“We cannot grasp the true meaning of the divine holiness by thinking of someone or something very pure and then raising the concept to the highest degree we are capable of. 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.”
- A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy
That we live in a broken universe is a physical fact. After the Big Bang when time, space and matter began to cool, different features we observe cascaded into existence. Once everything existed in a microscopic super hot primordial. As things cooled, each of the fundamental forces were formed -- gravity, the strong and weak nuclear forces and the electromagnetism. Each force "broke off" from a more unified state before, putting us in the middle of a physically broken universe.
In the same way, human society and psychology is broken.
The brokenness may go deeper. It seems that human consciousness may have contaminated the universe with a backward in time effect that limits the potential that the Creator intended. Flawed human consciousness -- that is there is something quite wrong with how we observe, think about and then act toward the world, ourselves and other-- is the source of all suffering, hurt, conflict war, alienation and even death itself.
Sin is a word that means offense. It is an attack upon God's inner observation of the outward expression of reality.
A world without sin would have harmony between this inner observation of information and its outward expression. The idea and its expression fit together to form something beautiful. For example, a great work of art inspires awe in the mind of the observer. The inner aesthetic observation is perfectly tied to the artifact. In a similar way, the act of seeing natural beauty -- an orchid, mountain lake or child's face -- is ennobling.
The experience of seeing the perfect connection between the act of conscious observation and the reality observed produces a feeling of harmony. There is no information that is disconnected. This harmony is what sinlessness is like.
The reality of the world that we live in differs from the ideal such that we are surprised by brief episodes of beauty that we do encounter. To see beauty we need to turn our attention to unspoiled natural landscapes or to great works of art or literature to get glimpses of perfection.
Ultimately we encounter perfect holiness when we encounter the person of Jesus Christ. He embodies sinlessness. By getting know Christ we find that some of his holiness rubs off. By identifying with his life, death and resurrection we over come the effects of sin and begin the process of being changed into his likeness.
Teologian A.W. Tozer refers to the quality of holiness almost as a luminous presence or fire that we can enter. We can gain knowledge of the holy.
"The original root of the word holy was of something beyond, something strange and mysterious and awe-inspiring. When we consider the holiness of God we talk about something heavenly, full of awe, mysterious and fear-inspiring. Now, this is supreme when it relates to God, but it is also marked in men of God and deepens as men become more like God.
"It is a sense of awareness of the other world, a mysterious quality and difference that has come to rest upon some men - that is a holiness. . . . Theologians long ago referred to it as the numinous, meaning that overplus of something that is more than righteous, but is righteous in a fearful, awe inspiring, wondrous, heavenly sense. It is as though it is marked with a brightness, glowing with a mysterious fire." ( I Call it Hersey, Chapter Five, "Holiness is Not an Option", by AW Tozer, 1974)
The radical brokenness of the universe -- which affects our own ability to think -- cuts us off from experiencing the presence of holiness. We are blind to the light of God's moral perfection and may not even realize that our existential nature is offensive. When we do approach his awesome presence we rightly experience mystery and overwhelming awe.
We sense a disconnection between our own "ought" and "what is". We aspire to live up to certain ideals, but fall short. We experience alienation from our own set of values. That which we know is right and desire to do, we do not do.
Saint Paul, author of the book of Romans in the bible, put it this way:
"I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. . . . What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!"
The holiness of God mends the brokenness and begins to conform the inner information that makes up who we are -- the genetic, linguistic and cultural information pattern -- with the reality of our lives. The Holy Spirit fills the gap and applies the redemptive work of Christ on the cross to abolish the effects of sin. We must bask in the gaze of God. When we permit his consciousness to observe our inner being, our sin is burned away and we are transformed into his image.
As the "new man" to replace the "old man", the mind of Christ makes up for the universal contamination of Adam's sin that spreads to all known reality both before and after. Christ is the first person born without sin and he himself never sinned. That is because the inner information of his being is in perfect harmony with God's observation of the outward expression of his life. Christ has led the way into a new kind of human existence marked by holiness. With God's help we are able to take this holy path towards Christ-likeness. We have hope to live without the effects of sin. In part now and fully one day.