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 ESV
I know I’ve talked about it before, and I’ve probably written about it as well, but it bears repeating. We, as Christians, have a tendency to blithely say things like, “we need to see God”, or, “if only we could see His face”, and other things along those lines. It occurs to me that these requests are more dangerous than noble. We in the evangelical South, who have heard full explanations as to why using “curse words” is such a heinous sin, say these things with such a casual comfort that I believe they become far more profane via repetitious devaluing than any so called “obscenity” as we have defined it in our culture.
What does it really mean to “see the Lord?” What are we really asking for? Do we think that if God would just “show up” we would feel better? I don’t see that as the case at all when I look through the Bible.
Abraham was nervous and jittery when the three came to visit him. Moses argued frustrated and scared with the burning bush, and then he was protected from the actual presence of God on the mountain because it would have killed him. When the presence would come with any strength at all to the tabernacle/temple everyone moved away like a fire alarm had been pulled. We see Isaiah in this text on his face, unsure of his next move. When Jesus was transfigured Peter, James, and John just laid down, scared to death, and likely praying not to be killed (then Peter tried to make up for it by suggesting ridiculous things). And then, at the end of time as we know it, when Jesus returns, the result is truly the most efficacious and devastating chapter of all in this story.
But for all of that to be the truth, this event in Isaiah’s life shows us one thing very clearly about coming in contact with the presence of God. The closer we get to Him, the less we realize we belong there. And to draw that out to its more encouraging end: the less we realize we belong there the more we see the power of His grace and the extent of HIs love for us as people.
Isaiah wasn’t a Hell’s Angel. He wasn’t a member of Al Queda. He wasn’t a pornographer. He wasn’t a serial killer or a child molester. For what it’s worth, he probably didn’t have all that many visible vices to speak of. Isaiah was a prophet. He was a man who had already been used powerfully by God and had become a channel for the very voice and message of God to the Hebrews. But, despite his pedigree and position and even his track record of service, when he found himself near to the Creator the only thing he could initially see was his own fault and failure.
The nearer we move toward the light of God, two things will inevitably happen: first, we will see ourselves with more clarity than we ever have…and second, we will see God’s grace in the same way. It seems elementary, but the closer you get to a source of light the more you can see. The more the light is able to flood what was dark the more it makes dark corners extinct, and exposes whatever lurked in those haunts. This is really just physics. And spiritually this applies as well. In God’s presence our sinfulness will become very real to us. And, if I can push this a bit, could it be that the more aware we are of our failures the nearer we are to God? Though it seems counter intuitive, could it be possible that the result gives us insight into the Cause?
If that were the end of the story then it would be an intensely depressing one, but that is never where this story is supposed to end. In fact, if a brush with God ends with us feeling more guilty than before it started, the only conclusion is that we didn’t stay long enough. In God’s presence, if we are willing to “own” the reality of what we see in ourselves, He seems to always be willing to remind us of who we actually are. Our identity has been redefined – recreated really – and now we experience such heavy guilt NOT because we are still doomed by our own nature, but because we’ve done something so antithetical to who we are. God’s tendency in those moments is to cleanse us and remind us of who we are and why we are here.
God’s response to Isaiah’s sinfulness was not to beat him down, it was to purify him. And then, without waiting, God booms out the question, “who will do what I need done?” This question seems to only have one potential candidate within earshot: Isaiah. The implication is that God was looking at Isaiah and saying, “you are of use to Me, I have a mission for you…there’s no one else I’m asking because you are the one I want.” God is helping Isaiah to see who he actually is.
So friends, be encouraged, if you are acutely aware of your failures, if your sin looms large over you, don’t automatically assume that you are destined for alienation and excommunication. What I would suggest, in those moments when your darkness is most visible, is to look directly at the Source of light that is illuminating things and know that God is near. His presence is both terrifying and wonderful. Terrifying because we know what we’ve done. Wonderful because we find out who He is.