No, I am not writing about a new science fiction creature – beware the Numinous! Although it does have a nice ring to it. Actually the term Numinous is a theological term popularized by Rudolf Otto.
What is the Numinous?
The Numinous experience is when a person encounters God in a way that overwhelms. It is an experience that invokes fear, awe and a feeling of being in the presence of something that is wholly other. Isaiah had such an experience in Isaiah 6.
Context of Isaiah 6
First, a quick history lesson. Uzziah was one of the good kings of Judah – a king that God had greatly blessed. But Uzziah grew proud and disrespected the holiness of God by entering the temple to burn incense – a task reserved for the priests and not for kings. For this He is immediately struck by God with leprosy. It is on the day this king dies that God reveals himself to Isaiah. And such a powerful revelation it is.
The Numinous in Isaiah 6
Here are a few of my observations of this encounter with the Numinous:
- Transcendent. God overshadows the temple on an exalted throne. He is so large that the train (some translations actually say hem!) of his robe is enough to fill the temple. The king who took so lightly the holiness of God is now dead and God has come to reveal himself to his prophet as awesome and transcendent above any king.
- Sovereign. God is surrounded by Seraphs – powerful angelic beings with multiple wings who declare his holiness, his sovereign command (Lord of Host) and majestic glory. Even the great angelic beings recognize His greatness.
- Awesome. God pulled out all the stops to declare His personal greatness. He is great in size. He is surrounded by powerful servant beings who declare His greatness. The very sound of the angels shakes the building. And, of course, the divine fog machine fills the temple with smoke. God is not ashamed to use dramatic tools to bring His point home.
- Holy. God is declared as thrice holy. Possibly a reference to the Trinity, but more probably just an emphasis of the word “holy”. God was putting the world on notice that no one should underestimate the holiness, the absolute purity and otherness, of God. God is beyond, above and separate from sinful man.
The Weight of Glory
So, how does one respond to this weight of glory? Isaiah shows us the proper response:
- Confession. Isaiah confesses his sinfulness and unworthiness to be in God’s presence.
- Forgiveness. Isaiah receives forgiveness from God. Notice the coal is taken from the altar. This reminds us that only through sacrifice can one appear before God. Jesus was the perfect sacrifice that has made it possible to come into the presence of God.
- Service. Isaiah offered his life as a living sacrifice of worship to God. “Here I am, send me!”
Questions: Have you ever had an encounter with the Numinous? Have you responded as Isaiah did, in repentance and submission?
by Jerry Wyrick, President of Worship Arts Conservatory