God is Holy (set apart)
Holy was not a word with which I was familiar. In fact, my concept of a holy person was someone very somber, very religious and very boring. As I began to hear about the holiness of God, I began to understand holy in a new way. Instinctively, I knew holiness included the idea of being pure or flawless, but that was as far as I could take the concept. I learned that the primary meaning of holy in the Bible is “set apart.” God is set apart from us. He is separate and distinct from us. When the Bible says God is holy, it means the infinite perfection of His nature is so beyond our wildest imagination that when the attributes of His character are accurately presented to us, we realize He is foreign to us. He is not like us. His mercy is unlike any mercy we could ever imagine. His love is unlike any love we have ever experienced. His power, His wisdom, His greatness are not “of this world.” His holiness is so pure that no impurity can survive in His presence. Every part of His being is so perfect, so pure, so flawless and so beyond us that an accurate glimpse of who He is fills us with awe and with dread at the same time.
One thing hit me as I began to get a clearer picture of His character and His true nature: I became aware of my insignificance before Him. I knew I was small and He was great. At the same time, I heard He loved me. I was insignificant when compared to Him, but significant to Him because of how much He loved me. I was excited and frightened. I felt like the characters in The Wizard of Oz who knew they were getting ready to have an encounter with someone mysteriously greater than themselves. At times they wanted to run towards the encounter and at times they wanted to run away. The difference for me was there would be no disappointment: no tiny man behind a screen.
As much as I was hearing about His holy nature, I was also hearing about His love. A desire to know Him was being stirred up within me, but two aspects of His holiness were becoming like giant boulders on the horizon. They haunted me because I knew they were barriers beyond which I could not go on my own.
God is Rightous (morally perfect)
The fact that God is holy also means His moral character is holy. The Bible says His moral character is perfect and it calls this His righteousness. This was the first barrier to my being able to come into His presence and have a relationship with Him. Righteousness was definitely not a word that came up much in my conversations. I remember a movie in which Wesley Snipes played the role of a man who was falsely accused of a crime. He was determined to set the record straight and clear his good name. He would often say, “I want my righteousness back.” He wanted the blemish on his record removed so his spotless reputation could be restored. The dictionary defines righteousness as being “ethical, morally upright, guiltless, blameless.” It includes the idea of doing what is morally right.
God’s righteousness means His moral character is perfect, without spot or blemish. It is a moral character that is holy: pure, flawless and impeccable (without fault) beyond our comprehension. God always does what is morally right because He is zealous for that which is good. He can neither commit a moral wrong nor “look the other way” when a moral wrong (evil) is committed. To commit a moral wrong would be a moral transgression. To “look the other way” would be moral indifferencecite. Either act would violate His moral character.
This presented a problem for me. Part of being morally perfect is to react against evil. Our own morals, even though less than perfect, are offended when we see the evil done by the terrorists. To be offended is a proper reaction. We even call our reaction “righteous indignation.” We are offended morally by what we have seen. What we fail to understand is this is infinitely more true of God because He is morally perfect. He is offended by our moral evil—our sin—and He reacts with holy, righteous indignation.
God is Just (perfectly just…must punish the guilty)
God is also a God of justice. This was the second barrier to my being able to come into His presence. He is absolutely just. He does not show partiality. His justice is holy: pure, flawless and so incapable of compromise we cannot imagine it.b At the same time, His justice is never unfair. If a punishment does not fit the crime, it is cruel and unjust. His punishment always fits the crime. He is not capable of injusticecite.
At first, this didn’t sound like such a bad idea. I knew God had the right to judge His creatures. In fact, I kind of liked the idea: the guilty shall be punished. I expected a righteous judge in a court of law to execute justice without partiality. Those who violate the laws of society should be punished. It only seemed right that those who violate the laws of a holy God should be punished as well. What I had not come to realize was that I was one of the guilty.