What Does God Smell Like?

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It’s been six weeks since Heidi died. I have spent innumerable hours thinking about her in heaven. I like Revelation 7:9-17 best for a descriptive image of what she does with all her time. Without any cancer, suffering, work, eating, sleeping, etc. – just imagine all the time we’ll have for praising God in heaven!

 

But lately, for some odd reason, I’ve been thinking a lot about what things Heidi smells in heaven. I wonder if she now smells the way God smells – and I don’t mean in the sense as to what scent they give off, but how does God’s almighty and perfect olfactory sense work? What smells does He smell when he takes a whiff?

 

What is a pleasing aroma to God? What scents does He fill the heavens with? And therefore, what do the inhabitants of heaven smell when they take a whiff?

 

I have a friend* who has, for as long as I’ve known her, worn the same perfume. She must really like the scent. I think it smells like a hideous combination of mosquito repellent and my grandma’s bathroom spray.  Which I find curious.

 

I have another friend* who has severe haliotosis. I take a (hopefully) subtle small step back whenever we’re in conversation. Not-too-ironically, her husband is somewhat of a close-talker. Not only that, he’s also touchy-feely. He’s always hanging all over her – right up close – smelling that bad breath. Does he not notice? I wonder.

 

I know some other people* whose home smells like a decomposing animal. (We used to have packs of wild dogs roam our neighborhood in Morocco and they would sometimes fight to the death. I know all too well what a rotting dead animal smells like.) These are decent people who have regular jobs and clean their house and do laundry and such. I don’t think they’re hiding anything (taxidermy? Animal sacrifice???). But do they not notice the abhorrent smell of their home? I wonder.

 

All these things have made me wonder about our own human olfactory sense. Because, clearly, God has made us all to smell things differently. What seems abhorrent to one, seems decent, even lovely and pleasant to another. It’s incredible!

 

And so I wonder about God. Since He is GOD and the very CREATOR of the distinctly unique olfactory sense within each one of us, certainly His olfactory sense must be distinctly different from OURS!

 

And, interestingly, the Bible frequently talks about aromas. It is no secret that some are truly pleasing to God and others are not. Genesis 8:21, Leviticus 2:2, Leviticus 6:15, Ephesians 5:2, Ezekial 20:41, Isaiah 5:24, Ezekial 8:17.

 

So how do we know when we’re smelling that which perhaps God finds pleasing? Could it be we’re missing the divine in certain smells because we’re tripped up by our own noses?

 

I recently met a woman new to my neighborhood and she asked where I shop for groceries. I told her whenever I have enough time, I prefer Aldi’s because of the incredible savings. She pulled up her nose and said she refuses to shop there. “It stinks,” she said.

 

I know what she means. Aldi’s has a distinct smell. It smells like busy, haggard single moms trying to make ends meet. It smells like daycare. It smells like tired and worn out dads working two physically laborious jobs. It smells like people forced to view deodorant, shampoo and soap as luxuries. It smells like families who have chosen to eat over getting the washing machine fixed. It smells like humanity – real live people working hard to make it in this life and that includes shopping at Aldi’s. I wondered: What if the Aldi’s scent is a pleasing aroma to God because of all it represents?

 

Does God maybe even prefer the smell of Aldi’s to that of the fancy grocery store on the other side of town that pumps a new-baked cookie smell down every aisle to encourage over-spending and over-consumption?

 

Does God smell those differences and do they represent the differences in humanity to Him?

 

A few years ago, a dear friend and I traveled to Guatemala together. In awe of returning to the country we both love so much, we walked through the airport terminal in silence. When we reached the lobby, we simultaneously set our bags down. In a totally unplanned moment, we both breathed in deep and let the smells of Guatemala fill our nostrils. I said, “I love this smell.” She said, “Me, too.”

