Summary: What it would be like to see God and gaze upon His glory? Just listen to Isaiah’s experience.
What it would be like to see God and gaze upon His glory? We think it would be an awesome sight, don’t we? Oh, no doubt, it would fill us with awe--so much that fear would seize every corpuscle of our being. But it would not be awesome; it would be awe-full.
Just listen to Isaiah’s experience. He got to see with his eyes the invisible world. It was the year King Uzziah died, and in a vision Isaiah saw earth drop away and heaven become visible. Isaiah saw the Lord, Yahweh, sitting on His throne, high and lifted up. The hem of His robe filled the earthly temple like billows of sweet incense. And above, the angels of fire were flying, six-winged, many-eyed, and covering their faces in humility before the Lord. As they flew, they kept crying out: “Holy One, holy One, holy One is Yahweh of Armies!”
The earthly Temple was quaking at the voice of the heavenly liturgy, and the smoke of the incense filled the house with glory. And what did Isaiah say--or what didn’t he say? He didn’t say, “Wow, how cool! I’ve always wanted to see God with my own eyes and now I am. Yeah, sweet!”
No, what did Isaiah say? He said, instead: “I’m doomed! I’m silenced. For I am a man of unclean lips, and I am living among a people of unclean lips. And my eyes have seen the King, Yahweh of Armies.” Isaiah thought he was dead meat. For you see, to lay eyes on God, as Isaiah testifies, is terrifying. Isaiah sees God and fear rips to the core of his inner soul.
Strange--why should the sight of God terrify and alarm Isaiah? Isn’t God good? Ah, but that’s why Isaiah is afraid--because God is good! God’s goodness is no comfort to Isaiah. For Isaiah is no different from me or you: we have unclean lips and are living among a people of unclean lips. Every lie, every hateful word, every piece of twisted gossip that has dripped from our lips has stained them with sin. And so we have nothing to say to make amends or right our wrongs with God. Like Isaiah, we too are struck silent.
Yes, as Isaiah found out, the worst place to be, for someone who doesn’t even have an excuse, is to be in God’s presence. He was doomed, damned, headed for destruction, and without defense. His guilt was too great. His sin was too shameful. There in the presence of the Truth, he could not lie about who he was. He could not fake it. He was exposed, vulnerable, and naked before God.
But look at the fiery angels flying in God’s presence. They cover their eyes and their feet. What are they doing? They’re holy, confirmed in the grace they received in creation. These are God’s servants who cast down Satan and his devils. They are without sin. They are without any reason for fear.
But even these fiery angels cover their eyes. They bow their heads in reverence. They do not look at the Lord who created them. Other than God, who is more holy than these fiery angels? And yet they cry out, “holy One, holy One, holy One,” chanting their confession in the liturgy for all to hear.
But Isaiah has seen the Lord. He stands in God’s presence: Isaiah who was conceived in iniquity, born in sin--Isaiah, the man of unclean lips. No wonder he cries out, “I’m doomed!” Isaiah couldn’t stand in the presence of the Lord’s majesty. He was only a man and he was not holy. It is as the Book of Deuteronomy says, “The LORD God is a consuming fire”--a fire that destroys the ungodly (Deut 4:24).
So repent! Like Isaiah, learn humility in the presence of God. Learn to say, “I’m doomed” and mean it. Tremble with awe at the holiness of God. Fall down before Him, knowing that you are but dust. Join Isaiah in saying, “I’m doomed” and mean it. Lay bare the foulness of your sins. Learn to fear God--for the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10).
But that’s just the beginning. For wisdom is more than fearing God. Isaiah learns this as he is trembling and weeping, a fallen creature before the perfect God. Isaiah sees a fiery angel thrust a pair of tongs into the fire of God’s altar. He plucks a glowing ember, burning hot, and wings it toward him.
With nowhere to run and nowhere to hide, the fiery coal flies toward his mouth. The angel sears the mouth of the Seer; he purges the mouth of the Prophet Isaiah. Isaiah’s lips are purified, and yet, and yet, he feels no pain but, instead, a beautiful release. The angel whispers: “This [coal] has touched your lips--and [so] your guilt is taken away and your sin is atoned for.”