Two seasons are particularly detrimental to my housecleaning: essay season and report card season. My justification for the neglect is that the house does not look dirty; therefore, the pressures of marking and reporting easily become the priority. Two fairly tidy people who actually pick up after themselves, remove their shoes at the door, and wipe the toothpaste out of the sink don’t really leave the house in an unacceptable state of cleanliness. Or so it seems. A post-essay season proper clean reveals otherwise; it is quite astounding what goes unnoticed when one is deliberately ignoring it. What is even more amazing is that I confidently called it clean. All this to preface some ponderings on how deceived we can be about our own state of cleanliness before God.
Nowhere in the Bible is the word clean found more often than in the books of the law – Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. God lays out specific commands regarding what is clean and unclean, and perhaps more importantly, how to become clean once defiled by the unclean. The rules and regulations are exacting, but purposeful…”This is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, so that you can distinguish between the holy and the common, between the clean and the unclean” (Lev. 10:9b-10) Today’s educational world would applaud God’s pedagogy – providing exemplars of clean and unclean gives mankind the means to clearly understand God’s holy purposes. But we distort things: like the Pharisees we clean the outside of the dish, but leave the filth and scum that coats the inside; we cleverly use flooring of appropriate mottling and colouring so that dirt is “hidden” from cursory glances; unsightly mess is tucked away behind doors, under beds, beneath rugs; unpleasant orders are masked by fruity air fresheners. We become masters at appearing clean – we know the right words to use, which actions to make public and which to hide, which facemask to put forward with any particular group. We know, but often do not live the knowledge that through Christ we have been cleansed, washed by His blood, renewed in our spirits, sanctified and made whole. We overlook the absolute distinctions between the holy and the common, the clean and the unclean – preferring to redefine the boundaries of these polar opposites. How we deceive ourselves. We expend vast amounts of energy making ourselves appear clean when all we need to do is humble ourselves before the only One who has the power to cleanse us from sin and bestow undeserved righteousness. We muddle and muddy the distinctions God ordained so that we often don’t even know what a clean-lived life is. Through years of practiced neglect, we don’t even recognize the dirt’s existence.
In large houses, Paul comments in his letter to Timothy, there were articles for both holy and common use; Paul uses the imagery of these gold, silver, wood, and clay pots to remind us that we, too, are vessels called for a “special purpose, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.” (2 Tim. 2:21) Cleanliness of heart is the necessary condition. By God’s amazing grace I have been made clean, but every day dust, filth, and mud cling to my spirit. Like David when faced with his own deeply soiled soul, my daily prayer needs be create in me a clean heart, O God…and renew a right spirit within me. May I never settle for anything less than God’s definition of clean.