Holiness is a quality that we usually associate with the saints.  Realistically, it is a requirement of sainthood, holiness, and yet I wonder how much thought we actually give to it.  We use the word often: Holy Spirit, Holy Water, Holy Ground, holier than thou, holy crap!  Like so many words we use so often, do we really know what we are saying?  Or has its use become so commonplace that we just assume everybody knows what we mean?  Ultimately, that leads to meaningless words.

What does it mean to be holy?

Merriam-Webster.com defines it this way:

  • exalted or worthy of complete devotion as one perfect in goodness and righteousness
  • divine <for the Lord our God is holy — Psalms 99:9 (Authorized Version)>
  • devoted entirely to the deity or the work of the deity <a holy temple> <holy prophets>
  • having a divine quality <holy love>
  • venerated as or as if sacred <holy scripture> <a holy relic>
  • used as an intensive <this is a holy mess> <he was a holy terror when he drank — Thomas Wolfe> ; often used in combination as a mild oath <holy smoke>

But the meaning goes far beyond that.  The Hebrew and Greek words, most often translated as “holy” are

qadash         hagiazo

Which mean something more akin to “set apart” (a concept understood by Wikipedia, which redirects “holy” and “sanctify” to “sacred“).  This, I think, is often what we think of when we think of saints: those who are set apart as “better” Christians than the rest of us, but truth be told, that’s not how the Bible uses the term.  Saint Paul uses the word “saint” (a vairant of hagiazo, meaning “holy ones”) 44 times in his letters.  The term appears 62 times in the New Testament as a whole. And it is most often associated not with the Apostles, not with great people who had died, but with the Church and its members going about the day to day business of following Jesus.

The earth is the LORD’S and all that is in it, *
the world and all who dwell therein. (Ps 24.1)

I can pretty much guarantee that no one will hear a sermon preached on Psalm 24 on Sunday, but I think that the opening verse proves helpful as we try to wrap our minds around sainthood not as one set apart for the rest of us ordinary Christians, but instead one who takes their rightful place in the midst of God’s good creation.  We were all made to be saints, all made to dwell in the Kingdom of God, all made to be devoted fully to the Lord God Almighty.  Each of us, as human beings made in the image of God, carries within us holiness.  The challenge this All Saints’ Day, is to live into it.


One thought on “Holiness

  1. Agreed qadash & hagiazo – set apart, is the solid definition of ‘holy’; I’d not add the qaulifier ‘better’ – so many of biblical heroes – those who do God’s work are rogues. As ordained I’m clear my moral/ethical quality is NOT central, rather I am set apart for specific tasks (for better or worse). Perhaps it’s one of those qualities that defy definition, but we know when we encounter.

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