Last week Monday we established the point that God made us messy. We asked in exasperated curiosity “Why would God, make humans naturally messy and disgusting, and then consider them unclean and unacceptable in the Mosaic Law?” As an example we cited the foot-shuffling chapter of Leviticus 15 and its unblushing legislation on various bodily discharges. I preached that chapter recently and am still recovering.
Today we want to proffer a second point: God wants us clean.
Yes, God is the one who made us to need fixing up (since the Curse of Gen 3). But God also reserves the prerogative to call our natural state unclean and unacceptable.
First, lets establish that in the Mosaic Law being “unclean” in not always linked to sin.
For example, in Leviticus 12 women are considered unclean after giving birth, even though this is not at all sinful, and in fact called a blessing and reward by God. Mary even offered the cleansing sacrifice after delivering Jesus, who was neither conceived in sin, nor contained the original sin nature. Having babies is not wrong, it’s just ceremonially sullying.
It’s like when my mother used to ask my brother and I to work in the garden. We’d get our shirtless selves all sweaty and muddy while enthusiastically pulling weeds for hours. Then, as recompense we would be called in for a lavish lunch spread and ice cold lemonade. But before we were allowed to partake in the cornucopia of cold meats and cheeses, we had to take a shower and put on a shirt. Why? It wasn’t that Mom was angry or upset with us. She was, in fact, pleased (and surprised?) by our compliance, and she was offering us a reward. But she still had unyielding standards of cleanliness. No one is allowed at table without cleaning up and putting on a shirt.
It’s the same with ceremonial uncleanness in the Pentateuch. Being unclean means that you are not allowed in the corporate gathering to worship with God’s people. God was not angry with the unclean person who had inadvertently touched a corpse, for example. But God has standards. “Be holy for I am holy.” You need to go get “cleaned up” ceremonially before being allowed into the gathering of God’s people.
So, being considered unclean for a perfectly natural emission of bodily fluid, seems at first harsh; but it’s not. It has to do with God’s picturesque standards of spiritual hygiene.
Second, the polemic role of this legislation played is also significant. Pagan religions used sexual acts in their corporate worship service, making what should be private into something grotesquely public (what pornography does today). But in Leviticus 15 sexual activity would place a person in the category of being unclean and unacceptable, and was not allowed near the corporate worship service. But there is more to it than that.
The reason, I believe, God made us messy and then calls us unclean, is because He wants us to long to be fixed. He wants us to desire to be made perfect. He designed us to constantly be aware that our leaky bodies are broken, malfunctioning, marred by the Fall, even when they are in “perfect health.”
What we call perfect health simply means the bodily fluids are not escaping our bodies at an unusual rate. When nothing wet is embarrassingly darting out of our noses, oozing from our skins, or jail-breaking from other orifices without our sayso, that’s a good day for us. It’s only natural, but natural is not perfect.
Jesus displayed this understanding when He was being brutally tempted by Satan in the wilderness after a forty day fast. Satan tempted Him with the prospect of wheaty whole-grain carbohydrates–something His (very human) body would have been naturally craving. Jesus could have said, “Oh, it’s only natural, it’s not my fault, it’s my body’s.” But He didn’t. He understood that sometimes natural is still unacceptable to God. God has the right to declare natural bodily function to be wrong at certain times.
You can’t tell your teenage boy, “You have hormones and sexual desire, it’s only natural, so it’s ok to lust.” No, you have to tell him, “It’s only natural, but you need to fight it. God says it’s wrong until marriage.” The “God made me this way” defense is flimsy. And yet it is exceedingly popular today, especially among the homosexual community, angry people, the hypoglycemic (I get cranky when my blood sugar is low, so deal with it), some ladies at some times of the month, and alcoholics. But it doesn’t matter that it’s natural; God can still limit what responses He considers to be acceptable. He is the Potter, we are the clay.
So what do we do with all this? Thanks be to God that He made a way for us to be cleaned up. This hosing down was only temporarily in the Mosaic sacrificial system, but it served as a picture, a preview of forthcoming attractions. There will be a day of permanent perfection. But more on that next week Monday.
[Please note that Clint is still annoyingly unplugged from the Internet, on a missions trip. He’s not ignoring your comments, just busy
surviving enjoying foreign cuisine for the sake of the Gospel.]