Cleanliness is truly next to godliness. If you have ever taken a creative writing class, you know I have completely failed the first day’s lesson: avoid overused sayings like the plague (Trite) because the road to hell is paved with them (Trite). Yet that first sentence captures a fascination for people. We like to be clean.
I know, it blows your mind. You should be a psychologist, John.
Hear me out: I haven’t lost my mind to Hebrew grammar yet. We feel gross without our disinfectant wipes; we shower, we scrubbed, and we swab our bodies to lull us into security. There is something therapeutic to cleanliness, so much so that our culture thrives on hygiene. But I am no philosopher of hygiene. In fact, I recently used a Lazy Boy, flipped on its side, as a table. If you ever came to me for advice, you come to a man who is more like a child, playing in the mud.
I think our compulsion for cleanliness speaks to a deeper problem in us. We have something rotting away inside us, and though we can look for all the Balms of Gilead in the world, no shower can clean us from what is inside. If you didn’t shower, people probably would not hang around you; just imagine if they saw your own heart.
Then you come to David, the greatest king of ancient Israel. This was the king that every other king would be compared. He was the homeschoolers of homeschoolers; the last thing you imagine is this mighty man to fail. Well, sorry to shatter your world:
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin! (Psalm 51:1-2).
Spoiler alert: that’s David, and this amazing king screwed up. David killed a man in order to steal that man’s wife, Bathsheba, and it took the prophet Nathan to call out David for his hypocrisy. But David lost more than just family—he lost his child with Bathsheba because of this crime; David lost his false sense of cleanliness. How terrible it is to see for a just moment our own heart.
You need an extreme make over. God doesn’t delight in your sacrifices and burnt offerings (V.16). Your ritual cures cannot make you better, and despite your need to be clean, you are filthy on the inside. No matter how much you scrub and scrub and scrub and scrub, you will never clean a sinful heart.
Eugene Peterson’s The Message comments on Psalm 51: “Soak me in your laundry and I’ll come out clean, scrub me and I’ll have a snow-white life” (Psalm 51:7). Stop trying to wash the dirt off your life and cast yourself on the one who makes you clean. Through the death of the spotless Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, you can itch that scratch for cleanliness. You can stop your own ritual cleansings; they are nothing but snake oil. Instead, fall onto Christ who died to make you whole.
It’s time to give God your dirty laundry.