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Saturday, 8 June 2019

From Which We Keep Silent...

Whilst sitting at Starbucks this morning with the Daily Mail national newspaper spread across the circular table in front of me, I became aware of the odour which began to fill the spacious coffee bar. The familiar smell of garlic bread. Some may consider the pong to be aromatic, however, this may not be agreed upon by anyone who gets caught in a conversation with the eater. Chances are that the latter's bad breath will bring on to the listener a fit of raucous coughing or a desire to regurgitate. Instead, the listener will just stand there, his stiff upper lip like a rod of iron, engaging in the talk without the slightest wince betrayed.   

Garlic Bread 

Perhaps this is why I never touch garlic. I can't stand the stuff! And that despite that this member of the Allium genus, which also includes onions, shallots, leeks, and chives, all have high nutritional benefits. In the Old Testament of the Bible, we can read about how the children of Israel, not long after their deliverance from Egypt under Moses' administration, were all crying out for the food they had back in Egypt, which included garlic (Numbers 11:5). 

If I were to be transported back in time to Egypt during the time of their enslavement of the Hebrews, I believe it would take quite a while for me to get accustomed to their smelly breath. And that applies whether I speak ancient Egyptian or Hebrew. I could be talking to a startlingly handsome Egyptian scholar or even a muscular warrior, or I could help lift a beautiful young maiden out of her morning bath in the Nile, but all would be startled at my wincing whenever I draw too close to them. To them, bad breath has become immune, they can't smell each other's rancidity, or if they can, then it's the accepted matter of life which has long lost any of its negative response.

Perhaps it's like entering a room for the first time which odour fills the air. It does not have to be a bad smell. Rather, it could be equally aromatic, the pungency of fresh flowers, perfume or even of spice, like the spicy aroma which was a delight within the narrow, traffic-free streets of Jerusalem Old City. Whenever I smell spice, my subconscious reaction is a memory of Jerusalem. All the time.

As I write this, the story of Joseph, the older of the two sons of Jacob and Rachel (the younger being Benjamin), comes to mind. This young Hebrew was hated by all ten of his older half-brothers because he was the father's favourite son. To show this, Jacob gave Joseph a multi-coloured garment as a symbol of his Dad's favour. As a result, the other brothers, in their jealous rage, eventually sold him as a slave to a passing camel train of Ishmaelites in the desert, who were heading for Egypt. After arrival in Egypt, Joseph was sold as a slave to Potiphar, a governor of Pharaoh's guards.

Even the narrator agrees that Joseph was a remarkably handsome man, a slave fit to be a prince. So much so that Potiphar's wife took a fancy to him and unsuccessfully tried to seduce him to sleep with her while her husband was away on duty. I can imagine the two being so close face-to-face. If garlic was a staple vegetable in Egypt, then the breath of both of them must have been foul, at least smelly to my standing. But this sort of natural shortcoming does not seem to come up in Scripture. It seems that what I perceive as foul breath, must have been so universal during Biblical times that no-one gave it a thought when writing Scripture.

With a possible exception of Job. In Job 19:17, this very ill Middle East nomad complained that his breath was so foul that even his wife felt repulsed and his servants kept their distance. Indeed, the stench filled the whole of his tent and anyone walking through its door would be instantly hit by the odour. At least I can be sure that the stench is not of garlic, but from an internal disease. The smell would have been different, although by eating garlic might have intensified the offending odour.

Going by my own experience in life, having foul breath is perceived as an abnormality here in modern Britain. Being aware of this is the reason I have a bottle of antiseptic mouthwash kept in our bathroom, which I use immediately after brushing my teeth. Foul breath often arises from bacteria thriving on the back of the tongue, therefore swilling the antiseptic inside the mouth over the back of the tongue without swallowing must be very helpful in preventing halitosis.

An incident took place during Spring Harvest in 1994. On stage at the theatre, Clive and Ruth Calver were delivering their scheduled seminary which touched on the frailty of the human body in our relationship with God. Within the talk, it was Ruth who said,
Even the Queen f...needs to go to the toilet.

Ruth bit her tongue in the nick of time, but we laughed, as already knowing what she really wanted to say. This was tied in the life of Jesus Christ and his apostles during his three years of ministry before the Cross, his need for the toilet which was specifically featured in the Spring Harvest Seminary guidebook. Did his breath ever smell? And his daily need to urinate and defecate, how did he go about all this? At least Moses gave instructions for everyone needing to poo to go outside the camp with a spade, dig a hole, have an easement, then turn and refill the hole. Modern science has proved the efficiency of such a primitive form of sanitation (Deuteronomy 23:12-14).

