A couple of weeks ago, we were banding our bull calves using the Callicrate Bander, a product of one of our corporate sponsors. Hank Gaines, one of our Cattle for Christ board members, was helping us and we were discussing the pros and cons of banding calves versus the knife version of castration.
During our conversation, Gaines mentioned a conversation he had with another good friend of ours, Chris Sessions, a longtime cattleman and order buyer who had perfected the knife technique on 400-800-weight bulls. Without going into all the details, one statement that Sessions made regarding the importance of proper technique when using the knife was: "Blood cleanses!"
As a Christian, this is a common phrase and spiritual truth, but, as I researched the phrase as it relates to the physical cleansing, I ran across an amazing article written by Paul Brand, edited by Philip Yancey and originally published in the Feb. 18, 1983, issue of Christianity Today. Following are some excerpts from this article.
One cold, snowy night, Brand was walking along a dark street in London when he began to hear a familiar tune. As he turned a corner, he saw the source of the music was a small Salvation Army choir whose only audience was a drunken gentleman who was propping himself against a railing, and a businessman on the corner who kept glancing at a pocket watch. The words of the song were:
"There is a fountain filled with blood
"Drawn from Emmanuel’s veins;
"And sinners, plunged beneath that flood,
"Lose all their guilty stains."
Brand wrote, "An unavoidable smile crosses my face as I hear those words. I have just come from hospital rounds, where I saw blood being drawn from some veins, transfused into others, and diligently scrubbed off surgical smocks and nurses’ uniforms. With my church background, I know the origin and meaning of that Christian hymn, but these other two bystanders, listening half-heartedly – what images fill their minds as they hear those words?"
Consider the term "washed in the blood": nothing in modern culture corresponds to the idea of blood as a cleansing agent. We use water and soap to clean. Blood is a soiling or staining agent, something we try to scrub off, not scrub with. What possible meaning could the hymn writer, and Bible writers before him, have intended?
The symbol of blood with its specific quality of cleansing appears throughout the Bible, from the earliest books to the latest. In Leviticus, priests sprinkled cleansing blood on the skin of a person with an infectious skin disease. New Testament authors often refer to Jesus’ blood "cleansing" us (e.g., I John 1:7), and Revelation describes a multitude who "have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." (Rev. 7:14 KJV)
Does this frequent reference to blood indicate primitive Christianity’s distance from modern culture? To the contrary, in the case of this one symbol, blood, and its specific application of cleansing, modern medical science has shown the meaning derives precisely from the function of the actual substance. Presumably, biblical writers did not know the physiology behind their metaphor, but the Creator chose a theological symbol with an exact analog in the medical world. All we have learned about physiology in recent years confirms that blood cleanses.
To grasp the function of blood as a cleansing agent, put a blood pressure cuff around your upper arm and pump it up to about 200 mm of mercury. Initially, your arm will feel an uncomfortable tightness beneath the cuff. Try picking up a hammer and driving nails into wood with the cuffed arm. The first few movements will seem quite normal as the muscles obediently contract and relax. Then you will feel a slight weakness. Almost without warning, a hot flash of pain will strike. Your muscles will cramp. If you force yourself to continue the simple task, you will likely cry out in absolute agony. Finally, you cannot will yourself to continue; the pain overwhelms you.
When you release the tourniquet and air escapes from the cuff, blood will rush into your aching arm and a wonderful sense of relief will soothe your muscles. Your muscles move freely, the pain vanishes and life feels good again. Physiologically, you have just experienced the cleansing power of blood.
While the blood supply to your arm was shut off, you forced your muscles to keep working. As they converted oxygen into energy, they produced certain waste products (metabolites) normally flushed away instantly in the bloodstream. Due to the constricted blood flow, however, these metabolites accumulated in your cells. They were not cleansed by the swirling stream of blood and, therefore, in a few minutes you felt the agony of retained toxins.
