God’s holiness is not simply the best we know infinitely bettered. We know nothing like the divine holiness. It stands apart, unique, unapproachable, incomprehensible and unattainable. The natural man is blind to it. He may fear God’s power and admire His wisdom, but His holiness he cannot even imagine.
Only the Spirit of the Holy One can impart to the human spirit the knowledge of the holy. Yet as electric power flows only through a conductor, so the Spirit flows through truth and must find same measure of truth in the mind before He can illuminate the heart. Faith wakes at the voice of truth but responds to no other sound. “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Theological knowledge is the medium through which the Spirit flows into the human heart, yet there must be humble penitence in the heart before truth can produce faith. The Spirit of God is the Spirit of truth. It is possible to have same truth in the mind without having the Spirit in the heart, but it is never possible to have the Spirit apart from truth.
In his penetrating study of the holy, Rudolf Otto makes a strong case for the presence in the human mind of something he names the “numinous,” by which, apparently, he means a sense that there is in the world a vague, incomprehensible Something, the Mysterium Tremendum, the awesome Mystery, surrounding and enfolding the universe. This is an It, an awful Thing, and can never be intellectually conceived, only sensed and felt in the depths of the human spirit. It remains as a permanent religious instinct, a feeling for that unnamed, undiscoverable Presence that “runs quicksilverlike through creation’s veins” and sometimes stuns the mind by confronting it with a supernatural, suprarational manifestation of itself. The man thus confronted is brought down and overwhelmed and can only tremble and be silent.
This nonrational dread, this feeling for the uncreated Mystery in the world, is back of all religion. The pure religion of the Bible, no less than the basest animism of the naked tribesman, exists only because this basic instinct is present in human nature. Of course, the difference between the religion of an Isaiah or a
Paul and that of the animist is that one has truth and the other has not; he has only the “numinous” instinct. He feels after an unknown God, but an Isaiah and a Paul have found the true God through His own self- disclosure in the inspired Scriptures. The feeling for mystery, even for the Great Mystery, is basic in human nature and indispensable to religious faith, but it is not enough. Because of it men may whisper, “That awful Thing,” but they do not cry, “Mine Holy One!” In the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures God carries forward His self-revelation and gives it personality and moral content. This awful Presence is shown to be not a Thing but a moral Being with all the warm qualities of genuine personality. More than this, He is the absolute quintessence of moral excellence, infinitely perfect in righteousness, purity, rectitude, and incomprehensible holiness. And in all this He is uncreated, self-sufficient and beyond the power of human thought to conceive or human speech to utter.
Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy
I have just completed a series of lessons based on A.W. Tozer’s book, The Knowledge of the Holy. They are available on Amazon in both print and Kindle versions, as well as part of my Good Questions Have Groups Talking Subscription service. For a medium-sized church, lesson subscriptions are only $10 per teacher per year.