"Even though the seeker has sinned, or is about to sin, or even engages on sinful activity on a regular basis, still God does not go away. God does not abandon one to sin, but stands present with seekers even when they are not directed toward God. Thus God is present even at seeker's sinning. Seekers' greatest hope is that through the awareness of the presence of God, even when doing things that most offend God's ways, they may gradually separate themselves from sin and come more fully to the knowledge of the presence of God. It becomes difficult to continue to sin when the mind focuses on the reality of the presence of God. It is difficult to continue sinning if God is pesent, active, and engaged with seekers even when they seem most distant from God. This is the sanctification that cleanses from the effects of sinful actions."
--Richard Valantasis, "Centuries of Holiness: Ancient Spirituality Refracted for a Postmodern Age"
One of the definitions in the dictionary of the word "sanctification" is "the act of making something holy." But here's a radical thought--what if all things are already holy, and it is our recognition or perception of their holiness that is actually the thing that changes?
I took a photo of the pine tree I planted near my driveway the year I first moved to my house, 2000. In a way, I considered it a "holy tree" from the get-go: It was grown from a seed that came from Augusta National Golf Course. I had a friend who attended the Masters, and brought it back to me. This friend, over the years, has brought me other "earthy bits and pieces from famous golf courses"--among them, a little container of sand from the Hell Bunker at St. Andrews.
But as I have been touting the "greening of spring" in NE Missouri this time of year, I was reminded of something about my tree. The last few days, as I have been noticing more and more things were turning green, I never bothered to remember that this tree is green all year long.
In fact, I never think much at all of its "evergreen-ness" unless something calls attention to it, like snow creating intricate patterns on the tree. But as the rest of my world around me turns brown for the slumber of winter, it remains green. I never notice it "turning green" because it IS green, and I don't appreciate its green-ness in the same way I do the things that turn brown and re-emerge into green-ness.
Maybe that is how it is with sanctification.
We think of the act of our sinning as "profaning things"--profaning God, profaning others, profaning ourselves--but really, that implies a separation from God. The old saw we use to define sin is "separation from God." But we are created beings. We're taught in Genesis that God's creation is holy. We're taught that it's good. So I'm supposed to believe that God takes a powder when I'm sinning? Or I temporarily left the fold? I've never bought that one.
I have this notion that, instead, what has happened is I have simply failed to notice my always green tree in the middle of my own spiritually dormant brown patch.
Just because I didn't notice the tree in the driveway, that doesn't mean my green tree with the ramrod-straight trunk yanked itself out by the roots. Can I trust God to be rooted at least as well as my tree? I would hope to think so.
What I am realizing is that starting to think this way changes the playing field. It means that the things we ritually do in forms of Christianity where we "sanctify" things (e.g., the priest making the sign of the Cross over the elements) do not, in and of themselves, sanctify things; these acts merely call attention to the sanctification that is already there. It means priests don't have the power to do magical things, but it does mean that they are ordained to obedience in calling attention to these things.
It also reveals uncomfortable propositions. If I want to believe God sees me as "worthy of sanctification" even when I sin, it means I have to extend the same courtesy to Adolf Hitler and Genghis Khan. That's pretty uncomfortable. But if, conversely, I truly do believe "all fall short of the Glory of God," then it means I have to give up the business of comparison. I think we have a habit of rationalizing our "shortness" through comparison. "Yeah, I'm a sinner, but I'm not as big a sinner as that person over there!"
This is where I find the people dissing Rob Bell's book, "Love wins," annoying. Some of them are quick to point out that's it is (in their view) unbiblical to not believe in eternal punishment. But if they believe we all fall short of God's glory, then there is nothing we can do via human action to change that--not even "confessing with our mouth that Jesus is the Christ." (when we back up and read Romans 10:10 in context, we discover Paul is talking more or less in general terms about Israel.) Some people like to use the fear buzz word of creeping "universalism" to steer people away from these thoughts, but frankly, I think pondering the reality that we are all sanctified beings is more fear-inducing!
The problem, of course, is that it is human nature to want people who we judge as "bad," "get what's coming to them." The truth seems to me that WE are the ones who want to put the bad people in "Hell." We're unable to wrap our brains around the notion that we could be sanctified beings who also may have to face a reckoning or accounting for some of our acts. Honestly, I have plenty of things I can look back and know I have done wrong. My shame and guilt for many of them has already been revealed to me in this life.
But working with this notion that all are sanctified already, could actually help the evangelical Christians and the Christians of a more fixed liturgical style make peace with each other. It takes away the magical acts and preserves the mystery, IMO. I think if one can get past the notion one is thinking "heresy" about it, there's a lot to help us grow in it.
This notion, at least for me, does not absolve me from working to build God's kingdom on earth and with each other. Instead, it forces me to think about something other than "magical acts" as what God demands of our work in the Kingdom. It tells me to stop comparing my salvation to others and get to work being grateful for my own, and showing that gratitude in my actions and attitudes everywhere I go.
I keep thinking about one of the most important definitions of "codependency." Codependents spend too much time focusing on how others feel. They spend too much time justifying their goodness in the light of other people's behavior. I get the feeling that the most important shift we can all make to be citizens of God's kingdom on earth is to focus on our own relationship with God. In other words, I need to focus on how I feel about God, rather than how God feels about me. As our own sanctification starts to show, let others "come and see" of their own accord, and trust to God what we can't control. I am starting to learn that if I focus on God's will in the here and now, I can find the "hereafter" right with me in the "here and now," and I can more easily trust that the "hereafter" will take care of itself.