Holiness (part 2)

Rather than being primarily defined as “set apart”, the definition of holy is better understood as applying to the nature of God himself. God is holy. God’s holiness is a way of saying God’s selfness. Hence, there is a strong need for separation within the Old Testament context. The idea that God is holy, means that the holy is that which to do with dealing with God himself. His holiness is his identity. God is holy.

This is a key distinction in regards to understanding our religious formation. Rather than dividing the world into the holy, where God is present, and the secular, where God is not, understanding the being of God as holy itself is essential to understanding our experiences. Because if we insist that the holy cannot participate in this world we are saying God cannot participate fully in this world; we’re saying where God is allowed and where he’s not allowed. We’re, basically, asserting ourselves as god over God. A curious reality develops if insist on a separation of the holy from the secular parts of our experiences. Religious people, out of this drive, can actually be in opposition to God.

Holiness, this true encounter with God himself, is not limited to church services or clearly sacred moments. The holy is not dependent on our attempts to make a show of our religious service . Rather, God meets us in our experiences, when we are out and about, wherever we are at.

God met Moses in the midst of the world, in the midst of Moses’ vocation as a shepherd. There were, certainly, specific steps Moses was asked to take in order to participate in a discussion with God, but these steps were part of God’s reaching out, his embrace of Moses into his presence. So often, in separating so sharply the holy from the secular, the holy is reduced, limited, hidden.

But in the revelation of God, God telling us who he is, the Holy opens itself up to participation, albeit with basic rules of trust-endorsing interaction. This is a very crucial crossroads in our understanding of God. A God who is inherently separate as regards to his holiness is, in essence, a God who has to split from himself in order to put right what went wrong in human sin. Theologian Donald Bloesch sums up a standard theological position when he writes:

Biblical faith portrays God as having two sides: holiness and love. These are the perfections that shape the interaction of God with his people. They are integrally related, and yet they coexist in a certain tension, one that highlights their paradoxical unity rather than dissolves it. God’s holiness is his majestic purity that cannot tolerate moral evil. God’s love is his outgoing, tenderhearted embrace of the sinner. God’s holiness is his separateness from what is unclean and profane. God’s love is his willingness to identify with those who are unclean and profane. God’s love is his willingness to identify with those who are unclean in order to help them. God’s holiness transcends the passing world of decay and death. God’s love incarnates itself in this world corrupted by sin.

In effect, this division between God’s holiness and God’s love makes for a situation in which God is both good cop and bad cop, the one countering the other in an attempt to best deal with the complicated situation at hand. Yet, Jesus is not the expression of God’s love in contrast to the Father’s holiness.

This is a false division. Jesus, as fully God, is the expression of God’s love and God’s holiness. As such to see Jesus is to see God’s holiness, his identity, for what it is revealed to be. To confess Jesus, is to align ourselves with his revelation.

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