Unlearning Disgust

February 25, 2014 § Leave a comment


There is this interesting phenomenon called disgust psychology, which examines why we consider certain things disgusting and why it causes different reactions in different people. For instance, I have heard it explained before using the illustration of how we create spit in our mouths and yet if we were to spit it out and someone had us drink it again, we would be totally disgusted by that, not thinking twice about how that was just in our mouths.

That’s a great way to start out a blog post right?

Many researchers have come to a conclusion that disgust is in fact learned. Not entirely, there is obviously a combination of nature and nurture as with most things. But disgust is perpetuated and exaggerated through learning. Just as many would agree that racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. are learned behaviors. We don’t know why sometimes we react the way that we do, but something inside of us feels uncomfortable.

A couple weeks ago in church we read a story from Luke 7:

 One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.”  And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”

“A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?”  Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet.  You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” Then those who were at table with him began to say amongthemselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

I was struck by the beginning of this story. How the Pharisee said “If he knew what kind of women she was…” To me, this is disgust psychology in action. Being disgusted by something in another person that is also in you. If his sin was all on the outside, if it was glaringly obvious, if it was paraded around in society, he might be disgusted by it too. Or maybe, just maybe, he would want others to respond in compassion.

But he doesn’t seem to be concerned that he is a sinner. He doesn’t seem to notice that Jesus is dining in the house of a sinner. He doesn’t think there is a sinner in the house until she enters.

I couldn’t help but think of all the ways we do this to other people. We act as if the people that walk through our church doors are somehow unknown by God. We watch as they worship in the same way that we do and we act as if they are somehow tainting our perfect and holy God with all their sin and all their problems. If only God knew their sin, well then surely he would strike them down. Surely he would not receive their worship.

My friend Katie recently talked about how we sometimes don’t bring things to God because we don’t want to taint him, we think that the horrors of the world are too messy and so we keep them to ourselves, forgetting that God not only stepped foot into this world, but he lived and breathed it for 33 years.

And not only do we not bring him our messiness, but we judge other people for doing so. We keep talking about repentance as if it is what will “get us right with God” so we don’t taint him when we walk into his presence. And yet, we have a God who isn’t afraid of messy people.

I am amazed at how Jesus doesn’t care about being touched by “this sort of woman”. He’s not afraid of people’s messiness, he’s not afraid of the baggage they bring. I would say he only sees their worship, but that’s not true. He sees their sin too. He sees their heartaches and their hurts and their deepest thoughts. This is what makes it more beautiful for him to watch their worship. He’s not disgusted. He wasn’t disgusted by this woman worshipping with everything she was. To say that he only saw her worship and her love takes away from the fact that he saw everything and yet loved her and treated her the same. We often even want to act as if Jesus only sees the good parts about us. He only sees when we do good and turns a blind eye to the other, more complicated parts. This is why I don’t think we can separate aspects of people. Because God doesn’t operate under “love the sinner, hate the sin”. No, God just operates under love. He doesn’t compartmentalize, he sees all of it, and he loves in the face of all of it.  

I want to be a person that is not afraid of messiness, my own or anyone else’s. That is not offended by people’s sin because the only person it is allowed to offend, died on a cross for it and he tells us to forgive.  I find it amazing that in the end of this story Jesus equates the ability to love with the ability to forgive. I want to be a person who pushes through the baggage, who doesn’t run away, who doesn’t give up on people, and whose sins are forgiven, even if they are many, because I loved much. 

I want to be like this woman, coming to Jesus with all my shit and saying “here I am to worship”.



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