O Adonai: the holiness of God

O Adonai, et Dux domus Israel, qui Moysi in igne flammæ rubi apparuisti, et ei in Sina legem dedisti: veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento.

O Adonai, and Ruler of the house of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the burning bush, and gave him the Law on Sinai, come to redeem us with outstretched arm.

I suggest we read Exodus 3; Isaiah 11:4-5; Isaiah 33:22 and spend a few moments thinking about the holiness of God.

Recently, I’ve had people ticking me off for various things. One which comes up again and again has to do with what, in the ticker-offer’s view, religion should be about. For example, a number of people took me to task yesterday for being critical of David Cameron’s ‘vaguely practising’ Christian. Quite apart from the fact that, rightly or wrongly, I suspect a political agenda was being piggy-backed onto faith and that some of the Prime Minister’s other statements are difficult to square with a Catholic understanding of Christianity (redefining marriage, for example), what really stung me was the idea that God is rather like the ‘poor relation’ who is indulged with a remembrance at Christmas and ignored at other times.

That is not the God of infinite holiness in whom I believe, the God whose presence makes the whole earth holy ground and whose glory blazes forth from all that is. Religion can, indeed, be a great comfort but it is more often, in my experience, anything but comfortable. The holiness of God sears the soul. It is no accident that God is likened in the Old Testament to refining fire, that the Letter to the Hebrews describes God as a consuming fire, to obey whom is life, to disobey whom means death. God is infinite Love and Compassion, our Saviour and Redeemer, yes, but he is also infinite Holiness: the Mystery at the heart of being whom we adore and whom we await in his coming as Man at Christmas.


8 thoughts on “O Adonai: the holiness of God”

  1. Oh, I hope I do not number among the ‘tickers-off’: I wouldn’t dare do such a thing! The majority is, I think, with you in suspecting David Cameron’s motives.

    I just thought two points could be made:

    firstly, the occasion for the speech was the winding up ceremony for the year of celebration of the King James Version of the bible, so it would be odd had he talked about anything other than the KJV, and the role of the Christian Church in society.

    secondly, I can see that the phrase ‘vaguely practising’ sounds offensively offhand to someone with your depth of commitment and understanding. To me, though, it sounds like someone fleeing Francis Thompson’s ‘Hound of Heaven’. I feel some sympathy as I spent far too much of my own life doing just that before turning round and asking the Hound to catch me. We know that David Cameron suffered the loss of a child, and when he talks about ‘grappling…with big theological issues’, I think and hope that he may actually be doing so.

    I suggest that what he needs, though he may not realise it, is a personal chaplain or spiritual director. It is very rare to do so now, but I see why we are asked to pray for the Queen and ‘all those in authority under her’. More than anything, David Cameron needs our prayers, doesn’t he?

  2. Dear Laura, you have my permission to tick me off as often as you like! No, I used the David Cameron example as I thought all readers of the blog would probably have read, if not his speech, some report of it. My tickers-offers have much bigger bones to pick with me, but we won’t go there just now.

    I quite agree about the context of the D.C. speech. I do pray for him and his family (the Camerons were married in the Anglican parish church here in the village) and one’s heart goes out to them over the loss of Ivan. However, I don’t see any contradiction between welcoming people of little or no faith (which we do here, as I trust many would testify) yet reaffirming that belief in Christ is something that demands commitment. We all fall short of it, and I suspect people like me will be judged the more severely because we have been given greater opportunities to know, love and serve the Lord.

  3. I think care is needed that criticism of Cameron’s speech is objective, rather than just chagrin that he hasn’t said what we’d like him to say. Personally I think politicians should stay clear of religion – oddly enough the countries that seem to come up for the goods for their citizens tend to be secular, liberal democracies. America has 50% church attendance and few would vote for a non-believing politician, yet has far higher rates of divorce, single parent families, teen pregnancy, social inequality, corruption in politics , violent crime etc. than many Western nations (certainly far, far higher than any liberal democracy). Rep of Ireland still manages around 50% mass attendance on Sunday, yet leads Europe in the single parent stakes – whereas Finland has the highest TWO parent family rate (despite have liberal attitudes to sexuality and a comprehensive welfare state). There is a strong correlation between the more religious a society the greater the level of corruption in that society (see: http://www.dfid.gov.uk/r4d/PDF/Outputs/ReligionDev_RPC/Working_Paper_42.pdf). Hence this would suggest overtly religious politics/societies are not necessarily a good thing – and certainly history demonstrates this to be the case. If overtly Christian societies came up with the goods, why did we veer towards a more secular model of government in the first place?

    Moreover, I think it is important not to put one’s trust in ‘man’ or in this case ‘a man’. It would take the naivety of an idiot child to believe Cameron wrote this speech – it would have been written by a speech writer in Downing Street and tailored for its audience and the occasion. The fact some Christians and other religious groups have seized on this speech is rather disproportionate to its intent or purpose.

    Thank you for the O Antiphons! Yesterday as I began the day, I noticed the date and said out loud ‘O Sapientia!’ – as an ex-contemplative religious the antiphons still have their place in my life. Though I sang them in English – as I was usually cantor and have a good tenor voice – it was often I who got to sing them at vespers.



  4. Maybe you could send David Cameron a link to the O Antiphons….. these few precious moments of stillness and listening to the calm, unhurried syllables of these yearning prayers are a blessing. I am a part-time follower of God; fortunately he works full-time for everyone, regardless! Thank you for your writings; honesty is so powerful.

  5. That the notes (grumble? 😉 on D. Cameron would have been contained in a separate post I think would have strengthened and kept pure the sentiment of the ‘O Adonai’ meditation, which is lovely, and rich. And for which I am grateful.

  6. The blog post has helped me think about God’s holiness, thank you. I found this post on Mr cameron’s speech. I don’t agree with all of it but possibly DigitalNun would agree with what it says about Christian commitment. http://bit.ly/vzlSQX

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