So yesterday I was confronted with a sight that I found a bit unnerving. Does not make any difference what it was, it just made me uncomfortable. In doing so it put me in mind of one of my more favorite passages of scripture:
“You shall also have a place outside the camp and go out there, and you shall have a spade among your tools, and it shall be when you sit down outside, you shall dig with it and shall turn to cover up your excrement. Since the Lord your God walks in the midst of your camp to deliver you and to defeat your enemies before you, therefore your camp must be holy; and He must not see anything indecent among you or He will turn away from you.
Now when I say “favorite” it has been a bit of a moving target over the years. I was first taught that verse when in junior high school and, as you can imagine, it became occasion for much tittering and early adolescent humor. I, in fact, was quite prone to recite it at the most inappropriate moments well into college and it made me laugh every time.
Later I came to appreciate it as an indicator of just how very practical God actually is. At a period of history when mankind was not terribly hygienic (this verse is ancient beyond ancient) we find the Lord instructing man to be so.
But moving forward in time I have come to appreciate the second half of the passage far more than the first – the part about keeping indecent things out of sight. The passage acknowledges that we do and produce things that are indecent, but that we have an obligation to keep them from becoming a common sight. I think because if they become a common sight, we lose track of the fact that they are indecent.
I am sure that right now everybody reading is “filling in the blanks” about what is and what is not indecent. In our modern age everyone has their own list and we are more than willing to debate it with great vigor. But it occurs to me that even the debate has a way of putting it in common sight. Eventually we will declare the indecent decent simply because it has become a common sight by virtue of the debate. Is it any wonder then that we seem constantly to be moving away from normative Christian morality?
We live in a nation that values debate so I would not dream of suggesting there are some debates the country should not have. But the church, well, that is a different story. The church is intended to be an institution that among its many functions maintains normative Christian morality. Therefore, if in fact the debate itself puts into common sight that which is better left out of sight then perhaps there are some debates the church should not have – certainly not with itself. Perhaps it is possible for the church to be too welcoming.
Yet, in a church without central authority (read Protestant Evangelicalism) who can say “That is not a debate we should have.” Suddenly the soul sickness in the nation right now seems less surprising.
My prayer this Sunday morning is that I can spend less time looking at the indecent this week. I think I will be better off for it.