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God Is Not What You Think

The reason God is not what you think is because he's holy. What does it mean to say that God is holy? Well, it can mean two things.

Probably the more familiar meaning is that God’s pure, righteous, the sum of all moral perfection, and not tainted in the least by sin. There’s not even a trace of sin in his system. That’s one meaning of holiness.

But there’s also another meaning, a more foundational meaning. To say that God is holy means that there’s no one like him.

When my son Caleb was a little younger, I remember him asking me what a horse was. So I explained to him what a horse was the best way I knew how on the spot. I told him, “A horse is kind of like a big doggie that you can ride on.”

Now, I’m sure that any zoologist could absolutely rip that statement apart and explain to me a thousand and one ways in which a horse and a dog are radically different. But for the purposes of describing a horse to my three-year-old, comparing a horse to a dog seemed like a good idea. They’re both animals who walk on four legs and have a longer nose and a tail. They look sort of similar.

The reason I made that comparison was because that’s the way our minds work. We learn new things by relating them to things we already know. So Caleb could think to himself, “Okay, I’ve never seen a horse before, but I have seen a doggie. So I can just picture a really big doggie since a horse is like a doggie.”

However, that doesn’t work for God. As soon as you say, “God is like this or that,” there’s a sense in which you’re already wrong…because he’s not like anything you’ve seen.

That’s why, when Moses asked God how he should describe him to Pharaoh and what his name was, do you know what God said in Exodus 3:14? “I am who I am.

Of course, that’s not really what you would expect. “Hey God, what’s your name?” “I am who I am.” “Wow…okay.” However, the reason God said that is because that’s the only way he could describe the essence of his being to Moses. The only person to whom he could compare himself was…himself. Because there’s no one like him.

That’s why a few chapter later, in Exodus 15:11, Moses praises God by saying, “Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?” The answer, of course, is that there’s none like him.

I think a lot of times, we imagine that God is simply the highest in this ascending hierarchy of beings. So you start with the lowest being, and you gradually work your way up to God. You go from the single-cell bacteria to the ant to the mouse to the deer to the human and then to God. But you can’t do that.

As A. W. Tozer states, “God’s holiness is not simply the best we know infinitely bettered. We know nothing like the divine holiness. It stands apart, unique, unapproachable, incomprehensible and unattainable. The natural man is blind to it. He may fear God’s power and admire His wisdom, but His holiness he cannot even imagine.”

Another theologian observes that God resembles the worm just as much as he does the highest archangel—because he’s infinitely different and “other” than both of them. The difference isn’t quantitative with God being the same, but greater; it’s qualitative in that God’s in a completely different category.

I just think of the way a newborn infant looks around with these wide eyes at…well…everything. This past week, I was able to give a single mom and her newborn infant a ride home from the hospital. And this was the first time the newborn had ever been outside of the hospital room in her entire life—all five days of it. And the look in her eyes was priceless. Her eyes were like saucers looking at all the strange things around her—at this vast new world she didn’t know anything about. She didn’t even have the mental categories to put her new discoveries into. It was almost completely foreign to her. That’s how it is when we’re dealing with God.

Furthermore, this holiness of God—this complete “otherness”—is foundational to all his other attributes. It runs through all the rest, beautifying them and making each of them one-of-a-kind.

So the love of God is a holy love because no one is loving the way God is loving. The wisdom of God is likewise holy because no one is wise the way God is wise. And that goes for all of God’s attributes: no one is powerful as God is powerful, no one is majestic as God is majestic, no one is compassionate as God is compassionate, no one is righteous as God is righteous, no one is gracious as God is gracious. He’s holy in every aspect of his being and doing. He deserves our praise!