Defile. Defiling. Defilement.
These are not words we normally hear in the everyday world around us…unless our world is almost exclusively filled with Christians, and even then the younger generation doesn’t use them much. They sound kind of archaic, like “thee”, “thou”, and “verily.” Yet, for being so old-fashioned, I think they pretty much describe the root of most Christians’ fear of the darkness.
In the first post
in this series, I talked about this from the standpoint of the demonic, about how I got over my own fears that anything I did, thought, or watched on TV might make me or my family vulnerable to demonic activity. But this needs revisiting because a lot of Christians wouldn’t describe their fears in that way, exactly. For them, it’s a more general aversion. Some would describe it “garbage in, garbage out”, talking about needing to guard what we receive as input into our brains (which is true enough). But I think it goes deeper than that for some, a little more intangible.
I think in this case, the word “defilement” really applies. We avoid the darkness because we are afraid of being defiled. (Past my own fears of the the demonic, I think I was largely afraid of defilement, too.)
So what, exactly, is defilement? Simply put, it describes when something unholy or unclean comes into contact with something otherwise pure, and corrupts it. In the Law of Moses, certain things (and people) were considered clean, and some were unclean, and the unclean could not touch the clean. Some things (or people) were made ceremonially clean, by performing a ritual, and from that point those ceremonially clean things (or people) needed to be guarded against unclean things that could defile them. Sometimes, when defilement happened, you could just perform another ritual to “clean” the defiled item (or person). At other times, the Law called for the destruction of what was defiled. (I’m being very general here, but you get the point.)
It really is from this mentality that we draw our modern view of defilement. We’re supposed to be clean and holy people, and the sin (and even negativity) around us can potentially defile us. So we avoid it because we don’t want to be seduced into uncleanness. We don’t want that stuff making us “dirty” on the inside.
For now, I want to bypass the more obvious New Testament based responses. I know Jesus said what comes out of a man defiles him more than what goes into him, and I recognize that the New Testament has freed us from these clean/unclean regulations of the Law. But the Old Testament is full of types and shadows that help us understand why this is true, and what the heart of God is for us in the midst of all of it. So permit me to ponder a bit more about the Law of Moses.
As I understand it, there are actually three levels of holiness described by the Law. I’ve already talked about the lowest level, ceremonial cleanness. This is the lowest (and weakest) form of holiness because the holiness is all externally based. In other words, the only thing that makes us clean or unclean at this level is what happens to us. We can’t get clean on our own; we must be cleansed ceremonially, and then we can’t touch anything unclean, or we will be defiled by the unclean thing.
The level above that is most holy. These are items that carry the holiness with them, so that when an unclean thing touches it, the unclean thing becomes clean. For lack of a better description, this is “reverse defilement.” Instead of becoming defiled by the unclean thing, the most holy thing actually sanctifies the unclean. The sacrificial altar, for example, had this quality. A dead animal was generally unclean; but place it on the altar for a sacrifice, and it becomes holy.
The top level is the level of God–Holiest of All. This is the pure holiness that annihilates any unclean stuff that comes near it. It is this intense holiness that requires unclean things (and people) to become clean before entering, to avoid destruction. This, of course, is the principle behind why ultimately the sacrifice of Christ and His blood is so important for us….’nuff said. 🙂
Having said all this…can you maybe see where I’m going with it?
We Christians today live so much of our lives as though all Jesus did by His amazing sacrifice was to make us ceremonially clean, like the lowest level of holiness in the Law. His blood “will never lose its power”, so we can come again and again to be cleansed. But for some reason, in our minds, this cleanness doesn’t stick. So we ultimately end up living as sterile a life as possible, for fear that anything we touch could corrupt and defile us.
But is this as far as it goes? Is this the plan of God for us? I honestly don’t believe so. From what I read of the Scriptures, it seems to me that God’s plan is not just to cleanse us, but to transform us and remake us. I think “most holy” is a more apt picture of where He is taking us. I think He is making us into a people who can sanctify an environment by walking into it, who can bring virtue and holiness into unclean situations without being defiled.
To be a people who bring light into the darkness, not have their light snuffed out by the darkness.
Now, are we all there? Well, perhaps it’s one of those things that is a paradox; Christ’s work was a completed work on the cross, and yet He is still working that “completed work” out within our hearts. Perhaps when we are young in the faith, we are only able to aim for ceremonial cleanness, and that’s appropriate. It is certainly wisdom to guard our hearts (see Proverbs 4), and certainly there are situations where a new believer would be vulnerable, and where it would be wise to guard him/her. (The same obviously goes for our children who shouldn’t see certain things before they are emotionally ready for them–a lot of genuine defilement occurs that way.)
I’ve been a Christian for most of my life, and yet there are definitely some places I personally cannot go, because I am honest about my own weaknesses and frailties. So in some areas, I’m “not there yet.” Probably none of us are, since this is a journey, not a destination.
But in general, the more I trust the work God is doing in my heart, the less affected I am by the defilement around me–the less tempted, the less influenced. And so I think in these areas, “most holy” begins to apply. I am more capable of bringing light to dark places than the darkness is capable of overwhelming me. And the less afraid I am of the dark. I think this is what we are meant for. So taken this way…the whole question changes. No longer is it a question of defilement, whether touching the unclean thing will corrupt us. Instead, it’s a question of what good influence the virtue God has worked in us can have upon the unclean thing.
And so ultimately, this reaffirms to me that God is, indeed, in the darkness. He doesn’t always reveal Himself in all His glory (so as not to burn everything to a crisp), but He is light just the same. And it naturally follows that if we are following Him…we’re going to follow Him into that darkness. We have to see it, understand it, know the pain that occurs within it–but ultimately, we don’t have to fear it. We need to go there, because He is there.
Does this mean we won’t ever be defiled? Not necessarily; we are not yet perfect, and this journey isn’t without risk. But if things do get a bit messy, Christ’s blood and His grace are sufficient; we still have a way to be made clean again. At any rate, as we allow God to work in us, and trust Him, we have a better shot of making the unclean holy, rather than the other way around.
After all…how will the unclean thing become clean, if that which is most holy never makes contact with it?
Aaand there’s still more to say…stay tuned…. 🙂