There are 150 references to the words holy and holiness in 66 books of the Bible. If you look carefully at the individual references, you see that about half of them refer to God being holy, and the other half refer to us, His people, as either being holy or commanding us to be holy.
Clearly, holiness is something close to God’s heart. In fact, if you read through the book of Revelation, you get a picture of heaven and the angels who “day and night never stop saying: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come’” (Revelation 4:8).
Quite surprisingly, well, not really, there are not nearly as many references for the word buddy—in fact, there is only one reference for bud, and it refers to Israel budding and blossoming.
Okay, it doesn’t really surprise me that buddy isn’t in the Bible. But what does surprise me is that’s how so many of us today tend to relate to God. There is a distinction between a “buddy God” and a “holy, awesome, reverent, almighty God” who deserves our praise and respect and humility and obedience.
I think our concept of “buddy God” stems from pastors preaching that Jesus is our friend and also from us being told that when we pray, we should use language that makes sense to us and is real to us, etc. That isn’t wrong, but it has contributed to a loss of the honor and respect and awe that we should be giving to God. Instead, we treat God like we would any of our other friends. We have made God to fit our image instead of the other way around.
I really believe that God is still very much alive today and wants to work in the same kind of huge amazing public ways that He did when the disciples were around. And I think that perhaps one of the reasons that He doesn’t do that as much now is because so many of us have lost that understanding and appreciation of who He is.
The Old Testament is full of accounts of times where God stepped in to defend His honor in a sense or to punish people who took Him lightly. I think repeatedly of the Israelite nation that kept turning away from God, despite witnessing miraculous things on many occasions, and how He often chose to punish them with plagues and defeat and death.
Another example is in 1 Chronicles 13, where King David is bringing back the ark of the covenant (a symbol of God’s presence with the Israelites): "When they came to the threshing-floor of Kidon, Uzzah reached out his hand to steady the ark, because the oxen stumbled. The Lord’s anger burned against Uzzah, and He struck him down because he had put his hand on the ark. So he died there before God."
Many of us think, "That’s so unfair … he was just trying to stop the thing from falling off." But I see a God whose holiness is so important that even someone “meaning well” died for being disobedient and not respecting that.
Before they had a temple, The Israelites offered sacrifices to God in a tent-type structure while they were in the desert. In a section called the Holy of Holies, only the high priest was allowed to go in once a year (this is also where they kept the Ark of the Covenant). They used to tie a rope around the high priest’s ankle before he went in so if he happened to die, they could pull him out, because going into the Holy of Holies to get the body would have meant death.
Many similar stories can be found in the Old Testament, and as a result, we often tend to think of God as having sort of a split personality—there’s the really mean and judgmental God of the Old Testament, and then there’s the nice, kind, touchy-feely God of the New Testament. But God doesn’t change. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. I think He sometimes changes the way He works with people and does different things in different circumstances, but His character is set.
One story that helps illustrate that is in Acts 5. Annanias and Sapphira sold a piece of land for money and lied to the apostles, telling them they were donating all the money they got to the Church (when in actuality, they had kept some of it for themselves). Peter’s response to Ananias was this: "Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to me but to God."
And it continues: "When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died." And the same thing happened to Sapphira when she lied as well. Instant death. This is God’s judgment on someone who doesn’t take Him seriously.
God is consistent throughout His Word. His character stands firm. I’ve often wondered why God doesn’t just strike me down, because how often have I made promises to God and then not kept them? How often have I messed around during prayer time or made jokes? How often have I not given Him the praise and honor and respect and awe due His name?
I honestly can’t say why I and so many other people around me have not been struck down in the same way, except to say that it is thanks to God’s grace and mercy. I don’t think for one second that God cares any less about His name and the honor and respect He should be getting, or that He is any less offended when people use it in vain or show Him disrespect, but it does seem like He is extending a lot of grace and mercy to those of us who do offend Him.
It’s time for us to realize once again, or for many of us possibly for the first time, just who we are dealing with when we come into relationship with God.
To briefly give it some perspective, think in human terms for a moment of how you would act if you were ever around a human being who is really respected—someone like President George W. Bush or the Queen of England. Would you treat them like your buddy? Would you show them little respect? So why do we approach God any differently?
I really think we need to find a balance for those two concepts because I think in Jesus, God did draw close to us to be our friend and to allow us to personally relate to Him. But at the same time, we need to grasp just who God is and have the sense of awe and respect and honor and holiness toward Him that He deserves.
[Brett Anderson lives in South Africa where he runs the youth ministry at Kenilworth Vineyard church and plays TheatreSports, whatever that is.]
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