I’ve been contemplating how much we define ourselves by the people, things, and ideas that we oppose.
For example, it’s easy to say “I’m a Christian, so I don’t…” Fill in the blank. Often times we probably fill in that blank with lots of things we are wise not to do. And other times we probably fill in that blank with things that are kind-of silly. And of course, it’s not all about Christianity. “I’m a Republican, so I don’t…” “I’m a Democrat, so I don’t…” “I’m a member of the middle class, so I don’t…” “I belong to such-and-such a group so I don’t…”
There are some dangers, though to this. The first danger is that as soon as things we are opposing ceases to exist, then so do we. If my identity as a Christian is wrapped up in the idea that I don’t listen to punk music, what happens when punk music goes away? At some point, I’m tetheting my faith to the whims of public opinion, as much as if I worshipped punk music.
I don’t want to start a debate about whether or not homosexuality or abortion are good things or bad things. But I know that this is a single-minded obsession for some of my brothers and sisters in Christ. I wonder about these people: What if they got what they wanted? What if they managed to outlaw abortion, or even homosexual acts? What if they managed to actually be able to enforce these laws and they did away entirely with homosexuality or abortion? How long would the celebrations last?
I suspect for some of them, it wouldn’t last for very long. Because I think that some people define themselves by these sorts of fights.
There are all sorts of issues we use in a negative way to define ourselves. I’m a good Christian because I don’t drink. Or watch R-rated movies. Or vote for pro-choice political candidates.
More subtely, we emergents do the same thing in reverse. It can be easy for me to define myself as a not-conservative. I’m a good Christian because I don’t follow those silly legalistic rules of the traditional folks. I’m a good Christian because I don’t seperate myself from the world. I’m a good Christian because I don’t…
If we started considering Rob Bell’s opinion Orthodox and started looking at Pat Robertson as a heretic, it would be hard for me. Some of my identity is wrapped up in not only affirming Bell’s opinions about a bunch of things, but I also have parts of my identity wrapped up in being against what Robertson says, just because he said it.
The definition of Holy is “To be set apart by God.” I used to think that what we were being set apart from is the world itself.
There’s a problem with this idea, though.
The problem is that this is a self-defeating idea. God wants us all to be holy. If we made all of us holy we’d all be set apart by him, together. That doesn’t really make any sense.
It’s a bit like a recipe. Sometimes a recipe says you need 2 cups of something for the whole recipe. You might need that something for two different parts. Maybe it’s sugar. And the sugar is needed inside the muffin and also for the crumby topping to the muffin.
It would make sense for the recipe to say “Set aside 1/2 cup”. It would even make sense, (though be a little stranger) for the recipe to say “Set aside 1 1/2 cups” But the recipe wouldn’t bother to specify “Set aside the whole 2 cups” If you started with 2 cups, you can’t set aside the whole of the 2 cups.
If I hold on to the idea that holiness means to be set aside by God, it doesn’t seem like it could mean being set aside from other people. Because at some point, we’ll all be holy. And who are we set apart from then?
To be made holy must mean to be set apart from my own self desires, my own flaws, selfishness, and greed.
On the ground, it could end up looking the same. I have a desire to fit in, to belong, to be one of the cool kids. Holiness is being bigger than these desires.
So God might call out a person or a group to do something different. In scripture, he often calls on the Israelites (and later, the first Christians) to act differently, to eat differently, to dress differently, to speak differently.
We always talk as if the idea is to seperate them from other people. He’s making them holy by placing them in a different group.
But what if we’ve got the cart before the horse? What if all those things weren’t done to make them seperate from the other groups: what if they were done to seperate them from the worst parts of themselves?
And once they’ve been made holy, that group could serve as a shining example to everybody. If they taught everybody what they learned through obedience to God, we could recapture a closeness that is so much more important than the tread mill of popular opinion. The closeness we’d experience would be so much greater than the faux-closeness that they experienced before God went began the process of “seperating” his people from those around them.