R.C. Sproul is right. It is not proper to pit one attribute of God against another. Wrong questions get wrong answers. Here is an example of a wrong question, “Is God more holy, or more loving—more merciful or more wrathful?” It will always result in a wrong answer. There is no good answer to a bad question.
But, if one attribute were above the others, my candidate (And R.C. Sproul’s) would be holiness. Holiness is by definition different than the others. In fact, that is fundamentally what holy means. It means separate from or different than. If we understand God at all, we understand that he is different from everything we know. His knowledge is not like our knowledge. He is more than just a very smart God. His knowledge is altogether different from ours. He is not merely a very strong person. His strength is not like our strength. His strength and his knowledge and every other attribute is fundamentally different from ours. He is holy. He is separate from, distinct from the creatures and the world he has created.
People who enjoy God enjoy a God who is different from them. They enjoy a God who is separate from them. They understand God is not at all like anything else we know on planet earth. The creator is not very much at all like the created. Not at all.
It is the only attribute that is used in the superlative, “ Holy.” (Isaiah 6:3) Quite frankly, this is bad English, but it is good Hebrew. We would say, “Holiest” and leave it at that. But that was not strong enough for the Hebrew mind. They preferred, “Holy, holy, holy.”
English tries to be a tidy language. It is not a very tidy language, but we at least try to be tidy in our communication. Wordy language is out; brief, tight communication is in. We have a rule against double negatives. Long sentences that are filled up with extra, additional, supplementary, excessive, superfluous words are considered clumsy, cumbersome, awkward, bulky, wordy, and old-fashioned. They are nearly always shortened by an editor. We use other conventions—desktop publishing conventions—like bold, underline and italics to emphasize our point. If it is really important, we will create a pull out. The only way the Hebrews emphasized was through repetition. Holy, holy, holy was their way of saying, “Make this boldface, underlined and italic.”
And this is just the problem we have in understanding, knowing and enjoying God. How do you understand a God whose prime characteristic is that he is different from everything you know? You get to lesson one and the teacher says, “Forget about everything you think God might be like. His first characteristic is that he is different.”
Man has forever attempted to cast God in his own image, or in the image of things he understands. That is what idolatry is all about. If God is something familiar, I can relax. I feel in control. But there is something unsettling about believing that God is fundamentally different from everything I know. He is not like Santa Claus, Grandaddy, or Mother Theresa. This is the temptation of idolatry—it gets God down to a level I can understand.
Occasionally you will hear people make the ridiculous statement, “I cannot believe in a God who is this or that.” Absurd. God does not have to conform to our wishes, our likings, or our prejudices. He is what he is and all our imagining how we think he should be does not change a thing. Paul asked the pointed question in Romans 9:20, “But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’” Another good question is, “Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why are you the way you are?’”
People who cast God in any old image they like soon good bored with their creation. This is one of the keys to enjoying God. You must let Him be. As soon as you place him on your potter’s wheel and begin to shape Him, you will get bored with your creation as well.
This raises a couple of interesting questions. How can we know and enjoy a God who is by definition different from anything we have ever seen or known? If I said to you, “Let me tell you about this new thing.”
“Great, what is it like?”
“It is not like anything you have seen before.”
“I am excited, what does it do?”
“It does not do anything like anything you have seen before.”
“What does it look like?”
“It does not look like anything you have ever seen before.”
“Well, is it like a tool, a piece or art, a book, some technical contraption, or what?”
“It is not like anything. But you will enjoy it immensely.”
I am guessing you are not going to do cartwheels over this new thing just yet. And if said to you, “You should sell everything you have so you can posses this,” I am betting you are not setting up a garage sale just yet.
How do we know something or someone who is utterly different from every reference point of similarity we have? One of the rules of communication is to explain the unknown by means of comparisons with the known. There is no point of comparison here. How would we ever enjoy something we do not cannot understand?
Answer: we look in the mirror. We look in the mirror to see the image of God. This may sound like a radical, maybe humanistic idea, but it is rooted firmly in the creation narratives. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27) You and I were created in the image of God. Our best clue of what God is like is in the mirror. That is not only the image of our bodies, it is the image of God. God is more like me than anything else I know. This is the curious paradox of scripture. God is, at the same time different from anything else we know and more like us than anything else.
Josh Hunt. (2013). The God We Enjoy.
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