Artist's impression of a stellar-mass black hole.“Hallowed be Your name”

Why would this be exciting?  Personally, one of the most significant and life-giving experiences I’ve ever had was when I began to realize these two things:

1. I did not know God as well as I thought I did, especially his other-ness (holiness).

2. What it means that He is holy.

But what does it really mean to pray “hallowed be Your name”?

Zooming in

“Hallowed be Your name” means we are praying for God’s character and renown to be known in a certain way.  That way depends on what Christ means by “hallowed”.  If He meant “regarded as holy,” then this first petition is saying “Father, may we see how holy You really are.

Well, that’s great, but what does ‘holy’ mean?  Sadly, we bring a lot of baggage when we come to this word.  But most of our common ideas are from scripture.  It does NOT mean:

  • weird
  • boring
  • arrogant
  • exclusivistic
  • culturally illiterate
  • religious for religion’s sake

What’s so great about ‘holy’?

A LOT.  When scripture repeats a word, it’s a linguistic tool to give emportance to it.  For example, in Genesis 14:10, the kings fighting with Abraham fled and fell into pits.  The Hebrew literally says, “they fell into pit pits”.  In other words, these were no ordinary potholes.  These were really bad pits.

When a word is repeated 3 times, it’s elevated to the superlative level.  This happens in both Old and New Testaments.

When Isaiah saw the throneroom of God, there were powerful, awe-inspiring creatures around God…

And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”

Isaiah 6:3 (ESV)

And in the New Testament, when John was the one seeing a vision of the throne room of God.  Again He is surrounded by awe-inspiring creatures…

And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!”

Revelation 4:8 (ESV)

No other attribute of God is elevated to this level.

But what does ‘holy’ mean?

I don’t know anyone at Christos who would claim to be completely bilingual.  We’re always learning the meaning of new words.  How do we do that?  Often, we see how the word is used.  The same principle can be applied when we come to scripture.

When we examine the words for holy in the Old and New Testaments, we see that it has this primary sense.  It means “cut apart”, set apart, different, other, or even alien in the ontological sense (not the science fiction sense).

This is used in scripture in several ways:

  • morally… in terms of purity.  This is probably our most familiar sense of the word.  But there’s more…
  • teleologically…  in terms of purpose.  For example, someone or something can be set apart or dedicated in a special way to God.
  • ontologically… entirely different in substance / essence.  E.g. God is completely other in the substance of who He is.

I had a hard time thinking of an image for this post that would in any way convey the idea of God’s holiness.  A black hole was as close as I could come to something so… “other”.  But a black hole is only outside our experience in it’s power and distance.  Like all of creation, just a little picture of part of who God is.  So here are some specific examples of when and how we can pray that God would make His name hallowed to us…

When & how we can pray “Hallowed be Thy Name”

  • Are you disappointed with the beauty around you?  The answer is not in searching further on the earth for a beauty that satisfies.  “Lord, may we see that Your holy beauty is more astonishing and ravishing than any beauty we have seen here.
  • Are you disappointed with the human justice (or lack of it)?  Don’t set your hope on human justice.  Don’t think that God’s justice is just another flavor of the same, tired, flawed justice we experience every day.  “Lord, may we see that Your holy justice is perfect and complete.
  • Are you disappointed by the love you experience from those who are supposed to be the closest to you?  Don’t despair.  Don’t think that God is like them.  The best love we experience here is a dim shadow of the surging, never-sleeping, self-slaughtering love of our Creator.  “Lord, help us to see that Your love is an entirely different kind of holy love than anything we have experienced from a human.”
  • Are you feeling the weakness of those you had put your hope in?  Perhaps an institution failed you.  Perhaps a tool failed you.  Perhaps a person failed you.  Perhaps you failed you.  “Lord, help us to see that Your power makes an atomic bomb seem like a match, a black hole like a mist, and all the force and power all our human ingenuity could muster is laughable compared to Your eternal, holy power.”
  • Are you disgusted with the attempts at a moral life that the best religious leaders among us model?  Are you swimming in hypocrisy?  That is not God.  His moral purity is an alien purity… completely other.  “Lord, help us to realize that Your holy purity is absolutely innocent… absolutely good… absolutely flawless… without a hint of duplicity or double-mindedness.”
  • Are you longing for peace… in your heart… in your relationships… in our world?  Don’t put your hope in any human or even a group of humans.  Even our best peace is only temporary and flawed.  But God’s peace is different.  It is holy.  “Lord, please help us to see that You are the Prince of holy peace… a calm and unity and safety unlike anything we have dreamed possible.

Additional resources…