The urge to purge

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It makes sense. Drain out the bad stuff to keep the good. At least that was the theory behind the widespread practice of blood-letting in the Middle Ages. The practice itself was much older, stemming from the Greek philosophers who were trying to keep the four humours balanced. Almost any ailment would be “cured” by a visit from the doctor, a small knife and a cut in your veins. What you may not know is that it was still wildly popular even up to the 1800s throughout the West and is practised by some in the East even to this day.

While blood-letting itself has fallen out of favour with most doctors and has been shown to be not very effective (except for a few very specialised and rare conditions, like when the body produces too much blood), the urge to purge is still very much in favour within our Christian churches.

When we become Christians, we are encouraged to cut out the things that are not conducive to living like Christ—rap music, fiction novels, movies, social media, even sport—and we try. And sometimes a revival comes along and we are told again about the evils of secular things and so we burn our CD collections and we sell our televisions. Even Christmas is denounced as a pagan holiday. And so we purge these things out of our lives and personalities. If we indulge we feel guilty, but if we can cut them out, it makes us feel holy.

The urge to purge comes naturally. It makes sense. Jesus told us not to love the things of this world. We know that where our treasure is, we’ll end up.

Yet I wonder if we aren’t focused on the wrong things. Purging these things from our lives doesn’t make us more holy. This is the religion of the Pharisees as we work our way to heaven.

Now don’t get me wrong. We can form an unhealthy attachment to some of these activities. And if we worship them and chase them, then sometimes they need to be cut out.

But it is so much easier to cut everything out than to allow a deep heart transplant. That is what Christ wants to do. He wants to replace our hearts of stone with hearts of flesh. He wants to make us a new creation. Yet we are content with the surface acts. With the blood-letting. Blood-letting was supposed to balance the humours but I can’t see how it doesn’t let out the good with the bad.

We are better off having a theology of reclamation. This seems more in line with the Jesus who would attend parties and was accused of being a glutton and a drunk. Jesus looked for opportunities to reclaim every situation He was in and to offer heart transplants to those He met.

Unfortunately the urge to purge extends to people as well. We become Christians and we cut off former interests and pursuits and we cut off the people we knew through them. We cut off those who are not “worthy” for us to hang out with, those with problems and difficulties, so we can “get ourselves right”. By the time we look around, we’ve lost all our meaningful relationships and all our friends are Christian. There are no opportunities to reclaim. We’ve lost too much blood and our lives are pale and anaemic.

Music with a beat is not evil, it can be beautiful. Novels and movies can reveal God and His love and the wonders of Creation in a way a textbook cannot. They can also cast light on the sinful human condition and point us to hope, making us long for something better. God is a creative God. He has placed in us the need for creative outlets and collaboration. We must look at the world as Jesus looks at us, asking, “How can I reclaim every area?” Some things are unhealthy and need to be cut out but we must be judicious and discerning, looking for opportunities to lift up ourselves and others.

Christ has given us the authority and the victory. Let’s use it to seek reclamation in the activities we enjoy, the people we meet and the events we attend. We are called to be conquerors.

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