Be Good and if you cannot be good Be Careful.
I love it when a friend says something that gets me thinking. That something may be something simple or even a throw-away comment but it begins a time of contemplation, meditation and mind searching from the trails of that one phrase. I particularly love to try and think outside the box of the norm. This week in a Facebook conversation my friend Ben Mueller from Toxteth brought our conversation to a close by saying “imagine if Holiness would feel like Holiness.” It could have been one of those parting phrases that missed me but that simple phrase caught my attention. What is Holiness? And from our interpretation of that word, what would it feel like? Are we there already or do we have to do something about it? So I started a bit of imagining as Ben said. Holiness never sounds like a fun word. i think that is because it is shrouded in baggage that preachers and the church have put around it. It has become a word that is unfortunately related to the thought of what we should not be doing. That we should avoid worldliness and the appearance of evil at all costs. That being holy is related to being good. That we should not be caught in the cinema when Jesus returns or play ‘devils’ cards or do the washing on a Sunday or watch TV that has swearing in it or listen to music that has a rock beat. I have heard all of these things used as examples of holy living. Being holy means going to church on Sundays, reading the Bible, not going to the pub or drinking alcohol and definitely not dating a non believer. We must act different, be different, think differently, speak differently, after all we are aliens just passing through this sphere called earth. Being holy must be about separating ourselves out of the world stuff and building safe counter-culture worlds where we can be protected from the tainting stuff this world has to offer. None of this is holiness. It is cultural, some of it cultural garbage, that has created in the past a bunch of killjoy rules that can even lead to punishment and criticism if we are found straying into any of this stuff. This whole interpretation has it’s roots in the wrong tree. This stems from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and has nothing whatsoever to do with the Tree of Life. So if it has nothing to with what I can and cannot do what has it got to do with?
Be Holy as I am Holy.
If it is not a moral code what is holiness? The terms holy or holiness (qadosh, hagios) mean to be set apart or dedicated to. So who does the setting apart and what are we dedicated to? The Old Testament accounts are about a Nation set apart for God. Built into this was a religious system of sacrifice and activity that supposedly made the Nation different. Temple worship was designated as the outworking of a holy life. Sacrifices made that created a holiness, rules to abide by and centralisation of living that focused on the place of worship. This system failed to create holiness, the people were holy before the system began. All the religious garbage they chose because they did not want to live as if it was as simple as just being set apart by God. They were to be a kingdom of priests, all chosen, all set apart, embracing of all peoples, all Nations but unique. They wanted rules, leaders, structures, kings, priests, to be like the Nations around them but not like them. God obliged by giving them hierarchy, I believe to reveal to them what a bad choice the system was. It failed but we continue all these centuries later to be satisfied with a failed system thinking serving the machine makes us holy. How wrong we are. Going to a church building does not make me any more holy than going to a rock concert. Reading the Bible does not make me any more holy than reading the N.M.E. An act of prayer does not make me any more holy than watching T.V. I cannot make myself holy because I already am.
The sacrifice of Christ accomplished what systems could not and never will. It set Jesus apart so we could be set apart. He was unique so I could be unique. He showed a different way to religion and Temple and sacrifice. He became the Way so we could live in the Way. His demonstration of love shouted down the line ‘you are set apart, you are dedicated, not because of what you do or don’t do, what you accept or don’t accept, not how you live or don’t live, but because God set you apart for His pleasure.’ To walk in this may lead to separation in some ways because the church and other systems of the world shout out conform to us all. They want to give us uniforms and rules and guidelines to abide and live by. Things that would define us as good Christians. This could not be further from holiness than we could imagine. We are set apart. We are unique. What defines me does not define you, but God set me apart to be me with His dedication running all through me whether I realise it or not. Holiness is walking unbeaten paths, holiness is discovery and adventure, holiness is adventure and laughter, holiness is doing stuff that others would not want to touch. Holiness is the ultimate expression of living the creativity that has been placed within us all.
Feel So Real
So how does holiness feel? It feels releasing, it feels freeing, it feels like redemption, salvation, hope, joy, peace. It feels like the world is before us to discover our own personal adventure. It gives us permission to be real and live. It does not feel like routine or habit, it feels like every day is a new day of opportunity. There are no rules but living loved and loving. Centralised religious systems cannot control us which can lead to isolation but we will feel the breeze of connectivity with others set apart. We will realise that all humanity is holy is some way, all unique, all set apart, all dedicated, and we will see glimpses of the Divine in the ordinary. We will not judge by moral living but by unique creativity. If holiness would feel like holiness we would all be free to be ourselves. How liberating and exciting would that be? We would not be hung up on whether somebody swears or drinks or gets it wrong, but we would rejoice in humanity living life to the full. What does holiness feel like? Maybe I am feeling holiness right now. In fact I know I am because without doing anything I am set apart by Him, for Him, to Him. Now that feels good.