Voices of Faith: How does your faith define ‘holiness’?

THE REV. EUGENE A. CURRY, senior pastor, Park Hill Baptist Church: Holiness, in the biblical tradition, refers primarily to a quality of separateness in which something is set aside for religious uses.

In this way, the Bible speaks of holy days and holy items, for example the Sabbath and certain oils used in the Jewish Temple. The Bible also speaks of people being holy in this manner in that they are officially dedicated to God in some special way.

Thus a prophet of God, Elisha for instance, can be called a “holy man” since he has been set aside by God for specific religious purposes (2 Kings 4:8-9). Rather than working a normal 9-to-5 job, Elisha’s primary “employment” was as God’s official representative.

In addition to this very practical understanding of holiness, there is also a broader and more subtle use of the word in which moral qualities (as opposed to merely functional concerns) take center stage.

It is this second definition that stands behind the Bible’s command that believers live lives of holiness — that is, believers are to live lives characterized by a moral separateness in which we separate ourselves from sinful deeds and dedicate ourselves, figuratively speaking, to God-pleasing behavior.

It’s this latter understanding of the term “holiness” that stands behind the Bible’s many affirmations that God is himself “holy.”

God is separate from the normal compromises and sins that characterize the lives of mortal men and women.

ARVIND KHETIA, a Hindu and an engineer: The long history of Hindu spiritual tradition has been continuously nourished by many saints, sages and mystics, from the unknown authors of the Upanishads, to the Buddha, Shankara, Ramana Maharshi, Ramakrishna and others. These spiritual luminaries experienced the union with the Divine and became holy.

In the Bhagavad Gita, Sri Krishna, as the embodiment of Supreme Consciousness, states that, “I am in every religion as the thread through a string of pearls. Wherever you see extraordinary holiness and extraordinary power raising and purifying humanity, know that I am there.” The saints and mystics everywhere exemplify these words of Sri Krishna as they represent different expressions of the same divine impulse.

So according to the Gita, holiness is to have attained the true purpose of human life, which is to realize one’s own divinity, have divine qualities and remain established in spiritual wisdom.

The divine qualities prescribed in the Gita are: be pure and self-controlled, take joy in renunciation, realize the truths of the scriptures, do not harm any living being and be compassionate. The undesirable qualities are arrogance, anger, conceit, cruelty, hypocrisy and ignorance. These are deterrents to spiritual life.

So, when one recognizes the universality of the divine and sees the unity in all beings, then, as Swami Vivekananda has said, “… there will be no place for persecution or intolerance. Instead, the whole force of all religions will be centered in aiding humanity to realize its own true, divine nature.” Only then will being religious mean being holy.

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