Surely others have experienced it.
That moment, in prayer, or in worship, when you realize just how much you do not deserve to stand before God’s throne.
That moment, in worship, when you can only look down, in shame, and not up, in reverence. Or awe. When you dare not look upon God.
When the floor is not low enough. When, you can sink no lower under the weight of shame and guilt and unworthiness.
I wonder if that is how Isaiah felt, in the scene recorded in Isaiah 6?
He has a vision—but, in my mind, “vision” doesn’t seem to accurately describe the palpable real-ness of how he describes it. I envision getting my master’s degree, some day. I envision my children’s weddings (I’m too young to envision grandchildren, though). I have a vision, for “ministry” of some sort, though I find it hard to utter those words, for they sound so pretentious.
But those “visions” don’t seem anything like what Isaiah is standing in, in Isaiah 6. His vision seems so much more—real? And definitely not of his own making, unlike the things I listed above.
His vision seems to be that of not looking at God as if through a glass, darkly, but rather, face-to-face.
And, what he scribes, or what he dictates to the scribe, if that is the case, well—-you can almost hear it:
I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one called to another and said:
You can almost hear the thunder.
Isaiah responds as I mentioned above—with the stark realization that where he is standing is holy; and he, himself is the exact opposite of that:
He recognizes his guilt. He recognizes his lost-ness in the seeing of the face of God. And he can not sink low enough.
I find it very interesting, though, that what strangely purifies him in those moments is, of all things, a burning coal, from the altar. Placed to his lips. His wretched, unclean lips:
Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”
This burning coal, in this vision, is what takes away the guilt. It is what atones for Isaiah’s sin.
I don’t even begin to pretend to understand the symbolism involved in this passage. But, be that as it may, it still resonates, somehow. I understand Isaiah’s guilt and shame. And sense of unworthiness. We find echos in our own souls of Isaiah’s knowledge that his eyes have seen God, and he cannot look away fast enough. Or bow low enough. Woe. It is not unfamiliar.
But this is what strikes me….
In the ESV Study Bible, in the notes that describe this passage–this vision–this symbolism, the author of the notes writes this:
“The remedy of grace is personally applied.”
How astonishing is that?
The coal came from the altar, the location of the sacrifices made for the sin of the people. But then it was personally applied. To Isaiah, through the fiery burning coal upon his unclean lips. “God’s holiness and glory now redemptively enter Isaiah’s experience.”
The remedy was redemption. And, in that moment, “God declares the remedy for Isaiah’s sin to be sufficient and instantly effective.”
We don’t want the burning coal. We don’t. I don’t. The burning coal is painful. It is messy. And, it is beyond my effort.
But there is no other way, except through the sacrifice of Christ. There is no other way, apart from atonement.
We cannot clean ourselves up, in order to stand before our Holy God. No, we need the remedy of grace, personally applied.
Only then can we stand before God, with our eyes raised. To see Him. Only then, can we agree with Isaiah “Here am I! Send me! Send me!” Only when we, ourselves, have experienced the personally applied grace of God, are we not only able to share that hope with the world….
…..we are compelled to.
Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 1251). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.