It was in the year King Uzziah died that I saw the Lord. He was sitting on a lofty throne, and the train of His robe filled the Temple. Attending Him were mighty seraphim, each having six wings. With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. They were calling out to each other, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of Heaven’s Armies! The whole earth is filled with His glory!” Their voices shook the Temple to its foundations, and the entire building was filled with smoke. Then I said, “It’s all over! I am doomed, for I am a sinful man. I have filthy lips, and I live among a people with filthy lips. Yet I have seen the King, the LORD of Heaven’s Armies.” Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal he had taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. He touched my lips with it and said, “See, this coal has touched your lips. Now your guilt is removed, and your sins are forgiven.” Then I heard the Lord asking, “Whom should I send as a messenger to this people? Who will go for us?” I said, “Here I am. Send me.” —Isaiah 6:1-8, NLT
Isaiah records his awesome encounter with God in chapter 6 of his book. It is a scene that defies description, and I’m sure that Isaiah struggled to find the words that expressed his experience. The majesty and holiness of God overwhelmed him, and immediately shone a spotlight on the incompatibility of Isaiah’s human nature with that of the Holy Presence. His only thought was to cry out, “It’s all over! I am doomed!” But then an angel immediately came to his rescue, touching his lips with a burning coal and telling him that his guilt was removed and his sin forgiven.
I feel certain that from that day forward, “the fear of the Lord” was no mere abstract concept for Isaiah. Yet it was in the moment of abject fear, faced with a devastating reality, that Isaiah experienced true intimacy with God. He was personally touched and reassured by the Divine. Rather than desiring to turn and run away, he was irresistibly drawn to run towards, blurting out spontaneously, “Here I am. Send me.”
This same Isaiah is the one who later writes, in the beautiful 40th chapter, “Yes, the Sovereign Lord is coming in power. He will rule with a powerful arm. See, He brings His reward with Him as He comes.” (Isaiah 40:10) In light of the chapter six vision, this image of an all-powerful, terrifying coming King makes sense to me. But then Isaiah goes on:
“He will feed His flock like a shepherd. He will carry the lambs in His arms, holding them close to His heart. He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young.” (Isaiah 40:11)
Amazing, to think that the man who had the fearsome image of his encounter with God burned into his brain could so eloquently write this tender and loving depiction of that very same God! And as if that were not enough, in chapter 63 verses 8 and 9 he writes:
“…And He became their Savior. In all their suffering He also suffered, and He personally rescued them. In His love and mercy He redeemed them. He lifted them up and carried them through all the years.”
This great and majestic God, whose holiness I cannot begin to comprehend, yet suffers with me when I suffer. He personally rescues me. In the original Hebrew, the word that is translated “personally” actually reads “the angel of His presence.” As He did for Isaiah, the “angel of His presence” touches me, rescuing and redeeming me from my own hopeless condition. The same God whose presence evokes fear and awe also tenderly carries me and hurts when I hurt.
“The Sovereign Lord is coming in power…”
His sovereignty is the key. The only acceptable response is to worship Him in all humility and reverence—while at the same time joyfully surrendering ourselves into His loving arms, trusting that He knows what is best as He “carries us through all the years.”
When God is our Holy Father, sovereignty, holiness, omniscience, and immutability do not terrify us; they leave us full of awe and gratitude.
Sovereignty is only tyrannical if it is unbounded by goodness;
Holiness is only terrifying if it is untempered by grace;
Omniscience is only taunting if it is unaccompanied by mercy;
Immutability is only torturous if there is no guarantee of goodwill.