Last week we began examining the attributes of God by exploring his immutability [not subject or susceptible to change]. That attribute forms the bedrock foundation of our understanding of God. It makes all his other attributes eternally consistent. It also makes him dependable, so utterly reliable that we can have complete confidence in his trustworthiness. Because of his immutability we know that he will keep every promise he has made to us, including the most important promise, that of our salvation in Jesus Christ.
Now, having looked at the base of our understanding of God, today we look at the crown: God’s majesty. Of all of God’s attributes that Packer addresses in his book, this is the one that most people I have studied with have the hardest time grasping. Part of the problem lies in the word itself; just what is majesty? It is not a word that is found in common usage, and historically is a word associated with things belonging to a monarchy, rather than republics or democracies. Outside of its use in royal contexts majesty finds most of its use within a Judeo/Christian framework. About the only place where Americans come in contact with the word is in the lyrics to America The Beautiful and the line “For purple mountain majesties”. The most famous version of that song is the one sung by Ray Charles [WAV version sing along site].
However, it is when the word is applied to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that majesty gets its fullest meaning. As Packer notes in the beginning sentence of this chapter that the word comes from the Latin, meaning greatness. Yes, mountains are great. Royalty is supposed to be great, but the greatest of all greatness resides in God himself. The famous American preacher and philosopher Jonathan Edwards expressed the overwhelming sense of God’s majesty which he experienced one day while out walking.
As I was walking…and looking upon the sky and clouds, there came into my mind so sweet a sense of the glorious majesty and grace of God, as I know not how to express. I seemed to see them both in a sweet conjunction; majesty and meekness joined together; it was sweet, and gentle, and holy majesty; and also a majestic meekness; an awful sweetness; a high, and great, and holy gentleness.” Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) quoted in The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes.
In the past, I have asked those studying this book with me to answer this question before reading this chapter: “If I asked you to apply the concept of majesty to God, what would you say it would tell you about God?” The answers cluster around words like great, awe inspiring, and overwhelming. Indeed, I would agree that to see God in all of his glory and majesty would be overwhelming. In Exodus 33 Moses asks to see that very thing, but God has to hide him in the cleft of a rock and cover him with his hand as his glory passes by, just to preserve Moses from destruction.
“…you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” And the LORD said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.” Exodus 33: 20-33 ESV
Most of the uses of majesty in the Bible are grouped in the Psalms and in the words of the prophet Isaiah. For example:
…the power of God, whose majesty is over Israel. Psalm 68:34
The LORD reigns, he is robed in majesty. Psalm 93:1
…you are clothed with splendor and majesty. Psalm 104:1
Arrayed in holy majesty… Psalm 110:3
On the glorious splendor of your majesty…I will meditate. Psalm 145:5
…hide in the ground from dread of the LORD and the splendor of his majesty! Isaiah 2:10
They will flee…from dread of the LORD and the splendor of his majesty, when he rises to shake the earth. Isaiah 2:21
They raise their voices, they shout for joy; from the west they acclaim the LORD’s majesty. Isaiah 24:14
And in contrast to these expressions of God’s majesty, his Son, the Messiah of Israel would appear common.
“He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” Isaiah 53:2
This biblical use of majesty is in direct contrast to Gods accessibility as our heavenly Father, our abba, as expressed by Jesus in the Lords Prayer. Majesty helps to balance out our tendency to get a little too familiar, almost casual in our approach to God. I believe Packer deals effective with that issue in this chapter.
However, while studying the chapter this time, I found myself investigating Gods majesty in a new way. I found myself going in a direction that Packer had not followed. Let me explain, but first let me say that I put this idea forward as a personal observation only, not as a condemnation of, or demand upon anyone, including any church or denomination. Please keep that caveat in mind.
Much of what I see as I view the world around me, including the world of my faith, I see symbolically. I have longed believed that much of what God says directly to our hearts is said symbolically: whether in nature, in his Word, or in the worship he gave to Israel. One of my foci in the last several years has been on worship, so when I look at the worship of Israel I see many of the things that were done, as well as the cultic elements that were used within worship, as heavily symbolic in nature. When we move into the age of the Church, I see that use of symbolism carried over into the historic Christian liturgy. In addition to its obvious scriptural and sacramental aspects, the Church’s liturgy is filled with symbolism.
One of the things that I have always liked about liturgy is its sense of propriety, its decency and order to use Paul’s phraseology, as well as how it imparts a sense of Gods majesty. I see much of this propriety and majesty being communicated through the symbolism contained in the liturgy, including such mundane things as the congregational positions of standing, sitting, kneeling, and bowing, depending on what is happening in the service. Everything means something more than is casually obvious.
Having been a member of an evangelical, charismatic Episcopal Church I always felt that I had the best of all possible worlds: good preaching, good worship, and good liturgy, which helped me to maintain a balanced sense of who God was and how I related to him, including an abiding sense of the holy. This is what I have always missed when attending Anabaptist and Presbyterian style worship and to be honest in their rather mundane, almost cafeteria style communion services. From my perspective, these non-liturgical traditions leave the problem of balancing my interaction with God primarily on my shoulders, with very little, if any, help imbued into the communitys shared worship.
So for me for me, God’s majesty is also directly linked to my sense of worship, to the historic Christian liturgy, and the proper balance between God as my abba Father and God as king and lord of the all that was and is and is to come. I know this goes beyond chapter eight in Knowing God, but I felt it was important to share with you.
Grace and peace be with you as you continue your study and may God become ever more present in your life and we go from week to week in our study of knowing God.