Smells. Don’t you just love them? There is nothing like the freshness of the smell in the air after a significant spring rain, or the captivating aroma of a delicious apple pie baking in the oven, or the exhilarating fragrance of the perfume of the one you love.
But there are some aromas that are better described using the term “odors.” The other morning I awoke to one such smell. It seems that our delightful pooch had discovered an unwelcome creature in a corner of the yard. That encounter resulted in the creature spraying her with what resulted in a malodorous “odor” filling not only the air, but everywhere where our dog went. At 5:30 in the morning, I was making a trip to the store to purchase whatever I could find to help with the deodorizing process.
This latest aromatic experience immediately brought to mind a similar experience years ago with a different dog (Don’t they ever learn?). My family was getting ready to move to a new city halfway across the country. We had loaded the moving van and all our possession were ready to go. The night before we were to leave, our dog decided to explore the terrain underneath the shed in our back yard. There she encountered one of the variety of unwelcome creatures who demonstrate their objections to such encounters with an olfactory barrage of significant smells.
Now, mind you, we were preparing to drive in a vehicle cooped up with our three children and our dog more than 1,500 miles across the country the very next day. So that evening, we frantically bought every jar of tomato juice we could find and gave the dog several baths in the stuff, to the end that the smell had somewhat dissipated, but the aroma was going to move with us across the country.
Even this morning, our dog still retains a slight “aroma” of the encounter. Will it ever wear off?
When one reads the Scriptures, there seems to be several of the senses which are easily overlooked or discounted. The sense of time is one of them. Often, the Scriptures will read something like, “And when they had completed the work which the Lord had given them…” or “When they had finished their sacrifices…” – these references give us no sense of how long those tasks may have taken to complete. It is therefore quite easy to misunderstand the effort that such endeavors required, and to think of them as occurring in a more spontaneous or instantaneous way.
The other sense which is very difficult to obtain from reading the Scriptures is the sense of smell. Without actually experiencing such events we have no idea of what the aroma was like of the priests and Levites offering sacrifices at the temple, for example, Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement, actually was.
When I read in the Scriptures that the Lord is pleased with our sacrifices of praise, of the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name (Check out Hebrews 13:15-16), I cannot help but think about the smells associated with those sacrifices. And I wonder about the significance of those aromas. When we approach our God, does He wish that we were not infected with such odors as those we pick up from our encounters with the world in which we live? Is there some sort of spiritual deodorant which we can put on so that we are more sweet-smelling in His presence?
The fact is that God is indeed pleased when we praise Him instead of complain about Him. I have been amazed at the number of people I encounter who do not want to have any relationship with God, even to the point of denying His very existence. But when you ask them why, they say, “What has He done for me?” or they point to bad experiences they have had and ask why God would allow them to go through those. These individuals have never done anything except complain about how God (whose existence they claim not to believe) has given them the short end of the stick. I wonder what would happen if they started to praise His name, or simply acknowledge His existence, rather than complain about His influence (or lack of it) on their lives.
The Apostle Paul invited the Christ-followers in the city of Philippi to “Do all things without grumbling or disputing.” but rather to “shine as lights in the world” through their praise to God and rejoicing in Him. Thomas Merton put it this way: “It is not that someone else is preventing you from living happily; you yourself do not know what you want. Rather than admit this [and ask for God’s help], you pretend that someone else is keeping you from exercising your liberty. Who is this? It is you yourself?”
Isn’t it always easier to blame the skunks of the world when we come up smelling skunky?
Chuck Tabor is a religion columnist for The Times-Gazette. He also serves as pastor of Port William UMC.