Holiness According to Otto – 5

Whilst scholars are generally agreed that the notion of ‘otherness’ is not absent, Forsyth posits that it is more appropriate to define God’s holiness by considering its expression in history, centrally in the incarnation of the Son, but also in the sending of the Spirit, and his election of a people (both Israel and the Church) out of all the peoples of the earth to be as he is, to shape its life after him. For the Christian, there is no other God than the one who has suckled on Mary’s breast and was crucified under Pontius Pilate. Neither can holiness be understood apart from this one. In this vein, Forsyth affirms that ‘holiness is not anything that can just be shown; it must be done’. Revelation is action.

Söding argues that ‘God’s powerful holiness manifests itself in creating and sustaining, in judging and delivering the world of humankind. According to John, in agreement with the whole Old Testament, God evinces his holiness in his actions, which mediate the historical and cosmic presence of God together with his absolute transcendence.’ In other words, divine holiness must find expression in its ever longing to exert itself in action. It is not enough that God’s love be emptied out on creation. God must himself take upon himself the evil for which he is held liable. God in Christ is his own theodicy. He alone does full justice to God’s holy name, offering his holy self to the holy God in holy confession ‘from sin’s side’. As holy love, God goes out to establish command of all, not simply plucking it out of hell or even making it innocent, but taking it into heaven and making it holy, presenting humanity to God ‘presanctified’. Forsyth insists that ‘the holiness of love’s judgment must be freely, lovingly, and practically confessed from the side of the culprit world. It must be answered with perfect holiness’. Though transcendent, here is no remote or static god of the deists or the epicureans. Forsyth’s German contemporary, Ernst Troeltsch (1865-1923), whose (at least) early writings are familiar to Forsyth expresses this well:

‘The divine holiness is no moralism. God did not give the world his law and then abandon it; instead, he searches for the creature with love and passion, creating the very holiness that he demands. Here we find no cold law, no crushing commandment that seeks fulfilment in human compliance; we find a holy love that embraces us and incorporates us into itself, thereby bringing us to faith.’

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