I got mad at Kay, my wife, not too long ago because she killed a little gecko that wandered into our bathroom. I just don’t like to kill things. I like to fish but I throw them all back. I’d rather shoo a bug outside than smash it. It always seems so unnecessary to kill.
So the images in Leviticus haunt me. I can’t imagine standing in the court of the tabernacle with the priest, looking into the big, brown, helpless eyes of a lamb, and explaining to the priest why I need to kill it. Not just that I’m going to kill it but that I need to kill it. It is my fault. Something I did or didn’t do transgressed the Law and meant that I needed to go grab this innocent creature and drag it down here and butcher it. I don’t know what would be worse, having to bring the poor lamb to the altar or having to explain why to the priest.
That’s not true. I do know what’s worse. Having to explain it is always worse. The bottom line is I would rather pay the penalty than admit to the crime. Most of the time confessing seems even more unnecessary than killing, so I don’t.
The vast majority of the time I whisper in my prayers about the sins I can recall, but I don’t tell anybody else. But when I consider the interaction between the lamb killer and the priest it confronts me with what I know is true – I would be much more aware of my sinfulness, much more convicted about its devastating effects on my home, my job, my friends, my kids, my faith, and I think much more inclined to transformation – if I submitted to a regular, structured time of publically confessing my sin to another human being.
I have all the excuses arrayed. Don’t know who I can trust; don’t know anyone who really wants to hear it; don’t need another appointment on my calendar; don’t really want to be some anal retentive church guy who goes around all puckered up because he’s afraid he’ll do something he’ll have to own up to later.
In his book “Your God is Too Safe” Mark Buchanan explains the grace God infused in the interaction between the lamb killer and the priest, “…in the simplest possible terms: Love can’t cover over the sins we cover up.” I would expand on his observation to include the sins we don’t notice and the sins we rationalize as trivial and the sins we openly enjoy. That is why confession always preceded sacrifice. Love can’t cover over the sins we cover up.
Killing the lamb makes possible atonement for the sin. Confession makes possible the killing of the sin.
I confess, I need to confess.
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
I’ve been reading Leviticus. In Leviticus Holy God is present. Not present is some vague, purely spiritual way but tangibly present among his people such that the implications of his holiness overwhelmed every aspect of everything they did. The continual killing of animals and the constant smell of burning carcasses and drying blood made unmistakable proclamation of immediate Holy Presence.
Leviticus is intense; worship was exact and invigorating and terrifying, and I wonder if not thoroughly satisfying. Even the most mundane parts of living had significance – what you ate, what you said, what you touched, whether you kept a promise, got sick or got better, made love to your wife, had a good season at work - everything mattered with unrelenting intensity because there was no mystery, no grey area, Holy God was present. People were either clean or unclean. The “clean” could live close to and within the boundaries of the Holy Presence and the “unclean” were forced to stay away, outside the camp. Every action in every life carried some immediate consequence because every action was exposed to the Holy Presence that occupied the tent and overwhelmed the people.
Reading Leviticus makes me feel like I hear Jesus talking about a used cup full of coagulated crud while I’m still holding the towel I used to wipe off the outside. I feel exposed.
Leviticus gives me a sour sensation in my belly, that emotional nausea you get when you glimpse with clarity the real you; because I am forced to admit I invest too much time working at staying unaware of my true character because I choose to be safely unaware of the immediate presence of the most Holy God.
Leviticus makes me wonder if I have misappropriated the grace of Jesus. Was the Old Covenant replaced with a new one so that the Holy Presence of God would be mitigated or removed altogether? No, it wasn’t.
Freedom from ritual does not mean freedom from significance – at least it shouldn’t. So, I fear there is something too different about my faith versus the people living around the tabernacle; something too informal, too tolerant, too lazy, too unafraid. I am convicted about having allowed my world to become so secular that I numb myself to what should be obvious consequences of the sin I commit and drown out the messages even infirmities in my body try to send my soul.
So I’m here, after much hesitation, in the blogosphere because I want to confess that I want to clean out the rest of the cup. I want to smell the blood and the rising smoke so my gratitude for the effects of grace will sting in my eyes and bloody my hands with obedience. I want to feel the isolation and defeat and terror of my sin and not the numbness of indifference. And, I want the church to come with me because I want us to be the church. We will powerfully and supernaturally mediate the presence of God in this world when we, the church, live fully exposed to and constantly aware of the Holy Presence.