Thursday, September 12, 2002

For those concerned about holiness, this is my preliminary answer to the question, "What is holiness?"

Holiness is one of those Big Religious Words which I encounter a bit more than I'm comfortable with, like transgression, communion, sanctification, sacrifice, etc. Big Words, they are. But what is behind them, if anything? In particular, can we untangle the mess that holiness seems to leave us?

On one level, I think that something is holy if anyone considers it "holy" or sacred. For example, there is ground that Native Americans think is holy, ground somehow connected to the spirit of their ancestors, whom they believe still inhabit the place. For years or generations to come, I'm sure the site of the World Trade Centers will be considered holy ground, for political and religious reasons publicly, and for deeply personal reasons privately.

On a deeper level, holiness to me is related to the Judeo-Christian
God. In particular, I take the definition "set apart for the service or worship of God" from the 1913 Webster's Dictionary.

I am a Christian, having based the decision to become one on a reading of Jesus' life and words some time in the early 1990s. Ever since that moment, it was as if I said, "okay, in general I know some of God's will, which is that I live and spread this good news, and I'm going to follow it." I decided to be set apart to the service and worship of God, and so I decided to be holy. This did not change what I was doing at the time, necessarily. I may have been performing horrible atrocities-- raping and pillaging for example-- but still, I had decided to be holy.

This makes it sound like I believe holiness to be an individual choice. Which I partly do. Another Christian perspective is that for me to be holy, God would have to set me apart for his service and worship; it's not my decision. For instance, Matt has pointed out to me that God said to the people Israel, "I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God." So He decided to set them apart for his service and worship. Other passages in the Bible suggest that God has used reprobate unbelievers to do his will, which sounds like they are being set apart for his service (though not his worship), but I don't wish to go there just yet.

Suffice to say that I believe this is also true. But I cannot comment with authority on what holiness is from God's point of view because I'm not God. But this is an important question. Assuming God exists, the question of what holiness is from his point of view is the most important aspect of holiness for the believer and unbeliever alike. Jesus, whom I consider to be an authority on matters pertaining to God, may have commented on this, but I cannot recall what he said right now.

So for the moment, let's get back to holiness as a choice. In general, I've decided to try to be on God's side. This is quite different from saying he's on "my side." If I'm raping and pillaging, I wouldn't say "I'm not a Christian." I'd say "I'm a very bad Christian," for I certainly wouldn't be serving God and my fellow humans the way I Know I Should. Though I may in general be saying that I am following God's will, I would be going against his will if I continue to rape and pillage. I believe that anyone, anyone, who knows what God expects of him and does not do it, is saying "I know God's will and I'm not going to follow it!" with all the defiance implied by the exclamation point. All Christians fall into this category. As do all humans. Committing one's will to be in line with God's is not the same as actually doing God's will at all instances.
Perhaps people don't say it out loud or publicly, but by their actions, everyone expresses this. It is the self-righteous one, the hypocrit, who fails to recognize this.

(By the way, why is self-righteousness so repugnant to everyone-- the faithful and unfaithful alike? Is it because it is a denial of reality? When we see someone denying reality, it can be very irritating.)

(Another aside; the fact that God doesn't do anything about it, meaning he doesn't stop me from choosing to do go against will at all instances, is precisely what gives my moment by moment decisions any meaning at all. I don't think God wanted a bunch of pedantic automatons. His reasons for this are still unknown to me, as are a great many other things.)

As to degrees of holiness, the which side is holier question, I am ignorant. Billy Graham and Mother Theresa didn't (as far as I know) rape and pillage, so does that make them holier than the bad Christians who do? I don't know, and I don't care. Fussing over that unknowable question is what in my opinion leads to the judging of others which we are told not to do (by Jesus).

Regarding an experience of holiness, I don't know what to say. I've argued here that holiness is an individual choice, and haven't seen it as an experience, like a religious experience or anything. However, others may disagree, and I'm open to that.

There is more that could be said, but I'll leave that for another time.


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