What do you do with a God so holy, so “other?”
Isaiah gives us a good example, one that is a stark contrast to the pride of Uzziah.
And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”Isaiah 6:5
In response to this vision of the Holy One of Israel, Isaiah confesses his sin. Rather than acting out of pride, as Uzziah did, Isaiah says, “I am a man of unclean lips.”
I remember the first time I said a curse word in front of my parents. I remember it because it was also the LAST time I said a curse word in front of my parents. We were driving over to visit my grandparents. To get to their house you had to take Highway 231 North out of my hometown of Lebanon, Tennessee and cross the Cumberland River. As a child, I was always awestruck by the view from the bridge as we crossed the river. So one day, we were headed to my grandparents’ place; my Dad was driving the car, Mom was in the passenger seat and I was in the back — not wearing a seatbelt, because it was the wild, wild West of the 1980s when you didn’t do that sort of thing. We’re going over the bridge and I’m staring out at all that water and I decided that this would be a good time to use a couple of the new words I’d recently heard on the playground at school. I had just started using some of those words anytime I wanted to express surprise or dismay — I’d learned that there were all kinds of words people used in those kinds of situations. So I just let fly with a couple of those four-letter words without thinking anything of it.
Until my mother popped me on the mouth with the lightning precision of a ninja karate chop. She popped my mouth with her bare hand — not hard enough to draw blood but hard enough to stun me into silence.
She pointed her finger and me and her eyes narrowed as she said, “We do NOT talk that way.”
And I knew I was a young man of unclean lips.
So has Isaiah been running around saying four-letter words? Is that it?
No, I don’t think so.
But in the presence of the holy God, Isaiah is struck by the profanity of his life. He realizes that he is thoroughly polluted and he must confess. Yes, he says he’s a man of unclean lips, but he could’ve just as easily said, “I’m a man with an unclean heart, with unclean thoughts, with impure motives sometimes.” And he knows that his fellow Israelites are equally polluted by sin. So in response to our question, “What do you do with a God so holy?” Isaiah gives us a good answer: you acknowledge your lack of holiness. You confess your sin.
Isaiah tells the truth when he says that he lives among a people of unclean lips. Immorality was rampant throughout the land of Israel in Isaiah’s day. Much like their King Uzziah, the people had ignored God’s commands and developed their own standards of right and wrong. Isaiah would go on to pronounce this word to the people on behalf of God:
Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight!Isaiah 5:20-21
This is what God says to His people.