The summer between my freshman and sophomore college years I had found a job not far from the house at a concrete plant. I had signed on as a “tile sorter” out in the warehouse on a crew full of women, but the yard boss saw on my application that I knew how to type so the first morning he made me the office secretary.
The work was simple and a little scarce—I answered the phone; I made the coffee; I figured payroll from the time cards and passed out paychecks. I might have typed three letters all summer long. Finally I found the old directory of suppliers and other concrete plants in the area. It was scratched out and scribbled over with address and telephone changes so I gave myself the chore of researching and re-typing that whole thing on the days when there was literally nothing else to do for hours. I think the whole point of me being there was so the yard boss could say he had a secretary like the big guys up in the front office.
Aside from the pride issue, he was a decent man, a Jehovah’s Witness who actually talked with me about religious things when he was free. He seemed impressed when I showed him a passage or two he didn’t know was there.
But his immediate underling was not as nice a man as he pretended to be when the boss was there. Not that I knew it at first or none of this would have happened. I can look back on it now and hear his words and know what he was thinking as surely as if he told me out loud, but not then. I was too innocent and trusting.
One day late in the summer I found myself alone in the office with him. The old clerk was sick and the yard boss had been called up to the front office on the highway, a good quarter mile walk through the hot dusty yard beneath overhead cranes. I had gone to the front counter to look for some forms and suddenly I found myself hemmed into a corner with this six foot something, 250 lb, fifty year old man coming right at me Before I knew it, he grabbed me by the shoulders and kissed me.
I am not sure what he expected, but somehow I got loose, slipped around him, and ran as fast as I could to the only restroom in the place, a grimy cubbyhole about four foot square. I locked the wooden door, grabbed a scratchy, brown paper towel and scrubbed my face over and over and over and over. Then I re-wet the towel, added more soap and went at it again. I couldn’t stop myself. It’s a wonder I didn’t draw blood.
Now look at Psalm 51:2. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. This is the psalm David wrote after Nathan convicted him of the sins of adultery and murder. I have read that in the Hebrew “wash me thoroughly” is literally “multiply my washings.” After at least a year, long enough for Bathsheba to bear a child and that child to die, David finally realizes the enormity of his sins and feels the remorse like a knife in his heart. One little plea for forgiveness won’t do in his mind, not for the terrible things he has done. He feels the need for ritual cleansing over and over and over and over. It isn’t a failure to accept God’s forgiveness; it’s an overwhelming sense of absolute filth.
When I read the literal meaning of “wash me thoroughly” those feelings I had standing in that grubby little bathroom over forty years ago came flooding back to me. And now, like never before, I realize exactly how I ought to feel when I ask God’s forgiveness. What I have done to Him is much worse than that which was done to me by a sordid lecher so many years ago.
You need to feel it too. If there is anything that will dowse your temptations like a bucket of water on a fire, that will. I am not sure now how long I stood there shaking, sick to my stomach, but I did not leave that hideous little room until I heard other voices in the office. Nothing was going to get me out there until I was sure I was safe.
Sin in your life will corrupt you. Soap won’t get it out, no matter how many times you wash yourself. Only the blood of the Lamb and the grace of God can cleanse you. And even then, you should feel the need for more, and more, and more, and more, until finally you can face yourself in the mirror.
If you are having trouble with temptations today, remember this little story. It’s not something I share lightly.
Though you wash yourself with lye and use much soap, the stain of your guilt is still before me, declares the Lord GOD, Jer 2:22.
Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me to hear joy and gladness, That the bones which you have broken may rejoice, Psalm 51:7,8.