by Joe Leavell
If you have ever been around an area that has skunks, then just the mention of the animal is usually enough to trigger a vivid memory of the powerful and horrible smell from these little critters! So potent is a skunk’s spray that it can be detected by the human nose up to a mile downwind or farther. Where does the smell come from? Well, when a skunk feels threatened, it has a very effective built in defensive gland that produces a potent smell that effectively ensures the skunk does not end up on a predator’s dinner menu.
Here’s a question for us: if you were ever unfortunate enough to be near a skunk and it sprayed you, did you cause the skunk to smell bad? Well, it kind of depends on how you look at it. You may have been the agent that threatened the skunk, so in that way, it is your fault that the skunk targeted you specifically. But did you cause the skunk to smell rancid? No. The skunk put out a rotten smell because it possesses the necessary biology inside of it to make it do so. You did not put those stinky chemicals in the skunk. They were there from birth and used by instinct. If those properties were removed, the skunk would no longer smell bad. In this way, it is the skunk’s internal makeup that actually causes the stink, not you. Is that a matter of semantics? Not in the slightest!
Imagine with me a fairly ridiculous scenario for a moment. In case you did not know, there are actually people out there who keep skunks as pets! Pet shops that sell skunks thankfully have the glands that produce the stink removed when they are babies. For purposes of this scenario, however, imagine that you are the owner of a pet skunk that has not had its scent glands removed, and it keeps spraying you and your family. You (and the neighbors) are obviously sick of the smell! So, you visit the vet (who has a plug over his nose because you smell like something died) and demand that the vet help with the stench. “Ridiculous!” you cry as the vet suggests says that in order to fix the problem the glands must be removed. “That’s offensive that you think there is a problem with my skunk! He just needs an accepting environment! He needs behavioral classes that will teach it how to control the smell so that it does not blow up at the family.” When you demand information on classes to help the skunk manage its smell, the vet throws his hands up knowing he can do nothing to help you.
Obviously, that’s a conversation that is never going to happen, but in reality, this is how we tend to deal with many of our own problems. In that scenario, your desire is not to fix the fundamental issue that is causing the stench, but to help keep the odor inside by managing its behavior. Too often, we as humans desire the same thing. We do not want to see the actual problem solved but simply desire help in managing our external problems that we think cause our stink. When we recognize an unpleasant smell, whether it is with anger, lust, jealousy, lying, etc., our first inclination is to look outside of ourselves to find the source of the problem. Yet, does the problem come from someone else causing us to stink, or does the stink come from within?
Jesus tells us in Luke 6:43-45, “For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thorn bushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.”
Similar to the skunk, Jesus indicates in this passage and elsewhere that we have a problem on the inside, and that the fruit of our actions are products of an active heart. When our values are threatened, what is on the inside comes out to protect what we hold dear and it either will come out smelling fresh or putrid, depending on what is on the inside.
At BCA, we cannot fundamentally change hearts with any more skill than we could manage surgery on skunks. Our role is to point you to Christ and encourage you to submit to soul surgery from God that will fundamentally change your heart. God alone promises that for those who place their faith in Him, He will “give you a new heart and a new spirit” (Ezekiel 36:26). In this way, God’s desire is not simply to mask our bad smell or try to help us manage our issues, but to essentially change us from the inside out. The beautiful thing about the Gospel is that Jesus is not only the heart specialist, He is also the donor. In this way, when someone comes to us for counseling, we are not simply seeking to help them manage their heart problems more effectively any more than we would help a pet owner help manage a skunk’s smell. Our desire is that a fundamental removal of the stink would take place which is a work only God can do as we submit to Him and His Word. We do not simply need stink management. We need real heart transformation which is found only in Christ.