Friday, October 28, 2011


An Irrelevant God?

Is our god relevant?  (Hint: the small "g" is intentional.)

Several of our recent posts have wrestled with the following question in different ways: what is wrong with the church? Of course, there is no single right answer to this question. But I'm increasingly of the opinion that we no longer live in the light of grace, because we have no idea what "grace" really is. By the way, lest you find me self-righteous, I do not absolve myself in this indictment.

To begin with, we cannot truly grasp the amazingness of grace until and unless we understand the enormity and very wretchedness of our sin. And this intense sin awareness also lies beyond our grasp, because we have a massive underappreciation for God's holiness. In so many ways, we worship a different god ... one who is crafted after our own collective image. Any reevaluation of our Christian faith must begin with recapturing a proper fear and awe of its Author and Perfecter.

Fear and awe? Consider Isaiah, who had every human reason to consider his understanding of God's true nature to be quite adequate. After all, he was Israel's foremost prophet ... a veritable holy man on a mission. Yet, this "holy man's" response to an encounter with the "Holy Holy Holy" One seated on His throne was supremely jarring:
"Woe to me!" I cried. "I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty."
Isaiah's encounter with God began with a terrifying realization: God is holy, and he was filthy. In short, he was doomed. No other outcome but instant and consuming firey judgment was imaginable when his sin came up before the unfiltered holiness of God. However, God did not mete out His justice on Isaiah, but rather forgave him, and Isaiah's response was unqualified, total obedience: Here I am, send me!

Scripture demonstrates repeatedly that this is the way it must be--true obedience is born of a sincere experience of God's grace. Yet such grace is bereft of meaning absent a true recognition of the enormous stinking corpse that is our sin ... but this sin is just an abstract notion outside the bright white holiness (i.e., majesty and purity) of God. Yet it is this true holiness that has slipped from our collective consciousness.

Indeed, I fear this is not the God we carry to the nations or our neighbors. It is not the God we preach from our pulpits or whose songs we sing. Dare I say it is not the God many of us carry in our hearts? Instead, we have internalized a different god ... one who inspires no fear, no trembing, no awe. The spirit of our age, the god of our choosing ... well, he's nice and all ... in a Mother Theresa sort of way, only better. Really, we're glad he's around and grateful for his kindness. We have a vague appreciation for his overlooking our "mistakes", but we feel little obligation to break out of our comfortable apathy on his account.

Why has the church become increasingly irrelevant? Can it be because we serve and preach an irrelevant god of our own making, rather than the "Holy Holy Holy" God of Scripture? Can it be that any hope of Christian renewal, either personal or corporate, must begin with a genuine "Woe to me" moment?

*Note:  This post originally went up on February 14, 2009, but was accidentally deleted.


  1. Yes, what you've described is the breaking of the second Commandment. We've picked our Aaron and our golden calf of comfort and selfish ambition. We need more than a 'woe to me' moment, we need to wake up and live in the reality of holiness, God's holiness. Thanks for the warning/reminder! Blessings!

  2. A sermon preached in our congregation this last Sunday evening from the "God Transcendent" part of Isaiah 40 took your point a step further: Suppose we weren't sinful. Suppose we, collectively, were still in sinless Adam, faithfully filling and subduing the earth, building great cities, writing sublime music, and offering it all to Him. What would that be worth? In a very real sense, nothing! (Verses 16 and 17 have added meaning because of our sin, but they'd be true without it.) And yet, it's clear in Genesis 1 & 2 that He'd delight in that, as He delighted in His fellowship with Adam and Eve while it lasted. That "condescension" could be rightly called "amazing grace" too, but, to understand it as such, we have to have some idea of how holy He is, in the sense of "holy" as "separate" or "other". That we don't have that is one more indicator of the depth of our depravity.


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