The Holiness of Qadowsh
Did you watch the coronation of King Charles III over the weekend?
This month, we’re reflecting on God’s kingship, specifically, his holiness. The most recognizable declaration of God’s holiness is captured in Isaiah 6:3, when one seraph says to the other, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”
But of course, there are many more. From Genesis to Revelation, Scripture is filled with pronouncements of the holiness of God. Exodus 15:11 asks, “Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?”
And 1 Samuel 2:2 declares, “There is none holy like the Lord; for there is none besides you; there is no rock like our God.”
What does it mean to declare, as the seraph did, that God is holy? Our word for holiness comes from the Hebrew word, qadowsh, which means “to cut.”
First, to be holy means to be cut off, or separate, from everything else. It is to be in a class of your own, distinct from anything else that has ever existed or will ever exist.
God is uniquely separate and different. There is no comparison to him. We can’t say, “God is like X, Y, or Z” because there is nothing in the universe that he is like. There is no standard by which we can measure God.
He is above all, the One who creates the standards by which his creatures are measured. His holiness leaves us searching for descriptive words, but the words seem inadequate. God is the great Other, separated, unique, and different from any other thing that exists.
Second, to be holy means to be completely pure, all the time and in every way possible. God is in a moral category we have never encountered before, occupying a moral space that no one has ever occupied.
But there’s even more to be said. God’s holiness is not an aspect of what he is. No, God’s holiness is the essence of what he is.
If you ask, “How is the holiness of God revealed?” the only correct answer is, “In everything he does.” Everything God thinks, desires, speaks, and does is utterly holy in every way. He is holy in every attribute and every action.
He is holy in justice, love, mercy, power, sovereignty, wisdom, patience, anger, grace, faithfulness, and compassion—the list could never end. He is even holy in his holiness!
You’re probably thinking, “Okay, okay, Paul, I get it! God is holy…” So why is this doctrine so foundationally important?
Because the holiness of God sits at the center of the grand narrative of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Without the holiness of God, there would be no:
- Moral law to which every human being is responsible
- Divine anger with sin
- Perfect Son sent as an acceptable sacrifice
- Vindication of the resurrection
- Final defeat of sin and Satan
- Hope of a new heaven and earth where holiness will reign over us and in us forever
The biblical story would not be the biblical story if it were not written and controlled at every point by one who is holy all the time and in every way.
The holiness of God decimates our autonomy and self-sufficiency and drives us to the Savior, who alone is able, by his life and death, to unite unholy people to a holy God.
God reveals his holiness to us not as a warning that we should run from him in eternal terror, but as a welcome to us so that we would run to him, where weak and failing sinners always find grace that lasts forever.
Paul David Tripp
There will be no Reflection Questions for today’s devotional. Why? Because, when addressing the doctrine of the holiness of God, I am often literally at a loss for words.
It’s absolutely impossible to do justice to the majesty of God’s holiness within the limited boundaries of our human language. Trying to write Reflection Questions which would “apply” or “make sense” of the holiness of God, in some ways at least, feels like a futile effort.
Therefore, I would encourage you to do two things instead.
First: search the Scriptures for declarations of God’s holiness. Memorize them, recite them aloud, sing songs and hymns about them, write them down, and post them around your house as a visual reminder.
All the while, pray to receive the illumining ministry of the Spirit of God. Pray that God will open the eyes of your heart to “see” what cannot be seen with the physical eye or described with human vocabulary. Pray that somehow, someway, you would obtain even a minuscule glimpse of the mind-blowing grandeur of his holiness.
The doctrine of the holiness of God is so far beyond anything in our normal experience that we have no comparisons or categories to help us understand it.