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Holiness as art

Isn’t the very idea of holiness offensive in a 21st-century, no-holds-barred world? Shouldn’t that term be reserved for angry church ladies who want to suck all the fun out of life? Isn’t it for the few, the angry … them?

Holiness isn’t culturally sensitive. For us who live in a post-modern, highly educated world, the very idea of it raises suspicion. Holiness? Really? Who are we condemning? Why are we so angry?

According to the writer of Leviticus, God once told his people, “You are to be holy because I the Lord am holy.” This was not so much a command as a fact. God — pure love, dynamic, creative, merciful, slow to anger, perfectly wise — is holy. And because he is, we have that capacity, too. Those who expose the image of God within themselves expose the character of a loving, pure, creative, gentle Creator who defines by his very presence what holiness is.

But we are addicted to control.

We don’t like what we can’t understand.

Abandoning ourselves to holiness is not nearly so compelling to us as mastering it is.

So from our earliest history, our people have mishandled this gift of holiness. We made it more interesting for engineers than artists, carefully carving it into hundreds (or countless) rules to memorize and master. We turned an abstract work of immeasurable beauty into a blueprint.

Do these, the religious elite would say, and we will call you holy.

Which is a lie. Without love, the active ingredient in God’s art of holiness, all the right behavior in the world won’t get you there. God is love, so to be holy as God is holy is to love as God loves. Holiness is the very character of a loving, creative, joyful, joy-giving God who has told us we can become loving, creative, joyful and joy-giving by sheer proximity to him.

If holiness is the character of God, then surely it is also the prevailing quality at work in the good life, a life we are invited to enjoy as God has designed it. It is not an engineered life that keeps us from sinning, but the art of living fully. It is the pathway to joy with as many expressions as there are people.

Holiness is rich.
It is life-giving, joy-filled.​

Far from being restrictive and fun-sapping, holiness is the ultimate form of freedom. It calls out the best in us and causes us – when we live it well – to glorify God.

Holiness is at least this: a design of life that exposes us most fully to the heart of a good, loving and creative God.

As I come to the middle of my life, I’ve been thinking a lot (as it seems most folks do at this stage of life) about how to make the most of this “second half.” I’ve been searching my spirit and asking questions like: Which spiritual gifts have risen to the surface, and which ones have run their course? What is the message that speaks most deeply to me and through me? What places and people do I want to pour into?

What does it mean to take my place as an elder in the church — not an institutional elder, but a biblical elder in the spirit of Paul’s description to Timothy? What does it mean to live holiness as an art form, to experience life creatively as one made in the image of a great Creator?

I don’t have all my answers, but a few of them are surfacing and mixed in among them, holiness resonates — not just as a lifestyle, but as a message. As a way of approaching life so that the fullness of it, the treasure of it, is exposed.

Expect that to be a recurring theme threading its way through the writings on this site, and as it winds its way through, may your life be moved toward holiness … because God is.

What does the word holiness call to mind for you?
Do you hear it as a negative or a positive?
How does it help you to think about holiness as an art form?