We were made for intimacy with God, and that is the essence, the very heart of prayer. But a detached view of intimacy, one without the recognition that we remain mortals prone to sin, relating to a holy God; that we are under wrath, yet gifted with a bubble of grace; that the God who is Our Father is also Utterly Other and King of the Universe – can lead to a decidedly subjective relationship with God and the loss of biblical objectivity altogether.
First, intimacy and our sense of God’s immanence must not eclipse transcendence. Pentecostals and evangelicals speak of the ‘felt Presence’ of God. The transcendence of God refers to his loftiness, his utter-otherness, his being ‘past finding out.’ He can be known, but not fully known. He is Father, and yet, the Exalted and Unapproachable One. He is both supreme and incomparable. There is an infinite distance between men and God. We are like him, created by him; and yet, there is none like Him (Isaiah 40; 55:8-9; 57:15; 66:1-2; and Acts 7:46-50).
Second, consider the question, “What is the one word that you would use to describe and define God?” Most folks say almost automatically – “Love.” They are wrong – indeed, the whole culture seems to be wrong about its view of God. The current cultural drum-roll is for a God who loves all, unconditionally, without standards and without demands. But it is not his love that most clearly defines God, but His holiness. We see this aspect of God in reference to moral purity, but it is primarily about His infinite otherness. The holiness of God is what makes Him transcendentally autonomous. He is utterly holy and wholly entire. His Holiness is not a mere attribute among others – it is the ultimate descriptor of God. Everything else proceeds from His Holiness – his love, truth, his power, grace and wrath, mercy and judgment. The word holy, qadosh, actually means ‘cut off,’ or ‘separate.’ It is the idea that God is in a class all by Himself, unlike any other creature or created thing. Arthur Pink says He is “solitary in His majesty, unique in His excellency, peerless in His perfections.”
Third, intimacy cannot be allowed to degenerate into lightness. The loss of solemnity in worship, at the Lord’s table (I Corinthians 11:20-34), “Our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:29). Worship cannot be a matter of mood or affect, nor can prayer. As we are reminded with the example of Nehemiah, our emotional state is to be tempered by the court of the king! The church today prefers intimate terms for God, rather than referring to him as ‘the Almighty,’ or the ‘Ancient of Days.’ Or even yet, “His Holiness!’ In a culture that is uncomfortable with God, we dare not dress Him down to make him ‘one of the guys.’