If you’re anything like me, you’ve read an article or two about what precautions you can take to avoid contracting the novel coronavirus. And all of those articles start with the same advice: wash your hands. We now all know that in order to clean our hands properly we must wash for at least 20 seconds, which is as long as it takes to sing through the Happy Birthday song twice. If you’d like to wash to a different tune, there’s a website for that. At washyourlyrics.com just input your favorite artist and song and you’ll get a step-by-step guide, with diagrams, so you can customize your hygienic routine. It turns out twenty seconds is a long time, but obviously well worth it to slough off those troublesome microscopic parasites.
Keeping clean is also an emphasis in the book of Leviticus, which I am wading through now as part of my Bible reading plan. Leviticus is famous for being the place where many Bible reading plans go to die, but its message is actually very appropriate for our time. Essentially, Leviticus is a book of regulations for living with a holy God. God had already brought the Israelites out of Egypt, and called them his own people at Mount Sinai. He promised to always be with them and to give them a land of their own. He gave strict instructions for how the tabernacle, that is, God’s own dwelling place, should be constructed. Then, God took up residence among them.
What a wonderfully terrifying thought! The Israelites must have been overjoyed that God would desire to live with them, even after their idolatry at Mount Sinai. Yet the prospect of dwelling with a holy God in their midst would have filled them with reverent fear. What’s interesting about the Levitical requirements for keeping clean is that they are all external. By keeping them, the people maintained a ritual cleanliness, but the sacrifices and washings didn’t make them holy. Instead God says,
“The priests are to keep my requirements so that they do not become guilty and die for treating them with contempt. I am the LORD, who makes them holy” (Lev. 22:9).
What’s disconcerting about a virus is that we can’t see it. We must resort to the prescription of external washing, but the damage happens inside of us. In Leviticus, the external regulations symbolize what we are to look like on the inside if we are to dwell with God; that is, perfectly holy. But this is something that no amount of animal sacrifice or washing can ever achieve. What Leviticus points to, and what the rest of the Bible explains, is that only God can make us holy, and he does it by sending his own Son, Jesus, to cleanse us from the inside out.
The bad news is that no amount of hand washing, or hand wringing for that matter, can guarantee we remain virus-free. The good news is that God does want to dwell with us, and that he has never lowered his holy standard, but instead makes holy all those who call on the name of Jesus. Through Jesus, we may now enter the holy of holies where God dwells. If you’ve put your faith in Jesus, God even lives in you today through his Holy Spirit. And being holy on the inside is the best medicine for whatever happens on the outside.