The Majesty

Isaiah 6:1-3 “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs, each with 6 wings: With two they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.”

If we were going to invent god, a profane god, a god for this world, what would he be like?

I believe that we would create him to approve of some of our favorite vices–maybe even incorporate some of them into the religion to make it more enjoyable. At the very least, he would have to be tolerant of views he himself did not share.

You wouldn’t want him to be too big–big enough to be able to help out once in a while, but not so powerful that he could get out of hand. It’s a free country, after all, and everybody is equal. We wouldn’t want some uppity god getting bossy. Maybe we could subject him to regularly scheduled elections, in case we wanted to vote him out of office.

Nothing about him would be hard to understand. Certainly he wouldn’t bother us with facts about himself that didn’t appear immediately practical and useful. Heaven knows we already have enough to think about without having to think about god all the time. As long as we kept a few simple rules and treated each other politely, he would be happy.

That’s not the God who showed himself to Isaiah. He sits on a throne. That immediately tells us he is the King. His kingdom is a monarchy, not a democracy.

The grand scale in Isaiah’s vision reveals that we are puny by comparison. To even see the Lord, Isaiah has to look up–way up–because the throne is high and exalted. The royal robes fill the entire building. This God is not our equal, not even close. He is the Almighty, the Emperor. We are only the smallest of specks, the lowliest of slaves.

The angels acknowledge this as well. Though holy themselves, they didn’t strut around God’s temple as if they had some right to be there. They covered their faces and covered their feet in God’s presence as a show of humility.

Then they shouted back and forth to each other responsive words of praise. They did not lift up how they were feeling about him. They didn’t concentrate on their own service to him. Every word was about God himself.

Their praises addressed him in titles that reflected both his grace–the Lord, which means that he is the God of free and faithful love–and his power–the Almighty (more literally, “Lord of hosts,” the God who controls all the vast armies in creation). This Lord of hosts is holy–set apart and separate from every other being in his majesty.

What does this mean for us? You may be old enough to remember comedian Rodney Dangerfield’s famous line: “I don’t get no respect.” We need to be careful not to treat our Lord like the Rodney Dangerfield of divinities. Worship that degenerates into displays lacking self-control–uncontrollable laughter, barking like dogs–does not respect him as the Holy One of Israel. Hymns and songs with a contemporary sound may be both edifying to us and show respect for our Lord. But it is fair to ask whether those which croon to Jesus as if he were our boyfriend really respect him as the Mighty Maker and Ruler of the Universe. Every time we casually disregard even the smallest of God’s commandments, joke about our sins, or complain about how he is treating us, we fail to revere the Lord of hosts, who is holy in his majesty. This invites his judgment.

At the same time, the divine majesty Isaiah sees in his vision is not intended to drive us away from God in terror. In the popular children’s series “The Chronicles of Narnia,” the character Susan asks whether Aslan, the Lion who represents Jesus in the books, is safe. “Of course he isn’t safe, but he is good,” is the reply. Isaiah’s vision shows us that the Lord is not so small and weak that he could never hurt us. But this does not mean that the Lord is not good. He is good in every way. And in his goodness he remains the God who primarily uses this majestic power to rescue his people, especially from their greatest enemy, their very own sins.  

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