Holy, Holy, Holy

Then Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain and said, “This is what you are to say to the descendants of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.  Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession.  Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’  These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.”

  • Exodus 19:3-6

Moses said to the Lord, “The people cannot come up Mount Sinai, because you yourself warned us, ‘Put limits around the mountain and set it apart as holy.’”

  • Exodus 19:23

Regard them as holy, because they offer up the food of your God.  Consider them holy, because I the Lord am holy—I who make you holy.

  • Levitcus 21:8

“Nikolaus von Kues belongs to a long tradition of medieval philosophers who attempt to describe the nature of God, stressing how God is unlike anything that the human mind is capable of grasping.  Von Kues begins with the idea that we gain knowledge by using our reason to define things.  So in order to know God, he deduces that we must try to define the basic nature of God.
“… some early Christian theologians talk of God as ‘above being.’  Von Kues, writing around 1440, goes further, stating that God is what comes before everything, even before the possibility of something existing.  Yet reason tells us the possibility of any phenomenon existing must come before its actual existence.  It is impossible for something to come into being before the possibility of it arises.  The conclusion that von Kues comes to, therefore, is that something that is said to do this must be described as ‘Not-other.’”

  • Sam Atkinson (senior editor), The Philosophy Book, Big Ideas Simply Explained

Thirteen times in the NIV in Leviticus, God commands to make something holy for He, the Lord our God, is holy.  As it says in Exodus about Mount Sinai and God’s holy people (nation), something set apart as holy.  But what is holiness?  The typical dictionary definition would be “the state of being holy.”  Like that helps.  So what is holy?  Again the dictionary gives a few examples: sacred, something consecrated to God, or something set apart for religious purposes.  And yet, the water is still muddy.

An old friend, pastor, and Bible teacher once told me that “holy” was “wholly other.”  Like the attributes that we think we are but in a pure form, so pure that we ourselves cannot attain them with our power.  And then in the 1400s, to define something outside time and space, not necessarily God as holiness, Nikolaus von Kues (1401-1464) says that God is the “Not-other.”

Whether wholly other or Not-other, God is holy, and the book’s author may be stating the Christian belief as their belief rather a statement of fact that God is indescribable.  But in stating that God is indescribable, I am only stating that our human language and human understanding cannot express God’s holiness.  We can know God.  God is indeed “wholly other” in that God is without sin and we are not.  God is outside time and space, and we are not.

Since we have the word “infinite” that we can use to describe the universe and God Himself, we could simply state that God has always been rather than stating “Not-other.”  What von Kues is trying to state is that God has no beginning, no coming into being, because He has always been.  While we are human “beings,” could we call God a spiritual “always been and forever will be?”  Whether stating Not-other or having no beginning, it avoids the circular argument mentioned in the book quote that all ‘beings’ must have a start in their being.  But trying to grasp something that has always been is really hard for us who were born, who have a beginning.  I assume that includes all humans, although some act like they were hatched.  Even then, they would have a beginning.  We will all have an end on this mortal coil, but there is that thing about our souls living forever with Jesus, for those who believe and trust in Him.  We just aren’t there yet.  Maybe when we get there, we will comprehend God better and we may have the right words to express the attributes of God.

But we should be warned.  While still in our sin nature and before we are fully sanctified, the words and indeed the pure concept of God’s attributes will be beyond words and comprehension.  God’s Justice allows for those who have the mark of the beast to be cast into the fire, but His justice allows for those who are in the book of life to be spared from the second death through God’s Mercy and Grace.  And could our unwillingness to say that it is “fair” that the boss who ruined our career over a personality conflict says more to our unwillingness to forgive than to God being unfair.  That truly becomes our inability to understand God’s Justice, our inability to see God forgiving the sins of those who hurt us.  I say “inability,” but we have the ability with God in us, and the command to do so.  Forgive that is.  And yes, I hope to see them in Heaven.

But understanding that God has no beginning is hard to grasp.  I have tried to imagine what “time” is like in Heaven.  Will time not exist?  Will we progress at a different pace?  If I could get a clue about that, then it defines living with Jesus “forever” a little better, and then I could extrapolate backwards to beyond the beginning of our time, just to get to von Kues’ “Not-other” point, and then God is infinitely further in that direction, for God has no beginning, even once we have a concept of the passage of “time” in Heaven.

And is it a waste of time to ponder the imponderable?  We need to prepare ourselves for everlasting life by Bible study, prayer, and communion with other believers, but can we not think of how wonderful the most wonderful place outside the universe might really be?  Just for a moment?  Does that motivate us to be better prepared?

And even though the First Dallas Baptist church choir made it sound something unworldly, God is more.

If you like these Tuesday morning essays about philosophy and other “heavy topics,” but you think you missed a few, you can use this LINK. I have set up a page off the home page for links to these Tuesday morning posts. I will continue to modify the page as I add more.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

4 Comments

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  1. I agree that God is “wholly other.” I disagree that such a description is related to the Biblical word “holy.” So far as I can tell, the original Hebrew word translated “holy” has to do with being clean, uncontaminated, acceptable, right rather than wrong. God himself is holy. So are all the things God has claimed for himself: his name, his day, his places, and his people. All those are uncontaminated by sin and evil. He wants them to remain uncontaminated. If they have become contaminated, he himself rescues and reclaims them, sanctifying them and sanitizing them and making them spotless and free from blemish, presenting himself with something that is pure and holy. J.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I just read a brief history regarding the use of the hymn Holy, Holy, Holy in the Catholic Church…that the hymn was actually written by an Anglican…so good we all know what Holy truly is…

    Liked by 1 person

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