Second to last post in the section on God. See the overall bullet points.
G10. To say that God is holy is to say that God is God.
It is quite common to think of holiness in terms of ultimate purity or moral perfection. To be sure, these are secondary aspects of God's holiness, and they become especially prominent in the New Testament. As 1 Peter 1:14-16 says, "As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: 'Be holy, because I am holy.'"
However, holiness in its most basic sense has to do with something relating to God. To say that God is holy is to say that God is God. This is not a simple truism. The realm of God should strike fear in the hearts of mere mortals who have the slightest sense of who God is.
If I were in the path of an elephant, I would take care knowing how heavy and massive the animal is, even if it means me no harm. I respect its power and know what it can do to me. When I am around significant amounts of electricity or something that could easily catch on fire, I take special care.
In the same way, to say God is holy is to say that we stand before the sovereign Creator of the universe who could eliminate our existence and that of the whole world in less than a moment, without a blink. We see pictures of this aspect of God's holiness when Uzzah reaches out to steady the Ark of the Covenant and dies instantly (2 Sam. 6:6-7). The holiness of God meant that an animal that wandered onto Mt. Sinai while God was there needed to be put to death (Exod. 19:12-13).
Thankfully God does not accidentally step on us, nor does he wish to. He loves us and wants good things for us, including our growth and maturity. The one who by God's grace returns that love has nothing to fear.
Still, we can understand the idea of the "fear of the LORD" in the Scriptures (e.g., Prov. 9:10). We understand why Isaiah immediately senses his precarious situation in Isaiah 6:1-7 when he catches a glimpse of God's throne room in heaven. We understand why Moses' face would glow after he spent time one on one with God (e.g., Exod. 34:29). These pictures give us the smallest sense of the holiness of God, his God-ness.
When we combine the awesomeness of God with his "hatred" of evil, it is no surprise that the need for living the way God wants us to live quickly comes into view. The Old Testament presents us with very anthropomorphic images of God's anger toward sin and an often mechanical sense of what sin is. We have to filter these images through the fulfilled interpretation of the Law by Jesus (e.g., Matthew 5:17-48).
So what "angers" God more than anything else is not so much when we break "the rules" but when we do harm to others or when the structures of a culture or society do systemic harm to others. God is also grieved when we harm ourselves or when we follow a path that makes us fall short of what we could be. The holiness of God is not oriented around moral perfection in action, since God's focus is primarily on our motives and character. But the holiness of God calls out for justice in the face of wrongdoing and the elimination of evil.
Evil is not a thing, nor is God's goodness a thing inside him. These are descriptions of intentions that lead to actions. In God, these intentions are always good. In humanity, these intentions are often evil. When evil intentions lead to suffering, God's justice calls for redemption and the end of wrongdoing. Such a justice is fearsome in the light of God's holiness.
Since God's holiness is God's Godness, it embraces all those aspects of God that distinguish him from the mortal. He is sovereign. He is all powerful. Before his eyes we are naked and laid bare (Heb. 4:13). He is everywhere present. What a fearful thing to know that God will destroy to protect and that God will abandon that which will never be redeemed!
To say that God is holy is to say that God is God.
Next week: G11. The one God has existed from all eternity as three persons.