Nearly 90 percent of Americans think that they are “above average” when it comes to morality.2 That definitely indicts our math ability, but it also shows us that most people feel, deep down, that they are pretty good. Typically, we measure our goodness by contrasting ourselves with others. We know we’re not perfect, but we’re not as bad as that person or those people. As long as God grades on a curve, we figure we’ll be OK.
Take note. When Isaiah had his vision of encountering the presence of God, he didn’t find himself in a lineup with other sinners. He found himself face to face with God. His conclusion was not “I am above average.” It was “I am lost.” Ruined. Doomed.
We might wonder if Isaiah overreacted. After all, he was a respected prophet. But his despair was fully justified when you consider what happened to others in the Bible who found themselves in the unfiltered presence of God’s holiness:
Uzzah reached out his hand to steady the ark so it didn’t fall into the dirt as a group of oxen pulled it along the road. God struck him dead. For one forbidden touch (2 Sam 6:7)!
Lot’s wife was turned into a pillar of salt for taking one look at the city God told her to flee. She lost her life for one glance (Gen 19:26).
A group of seventy Israelites peered with curiosity into the ark of the covenant, which housed God’s presence. God killed all seventy. For one forbidden look (1 Sam 6:19).
The book of Numbers records the story of a man who, right after the giving of the law, broke the law by collecting sticks on the Sabbath. The people brought him to God to ask what the punishment should be. God said, “Stone him.” For one small infraction of the law of God that most of us would consider to be morally innocuous, this man lost his life (Num 15:32–36).
In the Garden of Eden, one bite from the forbidden fruit brought condemnation on the entire human race. Think about that: every disease, every famine, every natural disaster—eternal punishment—came about as the result of one bite from the forbidden fruit (Gen 3:1–24).
One act of disobedience qualifies us for eternal separation.
Isaiah offers up no excuses. What could he possibly say to hide or excuse his defilement? No wonder he despaired. What hope do any of us have before God?
J. D. Greear and David Jeremiah, Not God Enough: Why Your Small God Leads to Big Problems (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2018).