Saturday, December 18, 2010

Is holiness really "separation"?

In our world, conventional wisdom says that holiness is being separate, being set apart. We picture holiness as avoiding the evil, the unclean, the impure. No doubt holiness does all that. But is that because holiness wants to be a hermit, or because the world is often unclean?

If the world were clean and pure, would holiness need to be separate from it? Genesis tells the story of Eden, where Adam and Eve heard the LORD walking in the garden (Genesis 3:8). Did God stop being holy to walk among us? No, not at all; I think the world was holy -- a fitting place for God. When the world is good, there is no need for separation.

In the Temple in ancient Israel, the presence of God was said to rest in the Holy of Holies. You could hardly imagine a more separate place. It was within the Temple, in the inner sanctum that even the typical priest would never enter in his lifetime. Even the high priest was only permitted to open the curtain once a year. The point of the curtain was to make sure that the holy of holies did remain separate.
And the curtain of the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom. (Matthew 27:51, Mark 15:38, Luke 23:45)
Those who have read the accounts of Jesus' life will already know: at his death, the holy of holies was torn open.

What was Holiness doing, being separate all those years? Had he surrendered the world to evil, and contented himself with a compromise of a life in exile from his own world? Was Holiness hiding in the Most Holy place, hiding from the world? Had the presence of God retreated from evil and made a fortress for itself, under siege? If so, then at Jesus' death the last sanctuary for Holiness in this world was destroyed. Then evil had broken into the last refuge of goodness on earth. God had come to reach out to man, and man had killed him.

Or was Holiness maintaining a presence among us all those years? Was Holiness giving us a rallying point for hope, that he had not abandoned us even in our fallen state? Was he saying that he stayed with us, even in our sin, even in our wickedness, throughout all the long years? Was his continuing presence saying that one day he would walk among us again? Was it a promise of redemption? If so, then at Jesus' death God's separation from us has ended. Holiness' years of biding his time in a sanctuary is finished. The last barrier, death, has been breached by God. God is no longer to be sought in the holy of holies; God is with us.

We know "God with us" as the name Jesus is given as part of God's promise to the world of his birth. Did God stop being holy to walk among us? No, not at all. God does not change. And where there is no separation from God, more places become holy.

Part of a series ... more to come.


Robert Hagedorn said...

Do a search: The First Scandal Adam and Eve.

Weekend Fisher said...

Is that in connection with something about holiness? ;)

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

Martin LaBar said...

I checked my denomination's web site. We say (and practice, I hope) that holiness is to empower us for outreach and service.

Howard said...

Your final statement really is the one which counts.As we celebrate Christmas, we can once again stand amazed by the demolition of all which separates us from the beauty of true holiness through Redemption's true dawn... God reconciling this world to Himself through His only begotten Son.
A blessed Christmas to you, and to all your readers.

Weekend Fisher said...

Hi Martin

You guys are such Wesleyans ;) I'm curious -- what does it say God's holiness is for?

Hi Howard

Thank you very much. Blessings to you and yours as well.

Anne / WF

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

And the corollary: if God is not holy, then He cannot make us holy and we are doomed never to have even any hope of being any better than we are now.

Weekend Fisher said...

Exactly. And, along those same lines, the world's hope too lies in God's holiness.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

Weekend Fisher said...

It occurs to me ... If God's continuing presence in the Holy of Holies was a message to us, saying that one day he would walk among us again, then the once-a-year sacrifice to open it was a message to us, saying that one day would come a sacrifice that would open it once and for all.