The Humanity of Holiness
Every now and then, we have an exchange with a friend that never quite leaves us. We can remember, even years later, exactly what was said, how we felt, and what was revealed during the conversation. I had one of those unforgettable conversations nine years ago. In the days after I became a missionary, I sat down to coffee with a dear friend. We caught each other up on the summer’s events, and I casually made a joke about some of the quirks I had experienced during my five week training. Quick-witted and honest, she immediately responded, “It’s good to see that you didn’t lose your personality.” Ouch. I smiled, made another joke, and told her that, despite popular opinion, my new found pursuit of holiness did not turn me into a robot or wipe away my personality. On the contrary, I felt more alive than maybe ever before.
I never forgot that conversation because I was struck by how easily my friend stated a powerful but subtle lie that most of us believe deep in our hearts. We can’t be fiercely holy and fully human at the same time.
Have you ever made this assumption in your own life? Maybe you have sensed that God is calling you to a deeper commitment to Him, but you are afraid that if you go all in you will become the neighborhood weirdo. Or, maybe you are trying to become exactly who God wants you to be only to find that one human moment leaves you feeling dejected as your halo goes crooked and the mess behind your buttoned-up persona reveals itself. We tend to think holiness will make us bland or that our human moments are sinful simply because they are human. Scripture reveals to us a different story.
A few weeks ago, I read through the story of Joseph in the Old Testament as I prepared for our weekly Instagram Live discussion on our Bible study, Beholding His Glory. Reading this story with fresh eyes, I was impacted by the humanity of Joseph’s holiness. Joseph was the favorite son of Jacob, a patriarch of Judaism. He had 11 brothers who often watched their father give Joseph special treatment. Eventually, their jealousy turned into scheming, and they sold Joseph into slavery. Joseph went through many trials, twists, and turns, but God’s favor prevailed. He eventually found favor with the pharaoh who appointed him as second-in-command over all of Egypt. When a seven-year famine came upon the land, it was Joseph who led the Egyptians through it.
During the second year of the famine, Jacob sent 10 of Joseph’s brothers to Egypt to buy grain. Joseph immediately recognized them, but they didn’t recognize him. On the third day of their visit, he heard his brother Rueben scolding the others for what they had done to Joseph. Unable to take it, Joseph had to walk away so that he could weep. The same thing happened when Joseph beheld his only blood brother, Benjamin, who made the trip. Again, overcome with emotion, he ran away to weep. Finally, no longer able to hide his identity, he melted into a mess.
Genesis 45:1-6 says, “Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and he cried out, ‘Have everyone leave my presence!’ So there was no one with Joseph when he made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard him, and Pharaoh’s household heard about it.”
Joseph revealed himself to his brothers and, in an act of pure heroism, forgave them for everything that they had done. He told them that what they used for evil, God used for good, and they should not be angry with themselves.
Friends, most of us would finish reading this story with our mouths on the floor. What kind of man grants total and complete forgiveness to the family members that sold him into slavery? I have trouble forgiving the strangers who cut me off in traffic. This kind of forgiveness takes nothing short of a miracle of the heart, a level of sanctity that can only come from years of walking with God, trusting Him, and allowing His transformation.
Can you imagine the emotion that must have run through Joseph when he saw his brothers all of those years later? All of the memories of his childhood, the days spent with his father, the mistreatment by his brothers, and the details of the journey they sent him on must have been too much to bear. He didn’t stuff those incredibly human feelings away to play stoic saint or to pretend that everything was fine. He wept three times. The last time, he wept so loudly that the entire royal palace heard about it. It may have been embarrassing, but it wasn’t sinful. Joseph’s life is a challenge to all of us, and yet it also allows us to breathe a sigh of relief. Joseph did not have to deny his humanity to reach the heights of holiness and neither do you.
As we continue through the journey of this year, I wonder how you are treating yourself. Is God calling you to a deeper level of holiness to which you are afraid to say yes? Be not afraid. God will not wipe away your personality. He will wipe away your sin so that the very best of your personality can shine forth.
Are you struggling to become holy in this time of uncertainty, or putting unnecessary pressure on yourself to become something more than what God is requiring? Are you face to face with your humanity as you figure out what the next few months will look like for you and those you love? Be patient with yourself. Remember that every saint who came before you was as human as you are. Remember that you have a Savior who was human in every way. Phillipians 4:15 tells us that Jesus himself was able to sympathize with our weakness. He was tempted in every way yet did not sin. With your eyes on Jesus, look to the example of Joseph and every saint who, in loving God, became more human and less sinful. St. Iraneaus said, “The glory of God is man fully alive.” With this in mind, delight in your humanity as He continues to make you holy.