Thursday, October 4, 2007

The Gaze of the Holy God

Though I am a big fan of RC Sproul and a joyful supporter of Ligonier Ministries, I had not yet gotten around to reading what some consider to be his most powerful book - The Holiness of God. Written over twenty years ago, it is considered a standard work and a masterpiece by almost every Christian reviewer I've read. Finally deciding to take it up, I read the first chapter last night, and would like to describe my experience.

I say experience rather than thoughts because I am beginning to understand why many people have called this a life-changing, send-you-to-your-knees kind of book. Most say they finished it in a single sitting, and it left them forever changed. Thankfully my wife is sick, and I didn't want to keep the light on, or I'm sure I would have stayed up all night (as I've often done in the past) to finish the thing.

Be that as it may, after I read the first chapter, entitled "The Holy Grail" (in which RC recounts the first time that he, as a young Christian, really caught a glimpse of God's holiness), I lay awake in bed staring blindly at the darkened ceiling. I could not sleep. I was laid bare to the core. I felt the great weight of the gaze of the Almighty, the Eye of Heaven, Creator of the universe, stripping my heart bare, and I knew that I was as nothing compared to Him who saw into my innermost parts. It was truly awful, in the literal sense of the word - a moment full of awe, my finitude glimpsing His infinitude; my hidden deceits exposed to His pure, terrible goodness. I think I understand a very small part of what Isaiah meant when he said, "I am undone."

And yet, that was not all. There was not just this terrible weight. There was something else. As I lay there in bed, my heart an open window to heaven, I knew that I was known. I was - and am - known far better that I will ever know myself. And if His presence was strong, his chiding was gentle. Have you ever seen the gentleness of great strength? Say, a man, whose hands could crush you, tenderly holding a newborn, a "gentle giant," as my mom says? With my walls down, there was no need to thunder at me. And this gentleness spoke to me of love (though a terrifyingly infinite love). It was not a force that gazed into my heart, that made it's immense weight felt in my soul; it was a Person.

I am no artist, but this experience left me with more of a mental image than words, so I thought I'd try to reproduce it here. I don't know if this is any more elucidating than my inadequate words, but I couldn't get the image out of my head. Go easy on me :)

I have no idea if any of this makes sense, or if I'm coming close to describing the impression God left on me last night. I do know that, though I've been a Christian for years, and have gained glimpses of God's holiness before, He opened my eyes to Him in a way that I sorely needed and which echoes RC's own experience. I get exactly what he's saying. I hope to offer a review of the whole book here once I'm done, but if the first chapter and my previous experience with Sproul's teaching are any indication, this one's going right to my top five list of most-recommended books.

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