Can Holiness Be Beautiful?
Psalm 96:9 Worship the LORD in holy splendor;
tremble before him, all the earth.
The people of God are singing a new song for God has done something new in their midst and they are breaking out in worship. The Psalm brings you in to the place of worship before God. Verse nine speaks to the way in which we are to worship the LORD, and that is “in holy splendor.” The trouble is that the translators can’t agree on what this exactly means. Some would say that it refers to the people worshiping the LORD, whose holiness is beautiful. Many of the older English translations use the word beautiful rather than splendor. At the same time some translators believe that this refers to the priests themselves who are to be adorned in the splendor, or beauty of holiness so that they can worship the LORD.
Either the LORD is beautiful in holiness or the worshippers are beautifully adorned in holiness before the LORD.
This phrase about holiness leaves us wondering about the circumstances of this worship. God, who has broken into humanity and done something new, is being worshipped in holiness (his or ours). I would like to suggest that it is not one or the other, but it is both and that there is something significant about understanding holiness as splendor or beauty.
For far too long holiness has been defined by negatives, that is, what we don’t do! We have embraced an understanding of holiness that has us separated from things which may be considered unclean. Sadly, the world doesn’t see this kind of holiness as beautiful, but rather, begins to describe us as “intolerant.”
The holiness of Jesus can never be tarnished with engagement with the world. The woman who had a bleeding disorder reached out and touched the hem of Jesus’ garment. In Jewish religious understanding he would have become “unclean” because of her disease. This never happens because Jesus can’t be made “unclean” because of her disease, instead his holiness makes her clean. This is beautiful holiness, a holiness that is not separate, but a holiness that reaches out into a broken world and brings healing. This is the new song, one that rejoices in a holy God who goes to the very deep, dark corners of this world and brings hope.
Holiness is beautiful and the source of the beauty is the LORD. Now we begin to understand the call to worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness for worship is to be a face-to-face experience with our holy God. God is always arrayed in the beauty and splendor for holiness for this is the character or nature of the LORD. When we come before the LORD in worship we are to focus on God alone. Worship is not about our personal attire or outward appearance, but about our stance before the LORD. If, when we are engaged in worship, we focus entirely upon the LORD and we draw nearer, then we will reflect the LORD’s holiness. We behold the beauty of the LORD in the sanctuary and we are adorned with the beauty of holiness for Christ is in us.
The beauty of holiness is not an either/or. The source of holiness is the LORD, but when we face God in worship and reflect God’s holiness we become adorned in the splendor of holiness. Holiness is beautiful for it leaves the sanctuary enamored by the beauty of a holy God and can’t help but reflect that image to a needy world. The things of this world can never destroy the beauty of God’s holiness and therefore we do not live in fear, for holiness is not about what we can do in our own strength, but about Christ in us through the power of the Holy Spirit. This is beautiful!
Lord, may my worship always be focused on you. Amen.
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