I blame Douglas Adams for the failure of the fourth Indiana Jones movie. Indiana John and the Crystal Skull, would have just been another action movie with impressive set pieces and a rather regrettable episode about a refrigerator. It would have quickly faded from our minds without the ridiculous ending. That ending posited that aliens from outside our universe came to the planet to originate life. This idea appears in Douglas Adams' The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. There pan-dimensional beings, manifested in our universe as mice, created earth and populated it to discover the ultimate question to life, the universe, and everything. They needed the question, because they had already calculated the answer to be 42.
Interestingly, before Douglas Adams, a similar idea was proposed, not by a novelist, but by a scientist. Francis Crick, one of the co-discoverers of the double-helix model of the DNA molecule, theorized that aliens has deposited life on this planet. Assuming that life on this planet could not have statistically reached its current stage by evolutionary processes in the estimated current age of the universe, something else had to give evolution a push. This push he called, directed panspermia. (Crick, Francis (1981). Life itself: its origin and nature. New York: Simon and Schuster.) He later distanced himself from this idea, claiming to have underestimated the speed of evolutionary processes. The damage was already done, and we got the fourth Indy movie.
I'm not sure that all this is connected directly, but the similarities warrant note. We can conclude that these ideas tap into a human interest and often fascination with things different from humanity. We may call them "other" or "alien," but this interest reflects a misdirected desire for God. Frank Spotnitz revealed this truth in an interview produced for the 6th season of The X-Files for which he wrote and produced. He stated that the search for aliens and the search for God are similar in the questions asked and meaning sought.
Man wants to know something other than himself. But that also is what make him afraid of that which is not him. Holiness both attracts and repels us. It is holiness that makes God ultimately different than us.
What is holiness? God used a number of words in Scripture to communicate the concept we interpret as holiness. In the Old Testament, we find the Hebrew word Qadosh. This word appears more often to express the idea of holiness. This word emphasizes the core reality of holiness, separateness. A thing declared holy is separated from the ordinary and common. It is consecrated to an uncommon purpose.
This idea shows up also in the Greek word (hagios) used in the New Testament for "holy" as well. It means "holy," "set apart," or "sacred." Some have described the idea of "holy" in terms of "wholly other." When used of God, it means something completely different from anything else in existence.
The holiness of God most remembered appears in the Old Testament in Isaiah 6. There, the prophet, in the wake of the death of the king, sees a vision of the glory of the Lord in the temple. There he hears the declaration of the angels before the Lord. "Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory." (Ft on "glory")
((The word for "glory" is similar to the concept of "holiness." That word in Hebrew is "caved." Cavod comes from a root meaning heavy. It conveys the weightiness of the one described. Gold, one of the most precious metals there is, is also one of the heaviest. This word does not mean physical weight so much as a metaphor for greatness. In this sense, holiness is separateness from the common which glory is the same quality revealed in that which is common.))
The declaration of the angels with its repeated use of the term "holy" expresses the superlative degree. The Lord of hosts, Yahweh who leads the angelic armies, is the holiest of all. His greatness fills the earth.
If our idea of holiness, "wholly other," is accurate, why can God demand of us holiness? Holiness is not a mere ontological concept of a being different than every other being. It also implies a moral difference. It assumes the common morality being corrupted by sin and the morality God requires as wholly other than the common. In Luke, Jesus addresses the Pharisees with these words. "Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God." The values of men are abomination to God. The ethics of God are totally different from the common ethics of men.
God requires of us to live lives that are holy. "Sanctify yourselves therefore, and be ye holy: for I am the LORD your God." (Lev.20:7) "But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy." (I Peter 1:15-16) We are to live different than those who are around us.
This does not mean that we are to assume that we simply invert the morality of the world. That would be to use the world as our standard. Instead, God is our standard and the Bible our guide to live like the Lord. We use scripture to determine what we ought to do, how we ought to live in the world. Nevertheless, Jesus wants His disciples to understand that the way they are to live will frequently reverse the values the world esteems.
Consider these word from the hymn "Father, I Know That All My Life." "I would not have the restless will that hurries to and fro, seeking for some great thing to do, or secret thing to know....content to fill a little space, if thou be glorified." These ideas are the inverse of the values of the world that clamor for greatness, selfish ambition, and the fight for first place. That does not mean that Christians have no ambition. It means that our ambition focuses on the glory of God rather than self.
In terms of other elements of morality, the world often object to the morality which the Lord requires of us. The Screwtape Letters, written by C.S.Lewis gave us a glimpse into the methods of the world, the flesh, and especially the devils in their corrupting work. In that book, he mentions that the forces of evil have done good work twisting a word to suit their purposes. The world will label as "puritanical" any moral judgment opposed to their own. It is "puritanical" to claim an objective standard of right and wrong. It is "puritanical" call pleasure "sin." It is "puritanical" not to participate in their parties and games. The opposition we face does not invalidate the reality of holiness.
For the purposes of our study, holiness reminds us that we cannot allow the morality of the world to influence our understanding of how to live Christian in an unchristian world. The Bible will tell us to do things the world finds abominable. They may hate us when we tell them that what they love is sin. The may accuse us of "puritanism", but those accusations must not deter us from applying the Bible to life.