God’s Holiness Makes Us Uncomfortable

shutterstock_142056886There is a third human reaction to God’s holiness. It is an evil reaction; it rises from man’s contradictory nature and consists of a feeling of discomfort, irritation, and rebelliousness. A strange manifestation! One is inclined to ask how this can come about if God is the moving Spirit and essence of the universe, and man is His creature — “For in Him we live, and move, and are.”

It is indeed difficult to understand; it springs from the mystery of evil. Sin, ultimately, is resistance to the holiness of God. It would be a mistake to think of this resistance merely as an open rebellion against, or as a denial of, God.

Potentially it is present in all of us — sometimes stronger, sometimes weaker; sometimes quite openly, sometimes in the guise of self-sufficient (rational) culture, or healthy common sense. When resistance, open or otherwise, gains the upper hand, prayer becomes impossible.

We must watch out for signs of it in ourselves; we must face it, try to resolve or still it, or overcome it with firm determination, whichever may be for us the most effective way of dealing with it. Let us leave this and return to the two fundamental motives of prayer already referred to.

Prayer’s first motive: a sense of our own sinfulness

The first motive for prayer springs from man’s awareness of his own unworthiness before the holiness of God. Man recognizes that he is selfish, unjust, deficient, and impure. He acknowledges his own wrongdoings and tries to assess them: not merely those of today or of yesterday, but of the whole of his life. Beyond this he tries to visualize the whole of the human condition with its shortcomings. He realizes sin as it is understood by the Scriptures, sin as it is active in himself. He recognizes that sin is transgression of the moral law and of the natural law.

But even more, he recognizes that sin is contumacy before God’s holiness, that it is, therefore, not only wicked but unholy. He admits it and sides with God against himself; he says, in the words of the Psalm: “For I know my iniquity, and my sin is always before me. Against Thee only have I sinned, and have done evil before Thee: that Thou mayst be justified in Thy words, and mayst overcome when Thou art judged.”

We sometimes despair

A third form of evasion is caused by lack of courage. When man sees that he is constantly transgressing and that evil is deeply rooted in him, when he begins to feel that all is confusion and that there is no way out, he runs the risk of despairing of himself, especially when he is a person wanting in willpower and, perhaps, in logic. To hold out in these circumstances is most difficult because the mind seems to answer to all good intentions, “You’re not going to carry this through; you will do again what you have always done before.” There is only one remedy: to put aside all inner searchings and recriminations, to have done with all hesita­tions, and to put one’s absolute trust in God who “quickeneth the dead; and calleth those things that are not, as those that are.”

From this act of surrender to the Absolute, above and within us, will spring new resolve and new strength. We shall be able to say, “I will and shall, for God the omnipotent wills it.”

God’s forgiveness makes repentance possible

There is another mysterious aspect of God’s power which makes it possible for man to acknowledge his wrong and to admit and confess his sins. Man knows this intuitively, and the Scriptures have revealed it to us. God is not only the prime cause of the good and the fount of all justice; He is the all-renewer. He can give a new beginning to what appears final and He can undo all deeds. The words of St. Paul quoted above point to this mystery. God who is the supreme holiness, which by definition excludes all evil, is willing and able to forgive and to renew.

True forgiveness, the forgiveness which we are seeking and which alone is of benefit to us, is a great mystery. It implies not only that God decides to overlook what has happened and turns lovingly toward the sinner; this would not be sufficient. God’s forgiveness is creative: it makes him who has become guilty free of all guilt. God gathers the guilty man into His holiness, makes him partake of it, and gives him a new beginning. It is to this mystery that man appeals when he acknowledges his sins, repents of them, and seeks forgiveness. This is the first of those two motives of prayer which come into being before God’s holiness.

Editor’s note: This article has been adapted from Romano Guardini’s The Art of Praying, available from Sophia Institute Press. 

Romano Guardini


Romano Guardini (1885–1968) was ordained a priest in 1910. He was a professor at the University of Berlin until the Nazis expelled him in 1939. His sermons, books, popular classes, and his involvement in the post-war German Catholic Youth Movement won him worldwide acclaim. His works combine a keen thirst for God with a profound depth of thought and a delightful perfection of expression.

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  • Maria

    One of the great benefits we have , to aid in prayer, is the Divine Mercy image – esp. the Vilnius one, with its compaaisoantae Fatherly gaze and Lord’s promises as well as invitation , to bring all to Him – starting with sinners.
    That could give us the courage to acknowledge and face the burnt out areas in each of us and the other , as well as areas of selfish ambitions, envy , wisdom from below , trusting that He alone can heal such .
    We know He alone is infinite and holy enough , to take it all from us and thus ,given to Him, , His loving , all knowing Heart, ,He pours in The Spirit , The Father of life ,to make us feel the Trifold Father love , into our depths ; doing thus, often, , on an ongoing basis, with every hurtful memory , we get to know that being Christ like is not having warn feelings towards the other but being there to help bring the Spirit , into the depths of situations and persons !
    Problem though is , we are so used to idolising ourselves and the other and think, going to the person or dealing with it oursleves , we will fix it !
    And , we have not taken time to let God be God, by giving Him what is His due , in loving hearts and the time and efforts we spend , with Him and for Him, which let us know, if we truly mean it !

  • Lee

    Sin is the devil at work. God gave the person He created a free will. When we choose to follow our will and deny God’s Will we can run into trouble becoming deficient, impure and unjust Sin enters in when we shelfishly want present pleasures and gratification at our earthly level. We fail to look forward and upward toward the time we all face our judgement. There just isn’t enough praying being done by present day Catholics to bring God’s Love to those who are truly lost to the devil. We have to help others seek their salvation. Wouldn’t God want that of us?

  • eccevitae

    The quick answer is; it is because of our fallen nature. God in his goodness, created man with a free will. Because our first parents, in excercising their free will, chose to sin against God, we have inherited this fallen nature, which includes weakness in our flesh, and a strong inclination toward evil. Our good God, in his mercy “redeemed us” from sin by the sacrifice of his son, Jesus. The second person of the Trinity, God himself, died a most cruel death to save us from this state of seperation from God. Jesus has made it possible for us to be holy again by the power of the Holy Spirit. The third person of the Trinity, The Sanctifier. We must pray much to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Read some of the lives of the saints for examples of some who have responded to this invitation to be united with God by the power of the Holy Spirit. Of course there is so much more to if, amazingly wonderful. Praise God.God bless your Church!

  • noelfitz


    Many thanks for your thoughtful reply to me.

    As a faithful, and struggling Catholic, I want to reply.

    However I appreciate your contribution and that CE gives us Catholics an opportunity to discuss our faith and difficulties in a supportive, friendly and safe place. I have discussed this issue with a number of reputable Catholics and I get the consensus that there is a huge mystery we cannot understand.

    Basically does a good God create those, in his image and likeness, that will suffer and be in excruciating pain for all eternity?

    God creates us and after that are we on our own? Can he not prevent us by his power, providence, mercy and grace from sin or does our free will prevent this. Is Satan more powerful than God?

    A good parent or teacher can inspire children to do the good. Can an almighty being not choose to show us the advantages of the good and the disadvantages of the bad, so we do the good? After all we only choose to do evil as it seems good (sub specie boni).