 

Guatemala smells like one part exhaust, two parts green chilis, three parts burning rubbish, and four parts body odor. I would imagine many human nostrils would not find it pleasant. But to me, it represents the birthplace of my daughter, the multiple service-learning trips we have taken there and also, some of the most poor, hard-working, and forgotten people on the planet. I love their smell, because it reminds me of them.

 

I wondered – does God love their smell, too? Could it be God loves the smell of Guatemala, Burundi, Haiti, and the Congo (just to name a few) because He is always close to the poor, the broken, the downhearted?

 

I wonder if God is drawn to the funky smells of this earthly home – simply because that’s where the majority of His hurting people are. Slums of Mumbai. Garbage city of Cairo. La Limonada of Guatemala. Under the highway overpass. Mission for the homeless (in your city and in mine). And millions of other places most of us are unaware exist.

 

Our family has lost four beloved family members in just a little more than a year. I have been at the bedside for each one in their last few days here on earth. Repeatedly, in those final days, those of us gathered at the bedside would comment that it felt like our loved one had one foot on earth and one foot in heaven. That space – that liminal space between heaven and earth, life and death, old body and new, is probably the most holy space I’ve ever had the privilege to enter. And there is a distinct smell in that holy of holies. I wonder if that is because they start to smell like heaven.

 

I do not believe heaven will smell like lilacs, Estee Lauder Cinnabar, or lavender fields. Some people might like those things (me), but certainly, there are those who do not!

 

I think heaven has a smell all it’s own and just like most things in heaven – it will surprise us.

 

* In order to protect the innocent, I have changed some vital information so that there is virtually no way anyone could figure out who I am talking about here.  I may or may not have changed the gender of the referred upon.  I may or may not have been referring to more of an acquaintance than a long-time friend.  I may or may not have been referring to someone from my past (or present).  I may or may not have been referring to someone deceased (or alive).  Even Paul, who should know these stories well, could not guess who I was referring to.  So rest easy, all my friends – it’s not you…

 

 

 

Will Muslims, Mexicans, and My daughter be forced to wear visible ID badges?

I recently met an Armenian woman. She wore the traditional hijab and jellaba – the head covering and long flowing coat typical for Middle Eastern women and often associated with Islam.   Her skin was dark tan and her deep brown eyes were lined with kohl. She looked strikingly similar to every other Muslim woman I had met while living in Morocco. But instead of following the teachings of Muhammad, she worshipped Jesus.

images-1Selma is a Christian – yet dressed in the traditional Armenian attire encouraged by her Armenian Apostolic church . She educated me on the plight of Armenian Christians from Turkey.  Selma’s great-grandparents fled the country in the early 1900’s escaping a violent genocide under Ottoman rule, making Selma a fourth generation American.

She shared how she is still persecuted here in America. She has been scorned, mocked, spit upon, and even been rejected service in restaurants and stores – and it is NOT because she’s Armenian, it’s because she LOOKS like a Muslim. And today, she wakes up in a country with a president who considers Muslims one of our biggest “problems”, who’s refusing to accept Muslim refugees, and whose inflammatory speech does more to fuel fear toward Muslims than anything else.

She’s a legal American citizen, with a prestigious career. She pays her taxes, lives peaceably in her neighborhood, and practices the same religion that the majority of people in America say they do: Christianity. And yet, because she looks like the people group that American’s are growing to fear the most: Muslims, she is treated harshly – even discriminated against.

She said, “I know it’s just because no one can tell from the outside who I really am.”

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At the inner-city junior high where I volunteer, we watched a film on the life of Corrie tenBoom. Corrie, and her entire Dutch family, were sent to Nazi concentration camps for hiding Jews in their attic during World War II. After viewing the film, I debriefed with three 8th grade girls and asked them, “Do you think something similar – the systematic persecution and extermination of a people group – could happen today?”

