I visited the home of friends who had recently lost an elderly loved one. I assisted them in cleaning up the rooms where the loved one lived. When I felt chilled by the cool afternoon air I asked why so many windows and doors were open. The lady of the house advised me she wanted to get rid of the ‘old man’ smell in the place. That surprised me, because I couldn’t smell anything.
I have often noted that my wife is more sensitive to odours than I am, but I can sniff things out pretty well too.
That situation reminded me of a chap I tried to help many years ago. He lived alone and his smell was pretty strong. The smell permeated his clothes and so he just lived with the hermit smell all the time. He didn’t know he smelled, but I suggested he needed to use a deodorant, and gave him peppermint oil to use to neutralise his odour.
He never did anything about his odour for the few years I had contact with him. To this day he probably doesn’t realise just how potent his pong was.
Being ignorant of something doesn’t change reality. If you have no idea of your smell it doesn’t mean you don’t smell. In many areas of our life we need those around us, those who care about us, and God Himself, to make us aware of things we haven’t recognised.
One really critical area that most of us don’t ‘smell’ is the moral quality of the world around us. When a whole culture ‘smells’ of a particular moral quality that quality becomes normal and no one is conscious of it.
On my first trip to India the team leader told me I would smell Chennai (formerly Madras) before we landed. I did. The air was laden with a cocktail of sewer, smoke, smog and grime. Once immersed in that smell you just have to get used to it. You can’t get away from it so you tend to turn off to it. But the smell is there, nonetheless.
God is attentive to the moral smell of people and places even when we can’t smell anything. Because God is a moral God and we are His creation we exist in a moral universe. Everything that is morally wrong is tainted and stinky to God.
We can become quite accustomed to things, dulling our senses, or never sensing what is around us. But God, Who is perfect and holy, doesn’t adjust Himself to immoral things.
Because God is perfect there are things that we as humans might accept that God cannot accept. He smells stinky things we don’t even notice.
When God judged the seven Canaanite nations and sent Israel to destroy them it was not just to give that land to Israel, but to bring judgement on a people who stank in God’s nostrils. These nations did a host of things that were wicked.
“It is not by your righteousness or uprightness of heart that you are going in to possess their land, but it is because of their wickedness that the LORD your God will drive out these nations before you, to keep the promise He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” Deuteronomy 9:5
“When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominable practices of those nations. There is not to be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord. And because of these abominations the Lord your God is driving them out before you.” Deuteronomy 18:9-12
Many people today think nothing of living for material goals, or practicing Eastern religions through meditation and martial arts, or sexual intimacy outside heterosexual marriage, or sidelining God in their life and decisions, or treating the Bible with contempt.
Rebellion, independence, self-will, perversion, greed and lust, godlessness, abuse, selfishness and a host of other unholy things are just the normal way of life for many in today’s culture.
So, guess how we might smell to God.
To give you a sense for the fineness of God’s sensitivity let me refer, discreetly, to the matter of sexual intimacy in marriage. We know that it is God’s order and God’s creation. We are told that such intimacy is ‘undefiled’.
“Marriage is honourable in all, and the marriage bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge.” Hebrews 13:4
Yet when God was going to meet with the Israelites God required that the people abstain from normal marital intimacy for three days before God came to them.
“When Moses came down from the mountain to the people, he consecrated them, and they washed their clothes. Then he said to the people, Prepare yourselves for the third day. Abstain from sexual relations.” Exodus 19:14,15
There is nothing immoral about sexual relations in marriage, yet God, preparing the people for Him coming to them, required an even higher standard of cleanness, that they had not had sexual intimacy.
The same standard came up when David asked for holy bread to feed to the men who were with him.
“The priest answered David, I have no common bread on hand, but there is holy bread which your young men can have if they have kept themselves from women.” 1Samuel 21:4
I don’t know what your ideas of holiness are, but this simple example shows that God grades things at a much higher standard than any church I know. So it’s quite likely that you and I and those around us have an unholy smell about us that we don’t recognise.
That’s not a cue for us to become legalistic and buried in holiness rituals, but it is a prompt for us to recognise that we are unclean people living among a generation of unclean people.
“I said, Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” Isaiah 6:5
Our culture stands in a very precarious place due to the stink and the cry of the land rising to God. Our Christian heritage has been crushed and crumbled over recent decades and things that are offensive to God have become popular things to support. Those who stand up for God are attacked.
Before you get all worked up about what is happening in the wider community, take a moment to stop and ask yourself What’s Your Smell?