better yet, it’s a parent who sees his children have been playing the mud and then tracked it all over the floor. He can both love the child and feel anger at the same time. That parent will ask his son to clean up the mess and go take a bath. Don’t you think God can love humanity at the same time and yet wants to send humanity to the bathtub for a thorough scrubbing? That God can love you and yet demand you be holy, just like him?

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