A Mexican girl in my group immediately replied, “Absolutely. My parents [who speak very little English] are so afraid of being deported to Mexico. We are not illegals. But how will they know? Since we are Mexicans and immigrants from Mexico are being blamed for many of the problems in this country, it only makes sense that we’ll get blamed, too.  My parents say they already get a lot of dirty looks from white people. They think that someday we’ll have to wear an ‘M’ on our clothes. You know, to like mark us as legal – so people won’t be angry with us and try to deport us.”

I told her I didn’t think she had to worry. After all, her family IS legal.

She said, “Yeah, but how will ‘they’ know that?   No one can tell from the outside who I really am.”

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I shared those concerns from my Mexican-American student at the dinner table that evening. And my Guatemalan-born daughter asked, “What about me? Do you think I’ll have to wear an ID-badge of some sort?”

I told her no way. She was adopted at birth. She’s an American citizen. She is American in every way.

But she replied, “Yeah, but how will ‘they’ know? No one can tell from the outside who I really am.”

I couldn’t answer her. She’s Guatemalan – but could easily be Mexican. She’s adopted – but unless she’s walking beside her all-white family, you’d never know it simply from appearances. I can protect her from being deported, certainly, because she IS legal. But the fear in her eyes betrayed her. She’s awakening to the fact that the “they” she actually needs to fear isn’t the government – it’s those who are looking for a people-group to blame, someone to take umbrage with. And I can’t protect her from that. She looks just like the people that “they” say are the problem.

slovak-jews-with-star-of-davidThe Third Reich of 1930’s Germany forced Jews to wear the star of David badge to not just humiliate them, but to keep close watch over them and to facilitate in their deportation. It was an effective way to distinguish between people groups when judging by appearances didn’t work. 

As the political, ethical, religious and racial divide in this country continually grows; and as more and more people feel their freedoms, their money, and their security are actually threatened by a few distinct people groups; and being that my daughter looks JUST LIKE one of those people groups – I’ve really had to wonder: Is she safe here? Do I need to have my daughter wear an external ID to show the public she is “good”? Maybe a letter on her clothing – something like an “L” for legal, or “A” for adopted, or “S” for safe? How else will people know? How else do I help her feel safe?

Then it hit me:  The only other reasonable solution is to mark ALL THE OTHERS – those from the people groups that we, as a country, have deemed “the problem”.

The absurdity of that thought – and its frightening similarities to 1930’s Germany – is not lost on me.

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She’s an Armenian Christian – but she looks like other Muslims and she has received death threats.

She’s a legal third-generation Mexican-American – but she and her family could easily be taken for illegal Mexicans. The condemning glares already judge them.

She’s my adopted daughter from Guatemala – but she could be any illegal’s child. And she’s afraid she’ll be treated differently now.

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It’s not the government that these women need to fear. Whether we agree or not with the sweeping statements that have been made regarding entire people groups identified as “a problem” – the truth is, if so desired, the government CAN and WILL deport certain people and also create ways to keep other people out.

I’m mortified that my country is doing these things. But that’s not the REAL problem here. The problem is our ATTITUDE to those who are different from us. The problem is that we, the American public, are traveling a dangerous path towards ethnic cleansing. It begins with finger-pointing – “THOSE people over there – THEY are the problem!”

The finger-pointing inevitably turns into actions, “We must build a WALL!” or “We must ban all Muslims from entering!” or “We must make a public list of all crimes done by foreigners!” But those actions will lead us to a false sense of security and so whenever something goes bad in the land, we will only be left to find more people to blame. We’re adopting an “Us” vs. “Them” paradigm and creating a growing chasm between the two.

And all that propaganda leads to fear.   As our president continues to stir the pot of blaming and shaming, he incites more fear. And hate inevitably follows fear. It’s eerie how quickly and easily we resort to hating that which we fear.

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My daughter and my Mexican student and my Armenian friend do not need to fear their government, or their comb-over president, or being deported. What they legitimately need to fear – and it’s already proving to be true – is simply the hate from other Americans.

We have become our own worst enemy.

“If a kingdom is divided against itself, it cannot stand.” Mark 3:25.