Cleanliness Makes Sense
HUMANS by nature have a sense of beauty, a love and a hunger for beauty. This is the Creator’s gift. Not only this, but he has furnished unending opportunities for satisfying that hunger. Man’s home, the earth, has beautiful rivers and lakes, mountains and valleys, trees and flowers; there are strikingly beautiful birds, fish and beasts of the field. Superlative beauty is found among humans themselves.
Hand in hand with beauty goes cleanliness. Dirt obscures beauty. How delightfully fresh and clean everything looks after a copious shower! Even among many animals there is a regular grooming of themselves to keep their fur clean and shiny, while birds preen their feathers. Fish, of course, do not ‘take baths,’ but in the seas there are many creatures that live by cleaning other marine creatures of parasitic or infectious growths, and the creatures thus benefited welcome this attention. Scientists call this arrangement “symbiosis.”
Especially among humans, however, is cleanliness a factor in beauty. The human face is always interesting, often beautiful. The same can be said of the hands and other body parts. But dirt can rob them of their beauty. Clothes, besides providing covering and warmth, enhance one’s appearance—but only if they are clean and in good taste.
Modern Attitudes Toward Cleanliness
Today an unkempt appearance is viewed by some as fashionable. One of the earmarks of rebellious youth is the disparagement of neatness and cleanliness. Frustrated with the world they live in, they express their attitude by messy hair, sloppy clothes and unclean bodies.
Not only among youth, however, is there an increasing carelessness and indifference as to keeping things clean, orderly and presentable. In many bigger cities people care less and less about the appearance of their homes, their cars, their streets. In some areas, of course, homes and other furnishings still look neat and tidy. But surveys show that not all people who give careful attention to their cars and homes are equally concerned about the things their neighbors cannot see. How so? They may seldom bathe, and socks and underwear may be badly soiled before they are changed.
Cleanliness Next to Godliness
At one time, especially in Anglo-Saxon lands, many persons subscribed to the saying that “Cleanliness is next to godliness.” Nowadays, because of widespread pollution, some would change this to “Cleanliness is next to impossible.” But the importance of cleanliness is not to be passed off lightly. Far beyond its inseparable connection with beauty, a Christian should be concerned with cleanliness because of God’s attitude toward it.
True, most of the Scriptural statements regarding cleanliness relate to spiritual cleanness, cleanness in a religious and a moral sense. Thus God’s Word refers to pagan objects of worship as “dungy idols,” and concerning such spiritual contamination God’s servants are commanded: “Touch nothing unclean; . . . keep yourselves clean, you who are carrying the utensils of Jehovah.” (1 Ki. 15:12; Jer. 50:2; Isa. 52:11) Christians are admonished to cleanse themselves “of every defilement of flesh and spirit.” (2 Cor. 7:1) Too, God’s holy ones are symbolically described as being arrayed in “bright, clean, fine linen,” representing their righteous acts.—Rev. 19:8.
But these expressions regarding spiritual and moral cleanness would have little force and impact if physical cleanness were inconsequential to God, of little concern to him. By implication these admonitions to spiritual cleanness show that God expects and requires physical cleanness as well. In fact, most of the references in the Bible to physical cleanness are given in connection with the formal worship of God by his people Israel. Bathing was incumbent upon the priests, so important that neglect thereof was punishable by death. For others, ceremonial cleanness often required washing or bathing the body. Sanitation as regards water sources received special attention, safeguards against contamination, as by dead bodies, being included in legislation. Human body wastes were to be covered over with soil. God’s wisdom is seen in all this. His own holiness requires it.—Ex. 30:17-21; Lev. 11:35, 36; 15:1-11; Deut. 23:12-14.
Health and Practical Considerations
Aside from the God-given love of beauty and one’s sense of fitness of things, cleanliness also makes sense because of the health factor. Uncleanness can result in disease. Infectious hepatitis and many other ailments are spread largely by unclean water. In fact, the increase in the life-span in many lands in modern times has been credited more to sanitation than to medical science! In his book The City in History, well-known author Lewis Mumford says that, rather than the advent of so-called modern civilization, the “spread of the soap-and-water habit might well account for the lowering of infant mortality rates before the nineteenth century.”
Where cleanness is neglected the result may be the spread not only of viruses and bacteria but also of vermin such as lice, bedbugs and cockroaches. These insects can be carriers of disease; bedbugs are said to carry some thirty different diseases. Carelessness in food storage or garbage disposal causes rodents, such as mice and rats, to multiply. These too are carriers of disease as well as despoilers of food. To avoid this, store food supplies carefully, keep garbage cans tightly covered with no food spilled on the outside.
Then there is the practical aspect of cleanliness. A neat and clean home gives more pleasure and satisfaction, things are easier to find, saving time and avoiding irritations. Clean clothes not only feel better, they last longer.
Thinking About Others
A major reason why cleanliness makes sense is that it may keep one from needlessly offending others. While not always reducing your life-span, neglect of personal hygiene can cause unpleasant odors that often greatly offend others. Deodorants or perfumes may be needed in some cases, but never as a ‘cover-up’ for lack of simple bathing. Also, uncombed hair, sloppy clothes and unclean skin grate on ever so many persons whose self-respect requires their being clean and neat themselves. Why offend them? We should do to others as we would have others do to us. We naturally prefer that others do not offend us; we should not needlessly offend others by poor personal habits.—Luke 6:31.
Parents should start early in teaching their children the value and importance of keeping physically clean. They should be helped to develop appreciation of the beauty of things kept clean. Even simple expressions such as, “See how nice this clean shirt looks!” or “Smell how sweet this clean blanket is,” will do much for little children’s viewpoint. Where circumstances allow, they should be taught that clean hands and face are a must before sitting down at a meal, before going to bed and before going to school or to a Christian meeting. Appeal to their love for their parents can be made by showing them how failing to keep their clothes and rooms neat and clean means so much more work for mother and so much more expense for father. Hands should be clean, too, when handling books, especially such books as the Bible. Habits formed early along these lines will serve well throughout life.
A principle that should be kept in mind is that applying to Christian overseers, namely, that they should have “a fine testimony from people on the outside.” All Christians, in fact, should have a fine testimony from the people on the outside as to their bodily and personal cleanliness as well as regarding the neatness, cleanness and orderliness of their homes. Of course, the standard of cleanness varies in different parts of the earth. But, be that as it may be, Christians should be exemplary in this regard, and where the prevailing standard is pitifully low, they should, by their own course of action, be showing people a better way.—1 Tim. 3:7.
Particularly when going to people’s homes to extend to them the word of life, the Christian should want to be careful that he always makes a good impression as to his personal appearance. His clothes may not be the latest style; they may be plain and modest but they can be clean. There seems to be no excuse for wearing a dirty shirt while engaging in such ministry. And depending upon the ground beneath one’s feet, the shoes should look presentable also. Obviously, when the streets in one’s territory are very dusty or muddy, the appearance of one’s shoes cannot always be bright and shiny.
Yes, cleanliness makes sense and that for more than one good reason. There is the aesthetic reason, because of one’s innate hunger for and love of beauty, with which cleanliness goes hand in hand. There is also the matter of health and hygiene; baths may not of themselves cause one to live longer but they may keep one from giving needless offense to others. And, as far as it lies within us, we should strive for good relations with those about us. We should want to create good impressions and set a fine example. Cleanliness will help us to do that. Of course, all this has added force to the one who is an ambassador for God’s kingdom.