Today, in this effort to read some of the classic works of the Christian faith, we come to chapter three of R.C. Sproul’s The Holiness of God. Sproul introduces the chapter this way: “Here we are, already in the third chapter of this book, and I still have not defined what it means to be holy.” So in this week’s reading he tries to move us toward a definition.
But that is not an easy task. In fact, he says:
I wish I could postpone the task even further. The difficulties involved in defining holiness are vast. There is so much to holiness, and it is so foreign to us that the task seems almost impossible. In a very real sense, the word holy is a foreign word. But even when we run up against foreign words, we hope that a foreign language dictionary can rescue us by providing a clear translation. The problem we face, however, is that the word holy is foreign to all languages. No dictionary is adequate to the task.
One of the difficulties is that the word holy is used in different ways throughout Scripture. At times it points toward pure, at other times it points toward separate and at other times it points toward transcendent. “When the Bible calls God holy, it means primarily that God is transcendentally separate. He is so far above and beyond us that He seems almost totally foreign to us. To be holy is to be ‘other,’ to be different in a special way.” All of which is to say that there is a mystery to holiness. It is so foreign to us that we cannot fully understand it. We can see glimpses of it, but we cannot wrap our minds around it.
I could not adequately summarize all Sproul says about the deeper meanings of the word, so I will leave you to read that on your own. And seriously, if you aren’t reading the book with us, you should at least pick it up and read it on your own.