Feb 22, 2017
by Phil Lawton
I didn’t sleep well last night. I woke up this morning to the news that one of my friends had died in automobile accident. I was crushed. Not just because a friend was gone, but because it just seemed like one more thing. Lately it seems like the world is falling apart. The news is never joyful. My Facebook feed constantly reminds me that humans have more care for animals then they do for each other. My job is full of conflict.
It seems that everywhere I turn I cannot escape the pain and the sin in this world. So this morning when I heard the news I cried. I cried in bed. I took a shower and cried there. I got out of the shower and I cried. And I realized one thing. This world is shifting and untrustworthy. But I serve a God who is holy. I serve a God whose very name is a rock. And this morning I clung to that rock.
Most commentaries on the Lord’s Prayer spend little time on this phrase. They quickly gloss over it as a given. Of course the name of God is holy. Some may note that this was a phrase used in a time before Jesus to talk about the nature of God. They may say that calling God holy is defining who God is — but they will spend far less time on this than they will on other parts of the prayer.
I have chosen to devote an entire section of this series to this phrase. If I am honest I felt like I put myself in a corner. I wasn’t sure what I was going to write about. I regretted not doing what everyone else had done. I could have just included this in the section on Heaven, but I didn’t. Now I am glad I didn’t.
More Than Just Sinless
Sometimes when we think of the word holy, we think that it means that God is sinless. It is true that God is sinless. It is true holy means this, but it means so much more. We live in a world that is consumed by sin. We live in a world full of evil. We are so saturated by evil that we devote entire courses at college and seminary to debating and solving “The Problem of Evil.” All those classes do is help us feel better about evil. They don’t really answer the question of why it
exists. They may point us to the hope of a future without evil, but on days like today that is little solace.
Holiness is something beyond us. We are not holy. For some this is what they mean when they say God is holy. They mean that God is so different from us that we cannot explain it. Most of my life I was satisfied with this answer. But often that otherness is hard to handle. It means that we just have to accept the things that happen. When the world falls down around us, we are told that God has a plan. When we question, we are told that we cannot understand God — because God is so different from us. God is holy and we are not.
I never liked that answer. I’m not saying it is wrong. I just don’t like it. But today I came to another realization. God’s holiness is a balm for suffering. It soothes our souls. The Bible never really gives us an answer for why evil exists. It doesn’t need to. That’s not the point of the Bible. It talks about what God is going to do. But again, a future hope is little solace on a day of grief.
The Man Who Questioned God
I really like the story of Job. I used to like it because I always related to Job. (I think I have always had a persecution complex.) Here is a man who suffers greatly and for no reason — at least not a reason that he is ever given. He is blameless. His friends try to give him reasons for his suffering. They are all valid reasons for suffering, just not for Job’s suffering. It gets to the point where Job starts to think that God owes him an explanation. Job demands that God come down and explain Himself. So God does.
God gets snarky. God starts by telling Job, “Brace yourself like a man.” God then asks Job a flurry of questions. Each and every question points to the might and power and wisdom of God. Job’s response? Silence. Faced with the sheer awesomeness that is God, Job can do nothing but be silent. He cannot answer God’s questions so God does not answer his. It is here that we learn a crucial truth. We are not God. We cannot ever think to comprehend all that it takes to be God. We cannot do God’s job. God is holy and we are not.
But Phil, you say, didn’t you just deny that answer. Yes I did. And no I didn’t. What I have a problem with is people pushing aside suffering with that answer. It is hollow. We have a tendency to tell people this when we don’t want to deal with their suffering. This is wrong and evil. Lament is crucial to scripture. There is a whole book on it. But that doesn’t negate the truth of God. And when we fully understand that truth we find healing.
Oh My God
While in the shower this morning, God reminded me of a song by Jars of Clay. The song has a simple title: “Oh My God.” The message of the song is powerful. The song plays on the phrase, that for so many, means taking the name of God in vain. It rethinks what it truly means to say that God’s name is holy. “Oh my God” is repeated over and over again in the song. The bridge of the song is a list of types of people. This list includes liars, fools, whores, racial haters, and saviors. What does this list have in common? Every single person on the list cries out the name of God.The song goes from there to talk about how the suffering and evil of this world can be overwhelming. One line in particular stands out. “If the world was as it should be, maybe I could get some sleep.” This song is a cry. It is a cry for help. It is a cry for mercy. And it is a
realization that this cry is common to humanity. This song reminds us that every single one of us needs God. We need God so badly that even when we claim to not know Him, we cry out His name.
God’s Name is Comfort
This world can be hard and full of pain. There are days when cold winds remind us of our scars. There are times when we want to shout at God and demand an answer for all the evil in the world. We may never know the reason for everything that we suffer. Evil is an ever-present part of this creation. It will shake us. It will hurt us. It may even kill us. But we serve a holy God whose name can bring us relief.
What I realized this morning is that the holiness of God is precious. It means that God is not like this world around me. It means that I don’t have to have all the answers. It means that
I serve a God who is greater than my suffering. It was the holiness of God that paved the way to the cross. It was the holiness of God that defeated death. It is that holiness which lets us be called the sons and daughters of God. God’s name is holy and that holiness is comfort.
May you come to love the name of God.
May you realize that the holiness of God is precious.
May you cry out God’s name in distress.
And may God hear your cry.
Third in a series by Assistant Pastor Phil Lawton
from the Seventh Day Baptist Church of Shiloh, NJ.
Check out Phil’s blog at contemplatingkenosis.blogspot.com