The body performs its janitorial processes with speed and efficiency. No cell is more than a hair’s breadth from a blood capillary, lest poisonous by-products pile up and cause the same ill effects felt with the blood pressure cuff experiment. Through a basic chemical process of gas diffusion and transfer, individual red blood cells, traveling slowly inside narrow capillaries, simultaneously release their cargoes of fresh oxygen and absorb waste products (carbon dioxide, urea and uric acid). The red cells deliver these potentially hazardous chemicals to organs that can dump them outside the body.
In the lungs, carbon dioxide collects in small pockets and is exhaled with every breath. The body monitors how long this process takes and makes instantaneous adjustments. If too much carbon dioxide accumulates, as when you climb a flight of stairs, an involuntary switch increases your breathing to speed up the process. (Conversely, no one can commit suicide by not breathing – the involuntary trigger forces you to breathe.)
Complex chemicals are filtered out by a more discriminating organ, the kidney. Some observers judge them second only to the brain in complexity. The body obviously values them greatly, for one-fourth of the blood from each heartbeat courses down the renal artery to the paired kidneys.
Filtering is what the kidneys are all about, but in very little space and time – a new heartbeat pumps another gallon of blood through the floodgates each second. Each kidney manages speed by coiling the tubules into 2 million crystal loops, where cells can be picked over one by one.
Red cells are too bulky for those tiny passageways; thus, the kidneys extract all the sugars, salts and water from each cell and deal with them separately. The kidneys remove the red cell’s entire payload to distill some 30 chemicals; then its enzymes promptly reinsert 99 percent of the volume into the bloodstream. The 1 percent remaining, mostly ammonia, is hustled away to the bladder to await expulsion. One second later, the thunder of the heart resounds throughout the body and a gallon of fresh blood rushes to fill the tubules.
Thirty years ago, people with bad kidneys would have died. Now, however, three days a week for four hours each day, they lie motionless as a kidney dialysis machine crudely approximates the intricate work of the soft, bean-shaped human variety. Ours, however, weighs only 1 pound and works around the clock.
Other organs enter into the scavenging process, also. A durable red cell can only sustain this rough sequence of freight loading and unloading for a quarter-million circuits or so and then, battered and leaky as a worn-out river barge, it is nudged to the liver and spleen for one last unloading. This time, the red cell itself is picked clean, broken down into amino acids and bile pigments for recycling. The tiny heart of iron, magnet for the crucial hemoglobin molecule, limps back to the bone marrow for reincarnation in another red cell. Four million red cells a second retire to the junkyard in your body; 4 million more leap from the marshes of bone marrow to begin their circuit of fueling and cleansing.
All this inquiry into the process of cleansing leads back to the meaning of the metaphor. Blood sustains life by carrying away the chemical by-products that would interfere with it. This is the medical explanation of blood’s cleansing property. As I reflect on the body of Christ, the blood metaphor offers a fresh and enlightening perspective on a perpetual problem in that body: sin.
Metaphors age over time; sometimes they crack and the concepts inside them begin to spill out. Yet in blood we have the perfect analog to reveal the process of sin and forgiveness with startling clarity. Forgiveness cleanses the wasteful products (sins) that impede true health, just as blood cleanses harmful metabolites.
Too often we tend to think God’s laws were given for His sake, but the Old Testament shows that sin is a blockage, a paralyzing toxin restricting our realization of full humanity. God gave laws for our sake – not for His own.
Separation is at the root of sin: separation from God, other people and our true selves. Sin poisons us and it must be purged before we can be whole.
"Truly it is evil to be full of faults," Pascal said, "but it is a still greater evil to be full of them, and to be unwilling to recognize them."
The more we cling to our private desires and our own satisfactions at the expense of others – the further we will withdraw from God and others. The Old Testament Israelites had a vivid pictorial representation of this state of separation: God’s Presence rested in a Most Holy Place, approachable only once a year (the Day of Atonement) by one man, the high priest, who had purified himself through an elaborate series of blood sacrifices. Jesus Christ made that ceremony obsolete by a historical once-for-all sacrifice.
"This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins." (Matt. 26:28, NIV) Christ became a sacrificial victim as well as priest, conquering evil by forgiving it with his own blood.
The same living blood that bathes every cell with the nutrients of life also carries away all the accumulated waste and refuse. By his blood we are forgiven, made clean.