Imagine an “outbreak” of holiness. Holiness breaking in, taking up residence, and permeating the whole of our families, communities, nations and world. Imagine a runaway, out-of-control infusion of “holiness” that would “threaten” every living soul.
Would this be a good thing?
According to much of the Bible, this would be threatening, because God is absolutely holy. His holiness is often portrayed as awesome and dangerous, particularly to a fallen and sinful world. The constant call of those who dwell in the heavenlies is “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty” (Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 4:8). This is the God who alone is Creator, King and Lord of all.
Because God is absolutely holy, the unholy must beware. Throughout much of the biblical story, people and places actually had to be protected against the holiness of God, against direct exposure to God’s presence. When God appeared, or even a messenger from God, the people fear for their very lives. When leaders, like Moses, spent time in the presence of God, their faces glowed as if exposed to a kind of radiation. When the Ark of God’s Covenant was moved from place to place, those who carried it had to follow proper protocols to avoid lethal contact. When the Tabernacle of God was built, and later the Temple, the one place that could not be entered by ordinary humans was called the Holy of Holies. Only the high priest could enter, and only on one day, and only in a certain way. Otherwise, to enter the Holy of Holies was to enter into certain death.
In the presence of God’s holiness, unholy persons and things were imperiled. For this reason, the life of God’s people was carefully guarded to prevent “death by holiness.” One entire book of our Bible, the book of Leviticus, outlines the many things that were off-limits and defiling to people who lived with God at the center of their lives. There were foods, places, situations, actions, reactions, practices and more that could place people in danger in view of God’s holiness. And there were numerous countermeasures to be applied — things to avoid, things to observe, sacrifices to offer, places to go and places to flee — to be safe in the presence of a God who was absolutely holy. Yes, for much of the biblical story, the great fear was that people would become polluted from the unholiness within them and all around them. To the degree that God’s people avoided such pollution, they could be said to share in the holiness of God.
But as our Scripture story unfolds, we read about a wonderful reversal in God’s responses to the unholiness of the world. In Jesus, the Holy of Holies entered into all the places of pollution. In Jesus, God actually became flesh and established residence with fallen, sinful and unholy humanity. In Jesus, the absolutely Holy One has become a “Resident Alien” in the world and has even managed to secure a “green card.”
When the time was right, God sent Jesus to reclaim the world as a holy place, to renew human beings as bearers of God’s holy image, and to restore the creation as a prime arena for the beauty of holiness
to be on glorious display. In the preaching and teaching of Jesus, God’s eternal kingdom opened its gates for all to enter, even the most broken, defiled, twisted and ruined. In the ministry of Jesus, sins were forgiven, evil was cast out, bodies were healed, and hearts were exposed to self-sacrificing love that could transform human beings. In the ministry of Jesus, holiness went on the offense to counteract whatever defiles and to interject the seeds of holy living everywhere. In the mission Jesus has accomplished, the veil separating a holy God from unholy people was torn apart, and the love that casts out fear infected people with holy contagion. Through His people, God as the Resident Alien “goes to work” day in and day out. Through His people — like you and me — holiness enters and inhabits the marketplace.
So imagine it: holiness invading, inhabiting and infecting every place, every process, every relationship and every person; holiness, as a contagion, adhering to and penetrating everything and everyone it touches; holiness spreading like a disease or, better, like the cure for whatever disease may be out there.
Imagine the stunning, lovely and incomparable way of Jesus entering into every workplace. Imagine a pandemic of kindness, openness, caring and compassion. Imagine deep sorrow over anything that ruins or harms and hilarious joy over everything that helps or honors. Imagine “doing unto others …” with co-workers, with employees and employers, and with makers of goods/services and their patrons.
Imagine just one carrier of the holiness virus, who may think she is the only one hopelessly infected, discovering that a Great Physician has arranged for other carriers also to be wherever she is. Imagine the contagion going so viral that people and things start to heal.
This would be a good thing!
Bishop David Kendall is an ordained elder in the Great Plains Conference who was first elected to the office of Free Methodist bishop in 2005. He is the author of “God’s Call to Be Like Jesus” (fmchr.ch/godscalldk) and the co-author of “The Female Pastor: Is There Room for She in Shepherd?”