Saturday, September 5, 2015

The holy and the obscene

Sometimes I wonder whether there is a fine line between holiness and obscenity.

Maybe, even, it is in the handling of the thing, the same thing appearing holy when handled with  reverence, but obscene when handled crudely.

A holy thing is different, private, secret, set apart.  You know when something holy happens in your presence, because you feel as though you should not be there.

A mother pulling her newborn baby, covered in birth, against the skin of her chest.

Two people together, realizing that they love each other.

An egg hatching.

A soul leaving a body.

The inconsolable sobbing of one who has been bereaved.

We don't really know what the word holiness means.  Maybe it means pure or perfect.  Maybe it means spiritual, or different from the physical.   Maybe it means indescribably beautiful and good.

I think holiness is connected to the idea of fire, purification, brightness.  Pure, precious, molten metal.

God is holy, and I think it is the thing we least understand about Him, the characteristic He owns that makes Him most unlike us.

Yet, He wants to share His holiness with us and form us into holy people.  He says, "Be holy, as I am holy."  We do not know what this means.

I think of the Holy of Holies, the Most Holy Place, that cubic space in the deepest bowels of the tabernacle where the beautiful presence of the Lord dwelt, hidden.


If you read about the tabernacle, it is astonishing to think about how all the beautiful fabrics and embroidery, the gold clasps, the gold embossed ark with the gold cherubim on top, the solid gold Mercy Seat, all were hidden deep out of sight.  The tabernacle was covered with layers of curtains, finally ending with an outer layer of some sort of leathery hides.  Only a few priests were allowed to go inside and see any of the treasures within the tabernacle.  Only the High Priest ever passed the last curtain into the Holy of Holies, and that only once a year.

This is a great mystery to me: that God should reveal the directions for the design of His dwelling, but that it should, in the end, be covered up.  God did not choose, at that time, to display the objects that symbolized His beauty or His glory.

I think that to be holy as God is holy means that we live reverently, understanding the proper handling of holy things.  To be holy means to know when to be serious, careful, gentle, when to catch our breath and close our mouths. 

Laughter is, on the whole, a very good thing.  Yet, everyone knows that there are times when one should not laugh, or, if laughter does come, that it must be the laughter of joy and not the laughter of silly goofiness or cruel derision.

In holiness, there is a sense of great worth that supersedes all the treasures of earth.  It is a sense of worth that quietly, steadfastly replaces pride with a deep and abiding confidence.

When Jesus died on the cross, the temple veil was torn in two from top to bottom, opening up the Holy of Holies, the forbidden, secret place.  This is also a great mystery.

Jesus, who carried the very essence of the holiness of God, hidden, in a human body that covered His essence like the skin hides covered the tabernacle, Jesus died.  And His death tore away the separation between God and man, between the holy and and the earthly.

When we mishandle the truth about His holiness, it becomes obscene indeed.  It is utterly obscene to think that flawed, stinking, gassy, lusting, cheating, selfish, stupid human beings would be given the opportunity to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and then despise and guffaw at Him in their prideful ignorance and self-centered blindness.

Yet, He loves His own so much that He is willing to endure any humiliation to save us.  In His perfect holiness, He does not fear the degradation of sin.  Sin cannot mar Him.  It can obscure how people are able to see Him, but it cannot touch the essence of who He is.

He is holy, and when we fail to grasp this, we are obscene.  The more holy something is, the more obscene it is when someone trashes it.  We should not crush baby birds beneath the soles of our shoes.  We should not allow little girls to be captured and sold as sex slaves.  And we should not refuse to honor the glorious God who created the Universe and sent His only Son to redeem us from the curse of sin.

I didn't mean to write this.  I was thinking about attributes of God.  Lately He has been showing me how He is my source of hope, my healer and my help.  That's what I meant to write about, but I was trying to think about what I'd written before about God's attributes that begin with H.  I remembered writing about holiness, and I started thinking about it, and then I wrote this, for it is simply what came out.

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