Most likely that was what Jesus and his group did, in fulfilment of the Law. Or maybe head for the nearest public convenience, if any existed in Israel during his time. But how did the patriarchs go about it? That is, those who lived before the Law was given? Going back to Joseph, Jacob's son: I can read of him as a remarkably handsome Prime Minister of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh himself, and with divine wisdom saved the houses of both the Egyptians and the Hebrews from the effects of a seven-year-long famine. We read of him throwing a banquet for all of his brothers, and particularly for his younger brother Benjamin, the only other son of his deceased mother.

And the British stiff upper lip Joseph certainly lacked! For we read of him weeping copiously in the arms of Benjamin, then again so loudly that it was heard by fellow Egyptian servants working nearby (Genesis 45:1-2). Yet we read nothing about whether his breath was rancid (with garlic as part of a staple Egyptian diet, this was quite likely) or nothing about where to urinate and defecate. It was as if the narrator was himself not interested and he wrote with full knowledge that none of his readers wished to know.  

I guess it has always been that way. We admire those who rose from rags to riches, our knees bend at the sight of a celebrity, whether a famous actor, a singer or band member or a prominent sportsman. Or marvel at a TV presenter or journalist, such as my own admiration of Brian Cox and Simon Reeve. And I guess there are many others who have reverential respect for those dressed in a suit and tie as they watch those well-educated commuters to the office. Then not to mention friends and family members, those closest and dearest to us. But I certainly don't think about their bathroom privacy. It is as if that side to their lives simply don't exist, or not wanting to exist, although I know full well otherwise in the back of my mind.

It's as if there is an element of shame about our bodies, that which can only be done in privacy. Then it must be because my body is sinful. That's why, as a believer, my soul and spirit will go to be with the Lord after death, but my body will go to the grave. I guess this same sense of shame, this embarrassment was what caused Adam and Eve to make aprons of fig leaves immediately after they realised what they had done, and just as I would not like anyone to walk into the bathroom while I'm in the act of defecation, so likewise, Adam and Eve dived behind a bush when they heard God walking through the garden towards them.

Therefore when Jesus died on the Cross to atone for my sins, his salvation comes in three stages: in the past from the moment of believing, Spirit - I am already saved; at present, the Soul, I am being saved, also known as sanctification, and in the future - the Body, I will be saved in the coming Resurrection. And so as such, Paul wrote to the church in Corinth after some doubts about the future Resurrection was going around that particular church. In reply, the apostle wrote about the present state of my body, and liken it to a seed awaiting sowing. Then from this seed, a glorious new body will "germinate" which will be eternal, perfect and fit for Heaven (1 Corinthians 15). We all shall be like the risen, glorified Jesus! Bad odours and bodily waste production will be no more forever!

In the meantime, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the body of every believer in Jesus Christ has made my mortal, shameful body into a temple of the living God, who first created it. Furthermore, Jesus promised that not only the body becomes the temple of the Holy Spirit, but both the Father and the Son will also find his home there (John 14:23). His condition of "loving me and obeying my teachings" is fulfilled the moment the sinner first believes, for from that moment he receives the imputed righteousness of Christ. That is, God the Father sees in exactly the way he sees his Son - in sinless perfection.

Therefore, according to God, he is not ashamed to call us his own! His love for us has overcome every source of shame or embarrassment and declared us as adopted members of his family, and we are already seated with him in the heavenly places. The time will come when all these unseemly things will pass away and we will shine like stars in the heavenly places, dwelling in mansions God has already prepared for our future occupancy (John 14:1-4, KJV). Heavenly mansions such may be, however, there will be rooms conspicuously missing: The bedroom - there will be no more need for bedtime sleep, the kitchen - although there will be food to eat, any form of cooking will no longer be necessary and there will be no need for the kitchen sink. And finally, the bathroom. That will no longer be necessary either, nor for the need for a shower unit or latrine, nor any plumbing for the sewer. All these things will be gone.

Meanwhile, my breath may or may not be rancid, I still require privacy for part of the day, even from my wife, and the need to bathe remains, but despite such imperfections, my body remains the temple of the Holy Spirit. For life.


  1. Dear Frank,
    Even though we are fearfully and wonderfully made, our mortal bodies are under the curse of sin, like the earth and our souls until they are saved by grace. Praise God that He deigns to meet us in our mortal body and even dwell within it as His temple. What a day that will be, when we see Him in all His glory, and we too shall be as He is!
    I never knew my father's father, but was told he had to suffer the indignity of a colostomy because of colon cancer. His last words were "Now at last I am clean."
    Thanks as always for the thought-provoking post, and God bless,

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