Found myself reading Jeremiah today and thinking about the word “holy.” What does it mean to call God “Holy God”? Well, the word “holy” really means “separated.” God is separated from all other “gods.” They had to be fashioned out of wood or stone, covered with gold or silver, fixed to a base etc. The true God is holy, separated from all these gods by virtue of the fact that He is unmade and Living. All these other gods, so called, tended to be gods of specific places who aggressively defended limited territory , perhaps the mountains or the valleys, but God is “holy,” separate and distinct and different, because He is God of the mountains and of the valleys and can win His battles anywhere: everywhere is His territory, the earth and all its fullness belongs to Him as do the highest heavens. The other gods were dumb and could not speak to predict events long before they happen, but God is Holy, different, separate from these gods who know nothing, in that He makes His will known to His servants the prophets before it comes to pass. So God is holy, separate, distinct, set apart as different from all other gods in these ways as well as in a host of other ways, but perhaps I have said enough to illustrate the point.
However, as I was thinking these thoughts I was remembering the odd paradox that formed in my mind when reading Rowan Williams book, “Being Disciples.” I want to quote quite a lengthy extract from it. I have written for permission which has not yet come. Without quoting directly then, but rather mixing his thoughts in with my words, Rowan Williams writes about Jesus speaking of consecrating Himself in John’s Gospel, setting Himself apart, making Himself “holy” as His death approaches, indeed making Himself holy through that death. The paradox is that the God who separates Himself from all other gods, shows Himself holy in such ways as mentioned in the first paragraph of this blog, makes Himself different from them in this way too: He does not set Himself aloof and separate from human beings and their need, but comes right into the deepest of human need, vulnerability, weakness and sinfulness to live in it as one of us, to carry it and touch it with divine mercy and love and help. The paradox is that God’s Holiness, being separate, is shown by Him not being separated from human beings. He comes close, dives right in to where help is needed, even when it is needed by those who have offended His ways and spurned Him.
That leads to this application: Christian holiness involves being in the world but not of it to be sure; part of living this out involves entering into its need in love and practical compassion, to do what we can do by the help of the Holy Spirit of the God who is near, whose Kingdom is at hand, not distant or all for a future time, not in some far away place, but here; here now, as well as coming.
I have more time now to read the Bible and pray and think than I once did, which I guess is a good thing – not that I make as much use of that time as I want to yet. In itself none of that would make me holy in the Jesus sense of that word. I enter into His holiness not through separation from people on some ascetic spiritual pursuit, though spiritual disciplines are most definitely needed. I miss the ready made bridges afforded to being a parish minister, but I guess this will be an exciting time too as I learn to make new bridges. Hold on to this paradox: holiness cannot be achieved in separation from people. Whatever can be achieved by separation it is not “holiness’ in the Jesus way. Well, I guess I am looking back over my day wondering if I have touched holiness today…how about you?
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