Living in a small town in Africa, we knew that no garbage trucks would pull up to the house to take away our trash. Its disposal was up to us. Once a week, early in the morning, we would carry it to the back yard, throw it in a hole we had dug and set it aflame. Standing over it until every scrap burned to a crisp, we dared not leave it. Neighbor kids would smell it and come running, hoping to rescue some charred remains of the white people’s treasures. We were relieved every time the humbling task was over.
Disposing of that miscellany reminds me of how problematic it can be to get rid of trash in our emotional lives. We experience hurts, disappointments and grief—for some of us, baskets-full. At times we find it hard to forgive and impossible to forget. We get angry and bitter. Even though these negative feelings oppress us, we often fail to dispose of them.
Just as my family made a place to deal with trash behind our house in Africa, the Israelites, wandering in the Sinai wilderness, reserved a place where dirty work was done “outside the camp.” God revealed this arrangement to Moses. Bodies of animals sacrificed as sin offerings were burned there. People with contagious skin infections lived in isolation there. People relieved themselves in a certain area. Blasphemers were stoned there. People who were ceremonially defiled because they had touched a dead body passed allotted purification days there. Despite some designated clean areas, “outside the camp” was mainly a place of disgrace.
The writer to the Hebrews tells us that, spiritually, this place of disgrace was where Jesus bore our sins and died.
The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore (Heb 13:11-13, emphasis mine).
Coming to Jesus involves sharing the disgrace He endured as He died outside Jerusalem on Calvary’s hill.
In Numbers chapter 19, we read about a special water used by the Israelites for purification and cleansing from sin. It was mixed with the ashes of a sacrificed red heifer, cedar wood, hyssop and scarlet wool and kept in a clean area outside the camp. Not only did Christ earn our salvation outside the camp, but He provided for our purification and cleansing from sin. Jesus bids us bring Him all the refuse of our lives.
Negative emotions such as bitterness, regrets, and anger defile us. Like decaying garbage, they “stink.” Do we tolerate piles of rubbish in our home? No. How about rotten food in the fridge? Unflushed toilets? Unacceptable! Why do we tolerate the equivalent in our souls? Jesus can and will clean out every area of our life—if we ask Him.
In piling up negative emotions, we create a mound of spiritual toxic waste. Who wants to live anywhere near a toxic waste dump? Jesus will bury it all—if we ask Him. His sacrifice outside the camp “detoxified” every sin.
In God’s economy, as in nature, nothing is wasted. Our past sorrows and hurts will not be wasted either. We don’t need to sit and sob over them. Once we let Jesus deal with them, we can return joyfully to the camp. All the bad stuff that’s happened in our lives can “fertilize” the kingdom plot He gives each of us to tend. Our experiences can enrich our ministries in comforting others, in counseling, in writing, art, preaching, teaching and in many other ways. Disposing of our trash is up to us. Let’s take it on a regular basis to Jesus who died for us outside the camp. His sacrifice on the cross more than covered the cost of its disposal.