Even if you’re not a car buff, you’ve heard of concept cars – prototypes designed by car companies as a way of pushing the envelope. A few of these might actually make it into production; most don’t. A good example is the Egochine by Peugeot. Just looking at it makes me want to go shave.
There’s a big difference between a concept car and one that makes it into production. One is a concept; the other is a reality.
In the same way, there is a difference between God as a concept and God as a reality.
God as a concept is lighter than you. You shape it. It fits in around your categories and ideas. A God concept won’t change your beliefs because you make it fit within your existing beliefs.
In other words, we don’t have a real God, we just have a concept — and one that won’t change our agendas or plans.
People get religious because they want help in meeting their goals. They fit God into their existing belief because God as a concept is lighter than you, but God as a reality is heavier than you.
Instead of fitting God into your agenda; he wants to become your agenda. Overtime he begins to radically change your priorities.
That’s the kind of transformation that happens to the prophet Isaiah.
Isaiah was one of the prophets in the Old Testament who predicted the coming of Jesus. Our passage today happens during the year that King Uzziah died. This ended a 50-year reign that was generally pretty good. When King Uzziah died, the nation was plunged into turmoil. In a sense, the golden age in Israel’s history was closing. In addition, the Israelites are facing increased aggression from Assyria.
The people of Israel are facing a choice: will they continue walking with God or return to idolatry? In response to all this uncertainty, God grants Isaiah a vision that will change his life forever.
1 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3 And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” 4 At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. — Isaiah 6:1-4
Only once in the Bible is a characteristic of God mentioned three times in succession. God is holy, holy, holy. Not that he is merely holy, or even holy, holy. The Bible never says that God is love, love, love or mercy, mercy, mercy. It does say he is holy, holy, holy, and that the whole earth is full of his glory.
What is God’s glory? In short, God’s glory is all the things about God that make him excellent and beautiful and desirable and supremely valuable.
After witnessing God on his throne and talking angels, you might have thought Isaiah would have jumped right in and started praising God, too. Instead, he has this reaction …
5 “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” — Isaiah 6:5
I love how the King James Version translates Isaiah’s statement. “Woe is me! For I am undone.” The “glue” that had held Isaiah’s life together (his sense of goodness) was coming undone in light of God’s perfect goodness.
That’s always what it feels like when God’s presence begins to enter your life. It’s disorienting to the point of feeling like a disaster.
Rosaria Butterfield is a retired professor of English at Syracuse University. She converted to Christ in 1999. She compared her conversion to a train wreck. She said it jumbles you up and leaves you feeling undone before it ever starts putting you back together.
In fact, one of the surest signs that you’ve never met God is that you feel pretty good about yourself. Unfortunately, we are creatures of comparison. “I’m not as bad as THAT person.”
But when you see true holiness (like Isaiah did), all of that falls apart. It’s impossible to stand in the presence of God and feel proud of being “better” than someone else. You become undone.
How does God respond? He doesn’t respond by telling Isaiah that he really wasn’t that bad or that Isaiah was being melodramatic.
6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” — Isaiah 6:6-7
God responds by addressing what is causing Isaiah to become undone: his sin. “Your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” God does not reveal himself to us to destroy us, but to redeem us.
Two University of California professors did research on the negative effects of what they called “awe deprivation.” In an article in the New York Times last year, they wrote this:
“We believe that awe deprivation has had a hand in a broad societal shift that has been widely observed over the past 50 years: People have become more individualistic, more self-focused, more materialistic and less connected to others.”
Their prescription? Go outside more. Look at the trees. Or go to an art museum or gallery. Those aren’t necessarily bad things to do (with the possible exception of a Shakespeare festival). But as majestic as those things might be, they all fall short of what Isaiah experienced.
Truth be told, I need an experience like Isaiah. There are many days I need to be reminded how big God is and how truly small I am. I need that experience because pride gets in the way and messes things up. C.S. Lewis called pride “spiritual cancer.”
Pride puts a cap on your ability to experience a God-filled, God-directed life. It’s not our weaknesses that keep us from God. It’s our strengths. That’s why I need to see God as he really is – holy, mighty.
When you see God as he really is, you will respond like Isaiah did …
8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” — Isaiah 6:8