There is almost reverence for the word itself. It’s untouchable.
Until we follow it with a swear word… (I’ll let your imagination fill in the blanks)
It’s funny, though. Even with a swear word attached to it, we use the word “holy” to express surprise, shock, or awe. Somebody sneaks up on you and pokes you in the ribs and maybe your reaction is to let out a big, “Holy #$@! You scared the living daylights out of me!”
Surprise. Shock. Fear. Awe.
Even in that context, the word “holy” still retains some of its original essence.
Probably a lot of people in the world, and America especially, don’t make too much of God. Sure, we might respect the idea of God, or believe God exists, or perhaps even pray to God. But, how many of us have a reaction to God that can be described as awe, surprise, fear, wonder, or even respect? Yet that is the kind of reaction we see people having in the Scriptures when they encounter God.
When Moses encounters God in the desert, he removes the sandals from his feet and hides his face because he is afraid to look at God (see Exodus 3:5-6). When Isaiah has a vision of God in his temple, even the angels in God’s presence cover their faces as they declare three times that God is holy, while Isaiah immediately becomes aware of his unworthiness in the presence of this pure and perfect Being (see Isaiah 6:1-5).
Don’t get me wrong. God is love and God is loving. I feel like in our culture we all get really uneasy when someone doesn’t mention God as a loving God. Of course God is love! But, that doesn’t mean he isn’t also holy and awesome. I’m incredibly thankful for God’s love, because it is by his love that he sent Jesus to make a way for us to be adopted into his family and come into his presence. Love leads us in, but there is also fear and reverence that should be felt towards God when we come before him. In the Psalms, David says to God,
But I, through the abundance of your steadfast love,
will enter your house.
I will bow down toward your holy temple
in the fear of you. -Psalm 5:7
Can’t God be both loving AND holy? Can’t he be both merciful AND just? Is our God big enough for that?
As the old hymn says,
Holy, holy, holy
Lord God Almighty
All Thy works shall praise Thy name
In earth and sky and sea
Holy, holy, holy
MERCIFUL AND MIGHTY
God in three persons