Forgetting Holiness is Deadly

One pattern I see in conversations about the Lord is that people expect God to meet their approval. Whether a person claims to be a Christian or not, it seems that most expect that God will do things the way that they would do things. And so it feels terribly uncomfortable when we see in Scripture the Lord having ways that are different from ours.

Consider the story of Uzzah. This man, in an attempt to protect the ark of the covenant, reached out and steadied the sacred box. And when he touched the ark, he died.

1 Chronicles 13:9-11 – 9 And when they came to the threshing floor of Chidon, Uzzah put out his hand to take hold of the ark, for the oxen stumbled. 10 And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah, and he struck him down because he put out his hand to the ark, and he died there before God. 11 And David was angry because the Lord had broken out against Uzzah. And that place is called Perez-uzza to this day.

Notice two things, the two angers in that passage. God was angry because of what Uzzah did, presuming to touch the ark. David was angry because of what God did, striking Uzzah down for his actions.

What is missing that caused both angers? What is missing is a human reverence for and fear of the holiness of God. When we do not get holiness right, we bring the anger of God on ourselves. When we do not get holiness right, we get angry with God and his ways. And only when we get holiness right do we avoid these angers.

God was angry with Uzzah for not treating him as holy. God had given a clear command that would not allow Uzzah, under any circumstances, to touch the ark. Uzzah violated that command. Yes, he may have had good motives, but he still violated the command of God.

The ark of the covenant was a physical representation of the holiness of God. For sinful man to touch such a thing is deadly. Why? God cannot allow sin to touch him. God is holy. God is so totally pure that he must properly and perfectly judge sin. Uzzah, as a sinner, could not touch the ark and live. That is not because God thinks sin is icky so he hides from it. Instead, it is because God’s holiness is infinite and unchanging, and thus his holiness will destroy sin like the blazing sun would destroy a piece of tissue paper put on its surface.

Was God wrong for doing this? Was God unloving, cruel, nasty, not worthy of worship? For a moment, David thought so. For a moment David set the ark aside and wend home mad at God.

But David was wrong. David, at that moment, lost perspective on holiness. You see, holiness is not just the purity of God that is a consuming fire against sin. Holiness is also the difference between God and mankind. David, for a moment, thought that he could measure God by David’s own standards. But human beings cannot do so. God is infinitely above us. God’s ways are perfect, even when we cannot understand them.

The only way Uzzah would have been right would have been to respect the holiness of God enough to know that Uzzah, without God’s protection, cannot touch holiness. The only way for David to be right before God would be for David to submit to the holiness of God, recognizing that the ways of God are perfect no matter what any human being feels about them.

And we need the same. If we are to be right before God, we must grasp that we cannot touch holiness in our sinful state. The only way we will not be consumed by God is if we are given, by God, a protective covering, a transforming grace, to make us able to stand in his presence. We need the grace of Jesus, or we simply cannot approach God at all.

And we must grasp that God’s ways are right by definition, as the holiness of God is a declaration of God’s absolute perfection. We are fools to think that we can measure the rightness of the actions of God from our perspective. God is perfect while we are sinners. God has all knowledge while our knowledge is limited and imperfect. God sees eternity while we see only a tiny glimpse of time. God is Creator while we are creation. We must yield to his perfection and know that his ways are perfect because he is holy.