God is holy as he bends down to us in mercy

Assumed Audience: Theologically-orthodox Christians, or folks interested in things that theologically-orthodox Christians think.

The holiness of God is not to be identified simply as that which distances God from us; rather, God is holy precisely as the one who in majesty and freedom and sovereign power bends down to us in mercy. God is the Holy One. But he is the Holy One in your midst’, as Hosea puts it (Hos. 11.9); or as Isaiah puts it: great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel’ (Isa. 12.6).

Consequently, God’s holiness is not simply to be associated with his transcendence, but equally with his condescension. Put another way: God’s transcendence is not different from or other than the freedom in which the holy God condescends to move towards the world and humankind. In particular, it is important to maintain that God’s holiness is inseparable from the fact that God is the covenant God. God is the Holy One of Israel, which means to say that God is holy precisely in calling a people to be his own people, in purifying them, and in maintaining them against all threats so that they may be his own possession. Thus the famous imperative in Leviticus — ‘You shall be holy for I the Lord your God am holy’ (Lev. 19.2) — does not envisage God’s holiness simply as God’s distance or utter difference, but rather as that which is known in God’s covenant-creating activity. The same thought is picked up in 1 Pet. 1.15: as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct’. God’s holiness cannot be isolated from God’s calling of a people.

 — John Webster, Holiness, p. 45