Over the next several weeks, I will be exploring the Lord’s Prayer as a model for forming a social justice theology. Throughout this series, I will be proposing that Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 6 show believers how to pray and also how we should reorient our lives and relationships with one another in light of what we are praying. Last week, we looked at how the concept of God as ‘Our Father‘ as illustrated in the Lord’s Prayer can help us form a social justice theology. This week, we will explore the statement “Hallowed/holy be your name” in the same vein.
So God is our father. And He is a holy father at that. The words “Hallowed/holy be your name” affirms this, acknowledging the very essence of who God is which also establishes his authority. God is ontologically and completely holy. That is just who He is. He is set apart and he is unique and there is none like him in all of the earth. And certainly no one has the authority that he possesses.
Angels understand this well. In fact, night and day, they never cease to declare before God his holiness. We get glimpses of this activity in Isaiah 6, when the prophet Isaiah has a vision of God after the death of his uncle, King Uzziah. In his vision, he says that he sees the Lord in His temple and Seraphim fly about the Lord saying: Holy, Holy, Holy is the LORD of hosts. The whole earth is full of His glory. In Revelations 4, the apostle John has as a similar vision where the angels cry out: Holy, Holy, Holy is the LORD GOD almighty, who was and who is and who is to come. And they don’t stop. They keep declaring God’s holiness, they keep worshipping God in this way day and night.
There has got to be something to this. If Jesus is pointing this out as something that is fundamental to our prayer life as believers and if in the few glimpses of heavenly activity we see angels, mind you, worshipping God in this way, how much more us? How much more should we make a space in our daily lives to proclaim God’s holiness, not just in our lives, but in the whole earth?
The whole earth is full of God’s glory, God’s holiness. Think about how the sun magically lights up the sky every day. We count on it, in fact, we don’t even worry about it because we know that the sun will rise again every day. Think about how majestic a newborn baby’s cry is – we expect it right? Otherwise, we know something is wrong with that baby. Or how the flowers bloom in the spring? Every year after all of the snow melts, and flowers start to grow after a few April showers, I get absolutely anxious waiting for the lilacs to blossom, filling my nostrils with the fragrance of God’s goodness. Creation reflects God’s holiness every single day.
At the same time, we have to acknowledge that there are times when we don’t sense or feel God’s holiness. Every time a tsunami or earthquake tears apart a community, we start to quiver and question God’s majesty. When we hear about disappearing planes and terror attacks, we surely start to wonder if God is really as good as He says he is. When innocent children starve day in and day out, and our communities get smaller because of gun violence and racial profiling, we certainly have a hard time believing the truth about God’s nature.
But does the onus lie with God or with ourselves? Are we declaring before God and before the earth God’s holiness in the way that Jesus instructed us? Have we declared before the problems of the world God’s holiness? Have we proclaimed God’s goodness?
I would like to suggest that to a large extent we have not. And in the absence of worship of this magnitude, racism, oppression, sexism, colonization, and imperialism exists, even within our churches. Because if we really worshipped God in the way that Jesus said we should, there is simply no way that we could treat each other the way that we do. We cannot authentically and truly proclaim God’s holiness and still habitually exploit one another. These ideas are simply not in agreement with one another. Because if God is holy and good to the extent that we say he is, and we honestly believe that, we will be less inclined to respond to our environment from a place of unfaith, mistrust and hubris as Adam and Eve did.
As we worship in the way that Jesus invites us to do, we will also be less inclined to respond to our environment from a place of fear, and specifically fear of potential consequences for challenging the status quo which normalizes injustice. This is what the Isaiah 6 passage also teaches us. As God’s holiness is proclaimed, Isaiah gets a more accurate vision of who God is – lofty, exalted, and full of majesty and might. Isaiah’s vision of God is followed by a better assessment of himself – a man full of sin and utterly ruined by that sin. From these two visions – that of God and of himself, he gets a better understanding of the situation around him and then, and only then, is fully equipped to go forth and prophecy against the systems of oppression in his day.
Isaiah wasn’t able to do this more complete prophetic, justice-oriented work before because King Uzziah was in the way. Uzziah represented the status quo, and a system unwilling to imagine a different reality. In his book, Prophetic Witness, Walter Brueggemann diagrams this royal consciousness as such:*
In an economics of affluence we are so well off that pain is not noticed and we can eat our way around it.
In a politics of oppression we do not hear the cries of the marginalized or we dismiss them as the noises of traitors.
In a religion of immanence and accessibility, God is so present to us that his abrasiveness, his absence, his banishment (and even his wrath) are not noticed.**
Isaiah’s prophetic ministry after his encounter with God challenged all of this. And as we get a glimpse of God’s holiness, proclaiming the majesty of his name before ourselves and the systems of this world, we too can enter into this sacred space of the prophetic and call others to join us. Together, we lament over the way oppression has played out in our nation, in our church and around the world. And together, we call on the world to imagine a whole new way of being and consciousness.
Hallowed be God’s name!
Come back next week for part IV of this series! Be sure to subscribe at the top right of the blog or follow me on Twitter so that you don’t miss it.
*Walter Brueggmann, Prophetic Witness (Fortress Press) p. 36
**Brueggemann, page 41
Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/john/116256525/