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…

 

 

 

A lament for Heidi

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After a long 24 hour bedside vigil, I was finally able to come home, change my clothes and shower. But it’s not over. I’ll go back to her bedside shortly, and breathe in her precious smell until she smells like heaven.

I know how this goes. My youngest sister will be the fourth beloved, precious family member we will lose in just over a year.

Oh, Lord, I just don’t understand. What is going on here???

Last year, on Christmas morning no less, we first learned Heidi had a brain tumor. Later that same week we were informed it was glioblastoma – the fastest growing, most deadly and ruthless form of brain cancer with an average prognosis of 12 – 14 months Screaming into Nothingness (when God disappears). Here we are, in month 13 and she is days (maybe hours?) away from dying. Heidi is anything but average, but in death, her numbers will align fairly well with the statistics.

She will leave behind a husband, Chad, who has been her best friend since forever. They were married 23 years. Chad and Heidi have two children – Ashley, 17, a high school senior, and Nate, 14, an eighth grader. Don’t tell me they’ll be okay. They won’t – at least not yet. Their momma is about to die.

Oh, Lord, I just don’t understand.

It’s NOT okay to lose your momma when you’re a teenager. I have analyzed this situation from every angle and I can find nothing that makes sense or eases the pain. And I think I could punch someone in the face right now who tries to tell any of us how God works all things together for the good.

There is no way this can be good. No way.

Unless, perhaps…. Unless I don’t understand what “good” really is….

As a family we have all wrestled with mortality and God and His plan throughout Heidi’s illness. But one night, while in a long nighttime wrestling match with God, I suddenly wondered if His idea of good is simply not the same as ours. Maybe He doesn’t have a Webster’s. Maybe when He Google’s “good”, He doesn’t read of the things we typically think of (health, wealth, prosperity, fitting into your size 6 jeans, sipping wine along the Cour Mirabeau in Aix-en-Provence, France…)

If God is good, and I have NO DOUBT He is, then His definition of good CANNOT be the same as ours.

Because, Oh, Lord, I just don’t understand you otherwise.

It’s interesting, but in my experience, the things that we typically think of as “good” and as our “blessings” are often the things that create a separation between God and us. They are things that, often unintentionally and often subversively, lead us to believe we don’t need a God. Things like enough money (or too much), enough food (or too much), enough vacation (or too much), enough or too much of everything, as well as the absence of disease and absence of trials.

Conversely, it is the sufferings of this life that bring us to our knees and to the place where we find our desperate need of a Savior.  And I believe that more than anything God longs to draw us closer to Him. He wants nothing more for all to come to know him and accept the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ as Savior.

So what if maybe, just MAYBE…., in God’s dictionary, “health” is not the absence of disease, but, instead, one who knows he/she is nothing apart from Christ, and that we live and breathe and have our being in Him alone.  Since God IS good, and longs to give us good things, MAYBE, “health” has nothing to do with our physical bodies.

Maybe, in God’s dictionary, “wealthy” does not refer to one who has a hefty savings and retirement account, drives a fancy car, and owns all manner of material possessions. Maybe being wealthy actually means to understand that friends, family and a purpose in life are some of the richest gifts offered to us. Maybe we’re rich when we realize how little we actually need “things” and start living more simply – when we have more time for people instead of accumulating and maintaining our “things”. Maybe wealth is the opposite of what we always thought.

Maybe, in God’s dictionary, a “blessing” isn’t a concept we can actually get our heads around. Maybe, saying we’re “blessed” when referring to health, wealth, jobs, children and good fortune causes great pain to those struggling with cancer, infertility, unemployment, a prodigal son/daughter, rape, poverty, oppression, rejection, loneliness, etc. because it implies God has withheld His blessings from those people.  ESPECIALLY – oh especially – when we Christians suggest it is the LACK of faith that produces suffering in this life are we guilty of serious theological malpractice!

Are suffering people NOT blessed???  Are we able to escape all trouble and heartache if our faith is simply strong enough??? When people suffer from the evils in this world is it a reflection of their lack of faith???

Hell no.

It just can’t be. Or God is not good. God must have a different definition of “blessed” then we do.

Otherwise, God, I just don’t understand.

So, I decided to start reading God’s dictionary. I cannot make sense of Heidi’s passing any other way. I need a God who IS GOOD. One whom I can trust even when I’m angry at Him. One who IS PRESENT everywhere. One who doesn’t pick and choose favorites and grant the rich, the beautiful, and those born into first-world countries more “blessings” than the rest.

This is what I found in God’s dictionary:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit – for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn – for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek – for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness – for they shall be filled.

Blessed are the merciful – for they shall be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart – for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers – for they shall be called children of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness – for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5: 3 – 10

So as I resume this bedside vigil there are TWO things I can know for sure: Chad and family will be comforted. And Heidi, well, she shall soon see God, for she is truly pure in heart.

This precious family does not have the “blessings” that most people think of – they are in the valley of the shadow of death and this is an impossibly sad and difficult place. But, I’ve just GOT to believe that according to God’s dictionary, they are blessed indeed.

Otherwise, Lord, I just don’t understand. You just don’t make any sense to me.

And then the Lord said to me:

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.” Proverbs 3:5