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On Knowing Jesus in His Full Glory

The Omniscience of God's Love (Part 2)

When it comes to encounters with a Holy God, our language proves inadequate in capture those experiences. Our holy God proves to be too terrifying and too beautiful to be captured by mere words, But one such attempt to do so is in the phrase, mysterium tremendum. It is unfortunate, but far too many of us in the American church have lost the awesome and terrifying sense of the Holy.

In 1917, the German theologian Rudolph Otto employed this phrase when he published a book entitled The Idea of the Holy. Otto also coined a beautiful word which has become a part of our language. This word depicts the ineffable essence of God which creates within His creatures a sense of fearful awe; the word is “numinous”. When Israel encountered the numinous atop Mount Sinai, it experienced what Otto called the mysterium tremendum, the mysterium being the sight and sound of the Wholly Other that God is. The encounter of the numinous generates within us a bone-chilling tremendum, or shuddering. When one encounters the absolute holiness, the absolute goodness, the absolute awfulness, and the absolute majesty that is the numinous, that is our God in His full holiness, one realizes that He is everything and we are nothing. The tremendum that Otto describes is not an ordinary dread, but a peculiar dread because despite trembling in the midst of God’s holiness, we identify with God and are drawn and fascinated by His holiness. Otto describes this as fascinans, or that aspect of the holy which attracts and allures. This is why God directed Moses to place “limits on the people all around” (Exodus 19:12) Mount Sinai because God understood that His holiness was so powerful in its overwhelming beauty and glory, it would prove fatal to those who came too close. Only Moses could enter into God’s presence, but he could only experience the glory of God as God’s back proceeded past him. Moses would have perished if he’d seen God face-to-face.

The tremendum makes us sensitive to the “overpoweringness” of God, His majestas (Otto’s word), and it creates within us a sense of our utter creatureness and an awareness of our profaneness. We are struck by His utter Worth, and our utter worthlessness. Revelation 1-5 depicts Christ in his full resurrection majesty. Jesus in His full majestas elicits this mysterium tremendum from all who might now view Him, as it did with John the Apostle. Since we are not yet glorified, the sight of Jesus as He is in His exalted state would terrify us, make us fall on our faces, bring us to the point of death. Only Jesus can then say, “Fear not.”

Our Triune God is omniscient, all-wise, and all-powerful. Father and the Holy Spirit exist in a non-corporeal state; they are spirit. But the Son has taken on the corporeal state of us who He came to seek and save. Because of the Son’s obedience to the point of death on the cross, He now sits in His exalted state at God’s right hand. In his full majestas, He is encased in dazzling, blinding, glorious brightness.

If only we can regain a sense of the mysterium tremendum of Jesus in His resurrected glory as we kneel in prayer before our Lord and Savior and submit to His majestas, our vision will be such that we will glory in the things unseen, and the things seen will no longer dominate our lives.


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