Sunday, January 15, 2006

Holiness & Piety
Alex posted his agreement with a book he's reading, the thesis of which is: "What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?" Actually, he agreed with the thesis on the condition that it not be limited to marriage, but expanded to "What if God designed X to make us holy more than to make us happy?"

I agreed with Alex, on the condition that we agree that "holiness" means more than "piety." He asked me to explain what I meant by this. So here we are.

First, though, it's important to state that some words are more useful than others. That is, we can use the word "polygon" to describe every basic shape, but it's so much more helpful to say, "square," when trying to differentiate between a square and a triangle. While we pedants might work too hard at this, the joy of language is to find better and better words to communicate with each other. And the joy of theology is finding better and better ways of thinking and talking about God and his work in us. So while we could very easily sit on the "polygon" of theology, "Jesus is Lord," we work to find better and better ways of talking about that. We find ways to talk about where he is Lord, how he is Lord, when he is Lord, those over whom he is Lord, etc.

So now that I've justified the hair I'm about to split . . .

I think that Piety is an action oriented word. (Marshall beat me to the punch here.) Pious actions are a part of a Holy life, but not the sum of a Holy life. I'm also going to agree with Marshall that our Holiness is ultimately, fundamentally, and in the most real way found only in Jesus Christ. When we are in Christ, we are Holy. Our ongoing life, then, is one of living in the reality that we are now "in Christ." So we are pious, and do right action, because we are in Christ, and he does right action.

My concern that Piety <> (does not equal) Holiness will be evident when we substitute my definition of piety into the thesis of the book: "What if God designed X to make us [do right actions] more than to make us happy?" Jesus' interactions with the Pharisees clearly indicate that he was not nearly as concerned as them about doing the right actions. The Pharisees were always trying to trick Jesus into doing the wrong action: give money to Caesar, heal on the Sabbath (whoops! did that one!), eat with Sinners (whoops! did that one too!).

But I do think that "God designed X to make us holy more than to make us happy," if by that we mean, "God designed X to make us [open our eyes to the reality of our need for and life in Christ] more than to make us happy."

There is another tricky thing in this statement that doesn't have to do with Piety & Holiness, but is related to this talk of happiness. There is a sense in which God is interested in our happiness, which is captured in the Biblical language of Joy in the Lord. I think that what we're really talking about when we start saying, "God isn't interested in your happiness," is that, "God isn't interested in your Short Term Happiness if it's going to get in the way of your growth in the Lord Jesus, which will bring you Everlasting Joy (which includes happiness)." Frankly, I think that the Lord is quite fine with, and even gladly blesses us with Short Term Happiness so long as it isn't going to get in the way of our growth in the Lord Jesus.

It's unfortunate when we say things like "God isn't interested in your happiness," (which is true in a limited sense) because for those who don't know about those limitations, this God doesn't sound like someone they would like to know.

Speaking of Joy, well entrenched Stokes Kith, Marshall Benbow, entered the blogosphere with Joy In The Margins. He blogs about his life of college & urban ministry, as well as UNC Basketball (how 'bout them 'Canes?), and other things. Fair warning: I suspect that NASCAR will come up at some point over there. A link to this esteemed blog can be found in the KithRoll in the sidebar.

UPDATE: Kellsey pointed out to me, verbally here in the non-virtual world (imagine that!), that "holiness" has an actual definition: "set apart." (I knew that!) And this is not exactly the same as my "open our eyes to the reality of our need for and life in Christ." She's right, of course. But there is connective tissue between these two things. It is this: we are "set apart" because we are "in Christ." We share in Christ's holiness, because of this in-ness. For this reason, I think that it's fair to talk about "holiness" as "being alive in Christ," because by being alive in Christ we share in his holiness. But I really didn't say that in the post, so there it is. This is a problem I have: I'm working through an argument and skip salient points because they're so firmly embedded in my head that I don't even notice that they're a key dot in my connect-the-dots exercise. Kellsey is good at graciously helping me see that I've skipped those dots.

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