When I was a kid, I tried to look at the sun. I couldn’t, of course. No-one can. The normal human eye can only take so much light at a time before it begins to hurt. Before we have to look away. Holiness can be like that. Blinding like the moment of discovering God; painful like the exposure of things concealed. Either way, we shy away. When I was a kid, I tried to fit in. Belong to some group. I didn’t, though. Like many, I found myself outside, pretending not to care.
Holiness means being set apart, separate, not belonging to the group. Dedicated for a specific purpose. It wasn’t a state I would naturally embrace, not even after becoming a Christian.
And God is holy. He lives in unapproachable light, according to Paul in his first letter to an early church leader called Timothy (1 Tim 6:16). And Christians are meant to live as children of the light. But what does that look like? Being good? Gliding past the unholy with a raised eyebrow even though their hearts are no doubt purer and their caring less self-satisfied than mine? Does it mean putting on a pious face and refusing fun, flavour and friendship in the name of God?
I take comfort, great comfort, in Jesus. Who was holy and human. The ultimate paradox. He hung out with the ungodly, the socially and the morally dubious. But he was not tainted by his contact with the world. He touched people who his pious contemporaries found contemptible. Literally and figuratively.
Holiness often means haughtiness when it should mean the opposite. To be holy is to be aware of God, living in that awareness. What could be more humbling? In Isaiah God says ‘I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit.’ He tells us he is up there, out there, beyond our own reach but also down here within our grasp. Within hearing of our sighs and our cries.
Holiness is linked in origin to wholeness, which makes Jesus make sense. Dedicated for a specific purpose, to serving God and presenting him as Father to the Jewish community he was born into, Jesus was whole. Complete. He didn’t need the drug of popularity; he didn’t whip the crowds into a frenzy; he knew when to rest, when to withdraw to spend time alone with God. And as a follower of Jesus I too have the capacity (though not always the desire) to be whole as he was, because in some mysterious way, He lives on in me. He is teaching me how not to run after popularity, how to stay focused, how to take rest when I need to. How to withdraw and pray.
Holiness is about separation for a sacred purpose. Holiness is about being whole. And it is about belonging. Not to my family, or my work, or the news cycle, or to my ambition, or my blog, or to facebook, or to fashion, (there’s a relief) or my husband, or even myself. But belonging to God. Dedicated to Him. Answering ultimately only to Him. To the one who, though far beyond, comes close even as his light exposes the ugly truths about me and transforms me from the child on the edge of the crowd to the one embraced and understood by her Father.