I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed when it comes to common sense, practical solutions to everyday problems. So when I needed to transport an old metal fence gate to the recycling center, I jammed it into the cargo space of my SUV at an angle. The wooden frame was covered lightly with some kind of green scum, and when I slid the thing in, some of that gross stuff transferred to the upholstery on a headrest. “It figures,” I thought. “No good deed goes unpunished. Here I’m trying to do a little spring cleaning, and I mess up my car instead.” (When I told my wife the story of trying to cram the gate into the too-small space, she said, “Why didn’t you just open the back hatch, let the cargo stick out a little, and tie down the door with a bungee?” See what I mean about my not being too sharp?)

I thought the stain was going to be tough to get out, if not permanent. All the way to the recycling center, I kept thinking of what I would do. Upholstery cleaner? (But I’ll have to clean the whole thing so it won’t leave a ring.) A stiff brush? (But not too stiff or I’ll mess up the cloth.) A wet sponge? (What if I stain the headrest?) Guess what? Once I got to the center, I took my hand and just scrubbed off the stain without any tool or chemical at all!

Some stains, though, are not so easy to remove. Indeed, they appear indelible. I mean the marks, spots, and splotches left on our souls and psyches, our consciences and our reputations, by wrong things we have done, hateful thoughts we have entertained, and malicious speech we have let pass our lips. We can’t undo the consequences of our actions and words, whatever change of heart we may have, whatever resolve we muster to make things right. Someone’s life has been ruined, a friendship or marriage destroyed, a church split, a company or a nation brought to disaster. We ourselves must live with the residual filth of guilt and remorse in a corner of our hearts and souls, a memory that can never be purged, a feeling of worthlessness that persists no matter what our good deeds. The stain is set-in, permanently marring the fabric of our lives.

There is no technique, product or process by which we can remove the stain of our wrongdoing, our sins. Only God has the power. God, who made the garments of Jesus “dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them” (Mark 9:3) on the mount of transfiguration. God, whom the psalmist knew could wash him, and he would be “whiter than snow” (Psalm 51:7) with a clean heart. God, who in Christ brings a new creation, in which the old has gone and everything is fresh and new (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:17). All this was symbolized in the white garment given to the newly baptized in the ancient church. They were now unstained.

I was able to remove what I thought would be a tough stain in my car with a brush of my hand. Imagine what the mighty and gentle hand of God can do with those spots on our souls we thought would never come out.

© 2008 by Tom Cheatham