I have always had a very strong sense of smell. In my profession as a doctor, it is both a blessing and a curse. My sense of smell makes me a better “detective”- when seeing a patient, I often get hints of what is going on by what I smell. I always know when someone is a smoker and will ask, “How much do you smoke?” instead of “Do you smoke?”. I know closet alcoholics and poorly controlled diabetics by the fruity smell on their breath. Tuberculosis infection smells like stale beer and Pseudomonas infection smells like grapes. A dental abscess gives off the odor of sulfur and someone in kidney failure will smell like ammonia.
It is a curse because many bodily emanations have a horrible smell: stool, vomit, pus, and gangrenous flesh to name a few. Incising and draining an infected sebaceous cyst or a perirectal abscess can be very gratifying except for the putrid smell that stays in the room and on your clothes for the rest of the day. I’ll stop giving examples now for those of you who are already getting queasy.
Smells can trigger certain memories that leave us feeling sentimental and nostalgic. The smell of burning leaves reminds me of high school football games. Pine fragrance reminds me of Christmas. Fresh cut grass reminds me of the warm days of summer. The smell of the ocean takes me back to enjoyable vacations at the seashore with family. Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “Memories, imagination, old sentiments, and associations are more readily reached through the sense of smell than through any other channel.”
Smelling good is obviously very important to many people as evidenced by the annual global perfume industry sales revenue of $28.95 billion dollars. Even if you don’t use perfume, think about some of the other products you use on a daily basis that have added fragrance, shampoo, hand soap, and laundry detergent to name a few.
I was talking to someone last week about how some people are drawn to us as believers in Jesus Christ and others resist getting close to us. The following verses provide an explanation for this:
Thanks be to God, who always leads us in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of Him everywhere. For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. 2 Corinthians 2:14-16 NIV
We are the fragrance of Christ to the world, either the sweet aroma of life or the stench of death.
Eugene Peterson said it this way in the Message translation:
Through us, God brings knowledge of Christ. Everywhere we go, people breathe in the exquisite fragrance. Because of Christ, we give off a sweet scent rising to God, which is recognized by those on the way of salvation—an aroma redolent with life. But those on the way to destruction treat us more like the stench from a rotting corpse.
The sweet aroma of being like Christ can be an irresistible pull toward our Savior, but for some it may repel. I pray others see Him in me and are drawn to the fragrance of His love and mercy. I want my life to give off the alluring scent of Jesus Christ to others around me each day. I hope I “smell good” literally, figuratively, and spiritually.