GOD'S FAVORITE AROMA
I love the smell of fresh baked bread, musk perfume, pipe tobacco before and after it's lit, coffee beans and strong hot coffee and fresh cut grass and a little baby's hair. The fragrance is the thing, of course, but in so many of these it's more than the fragrance—it's the feelings they generate and the images they bring before us. You know what I mean. There are some odours you can't smell without thinking of events of the past; painful or pleasant, here come the memories. [Some of you can tell stories worth telling in that respect and I'm a good listener.]
There are some fragrances God loves. Genesis 8:20-21, English Standard Version (ESV), says: "Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and took some of every clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And when the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma, the Lord said in his heart, 'I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man's heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I again strike down every living creature as I have done."
You remember the setting, of course. God has just ripped the world hollow in a profound act of uncreation and when the chaos ceased, when the roar and the tumult were gone, when the planet finally settled down, out of the ark came this little man; and what's the first thing he does? He builds an altar to God and offers burnt offerings. [It's clear that burnt offerings embraced something of the notion of an offering for sin but, centrally, it was about the dedication of the entire self of the worshipper.] This little man seeks forgiveness, of course, but that's not quite what he has in mind here as he gathers the sticks and the wood for the fire and the stones for the altar—in this new world he's dedicating himself and his entire family; that's what's on his mind in this sacrificial act. He isn't offering the animals as a substitute for himself but as a representation of himself and his family. He's telling God: "We can't give you ourselves, entirely free from flaws and disabilities but here give you all that we are and ask you to receive these spotless sacrifices as representative of all we now are and have and what we would give you if we could."
And as the smoke rises into the air we're given the image of God breathing it in and smiling.
God has no pleasure in the smell of burning animals [see Psalm 50:7ff and 51:16] but he loves what the fragrance means when it's the work of humble, sincere and gallant hearts. The Holy One watches the man gathering stones from here and there and making them into a pile; he sees him gathering sticks and lighting materials and making a fire and he sees him preparing his sacrifices, and filled with pleasure God says to himself, "I'll never do that again! I'll never destroy the world again as I have just done."
So ends chapter 8 and chapter 9:1-3 shows us God restoring the creation, God trying again. If God destroyed the world every time man became exceedingly wicked, he would be destroying it in every generation for he says (8:21) "the intention of man's heart is evil from his youth."
Of course there's more to say about this matter--God, his character and purpose are what the entire section is about--but at this point I wish to focus on one righteous little man, with all his flaws, saying to the Holy One with all his heart, "We're sorry and here, if you are pleased to have us, we offer all that we are and have." It doesn't matter that Noah is flawed and that he can't "live up to" what's in his heart, what's in his heart is what matters. He chooses to walk with God, he's characterized as one who lives by faith, he proclaims a message that honors God to a human family that is morally bankrupt and God looked at him and liked him. [See Genesis 6:8-9,18, 22; Hebrews 11:7; 2 Peter 2:5 and Ezekiel 14:14, 20 where he is given a place of special honor along with Daniel and Job.]
We should never deny that all the goodness that is in us or will be in us is the work of God but it's sheer nonsense and harmful to so speak and teach that people think they're puppets and God pulls their strings! By God's sovereign will and grace he has made us capable of resisting him or working with him. He takes note of our choices, of our willingness to gut out the bad times and rejoice in the good. We get his attention when we say from our hearts, "We're sorry! If you'll have us, here we are!" And he will take our commitment seriously and he will depend on us to further his purpose to make this world better—eternally better!
Sinners though we are, by God's grace (Genesis 6:8-9) we can stand upright in a sin-sick world and God sees it. In his poem The Deluge here's how G.K Chesterton pictures Noah:
Though giant rains put out the sun
Here stand I for a sign.
Though Earth be filled with waters dark
My cup is filled with wine.
Tell to the trembling priests that here
Under the deluge rod,
One nameless, tattered, broken man
Stood up and drank to God.
And you, as you come out from your troubled times, set your heart to please him—build your altar, offer yourself to him in and through Jesus (Ephesians 5:1-2) and God will see and breathe in the pleasing aroma and he will bless the world through you.