Holy, Holy, Holy1
HOLY, HOLY, HOLY
I’m not an etymologist, nor do I play one on TV, but words interest me. Words shape thought and thought shapes life. Did you know there are words in the English language that mean so much that they mean nothing? Here’s an example: biweekly means (a) twice a week and (b) every other week. Look it up. Since it has two totally different meanings, you can’t use it without clarifying which meaning you intend. Ambiguity cripples the word so it means nothing.
I dislike ambiguous “church” words… words that we use out of habit or for group conformity, but really don’t know what they mean. “Holy” is one such word.
I see the spiritually-mature Bible scholars in the front row waving their hands. “We know what ‘holy’ means,” one says. “It means ‘set apart, or devoted for God’. In the Jewish Temple, the Holy of Holies was the special inner sanctum where the presence of God resided. It was ‘set apart for God’. The Bible shows that people can be holy by being uncommonly righteous,” he concludes.
I just love the scholar gallery. They’re always good for a straight line. “Uncommonly righteous”. Does anyone else see the oxymoron… even the hubris, in that notion? What does “common” righteousness even look like?
Anyway, in Revelation, we’re shown the throne-room scene where heavenly creatures sing “Holy, holy, holy” to God. (Rev 4:8) Somehow, I don’t think they mean “God is set apart for God”. Another scholarly hand shoots up. “In this case,” he says, “‘holy’ means ‘pure, majestic, and glorious’.” So, the same Greek word, hagios, has two significantly different meanings – one meant to apply to people and rooms, and another meant to apply to God himself. Methinks the word doth pack too much and doth risk meaning nothing.
But wait! What if we’ve missed the underlying core meaning of “holy”? What if it really means “unique, special, unusual, and original”? It would relate and tie the two traditional meanings. God is certainly holy in this context because he’s uniquely pure, majestic, and glorious. “Holy, holy, holy,” indeed! Also, we far-from-uncommonly-righteous humans are holy by this definition because God set each of us apart, devoted to him, through our unique combination of strengths, weaknesses, gifts, and scars. Only through leaning on God’s grace can that uniqueness shine. The cross means our sins no longer separate us from him, so we don’t have to hide behind fig leaves of self righteousness and conformity. We can devote ourselves – warts and all – to God because we don’t have to be like all the “good” people, whatever that means. We are holy – set apart, unique, special, unusual, and original – as we express the qualities that God gave us.
God doesn’t just love you, he enjoys you! Your unique combination of qualities and quirks makes him smile and makes you useful in his hands. You are free to be wholly yourself with him. So be the true original he intended! Be holy!