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Thursday, July 6, 2017

εὐωδία Χριστοῦ: God Who Smells

When I started out with this plan to identify some of the ways in which God relates to us on a basic, sensory level; I have to admit I was thinking about very usual, reciprocal stuff.  God sees us.  God hears us.  We feel God’s touch.  We hear God’s voice.  But then I got all weird and truly sensory oriented, and I started to think about how important the olfactory system can be to memory.  It’s probably a processing phenomenon. Smell simply comes closer to the areas of the brain that handle memory and emotion than any other sense. 

So, I’m going to talk about noses, and you really, truly do not have to read this.  But I do have to write it.

My grandpa on my mom’s side—my “Paw”—had a huge nose.  Huge.

Of all the wonderful things that might have been passed down in the gene pool, I inherited his nose.  Four of my five children also have his nose.  My fifth child has a mix between his nose and another family nose.  It’s a dominant nose.  There’s nothing we can do about it (well…  OK… technically there probably is, but we’re not going to do anything about it).

I have a phenomenal sense of smell.  Sometimes this is a blessing, and sometimes it’s less than that.  I live with three sons.  On a bad day, I have been known to walk into rooms and immediately back out of them because of the universal scent of teenage boy.  On a good day, it’s like Axe body spray overload.  Even the people we love most kind of stink sometimes.

But then there are these moments when a scent that may or may not actually be there hits me, and I am transported back in time, often to a really good place where I am in the presence of happy memories of experiences or people or feelings.  This, of course, can go both ways, so if the scent is unpleasant; it is also overwhelming.  To smell is to remember.   

This all seems very human, and yet we have what I would consider to be a somewhat obscure passage in II Corinthians, a letter that I think Paul begins to write in the midst of grief and stress and struggle, perhaps even looking for a little bit of comfort himself.  His plans are shaken, he is missing his people, and he is tracking Titus like a dog.  Then boom!  Out of nowhere, Paul is describing how we smell.  This goes on for one paragraph, and then he returns to a more typical treatise.  It’s really too bad Paul didn’t live in an era during which he could have written a daily blog…

II Corinthians 2:14-17: “But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere.  For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.  To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. And who is equal to such a task?  Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, as those sent from God” (NIV).

Paul uses two notable words:

εὐωδία (euōdia, fragrance) – This is used to describe Jesus.  A fragrance, it appears from other definitions, is a pleasant, sweet, delicate smell.  It is also generally a quality.

ὀσμὴ (osmē, aroma) – This is used to describe how we take on and exude that fragrance.  Interestingly, the definitions are very closely related, but an aroma is only almost always pleasant, and it is exhibits a stronger quality.

Both are used to depict undeniable attributes.  We can’t spray these on and wash them off.  We all smell.

I am somewhat astounded by the idea that Jesus has a scent… and we have a scent… and we can smell him… and people can smell us… and here’s the kicker—God is smelling us!  I hope I smell like life as I walk by, because this is lasting. 

We talk a lot about remembering God, and maybe especially about remembering Christ, but I’m not sure we speak too much to the subject of being remembered by God.  In a culture where it is often easier to be forgotten, may we recognize that God is not in that business.  God knows us intimately enough to follow our scent and to actually find us in all of our past and present… and to stay close as we move into our future.  God must have a fabulous nose.


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