on Life Without a Filter

Recently, our water filter converted itself into a hydro-powered jet engine. It’s the kind that screws on to your water faucet, and it seems like the threads on the actual faucet itself have decided to throw in the towel on corporeal existence. Which is fine, especially since this particular faucet was procured in (I believe) the third century B.C., and the poor things probably needed a break. It just comes with the added complication that, whenever we try to run water through the filter, the filter flies off like the world’s most poorly designed rocket ship, leaving us with a cluttered sink and a stream of city water.

There’s a very specific reason Jesus did not promise His followers “a pipeline of living city water” in John 7:38. Actually, there’s two. The first is that it would have been anachronistic and made no sense to His disciples; the other is that it would have been disgusting. Speaking as someone currently on city water, I’d say there’s a very good chance my water already is living, and not in the way Christ meant.

I didn’t always notice this, though. My wife, Mary, grew up drinking well water, whereas I’d spent the majority of my life drinking whatever came through the city’s pipes. So when we got married and moved into our apartment, it wasn’t long before Mary was begging for a water filter.

No filter, no problem?

To me, the water was fine. I could drink buckets of the stuff. (Although I didn’t, since I can only imagine the ramifications on my digestive tract.) But because it bothered her so much, we went ahead and purchased one. I didn’t notice any difference, although she claimed it tasted million times better.

And then it fell off. And I figured, “Oh well, the city water isn’t really that much different on its own and I don’t see how one little filter could make much of a difference and besides ppppbbbblllaaaauuugghhahhh WHO REPLACED OUR WATER LINE WITH THE GARBAGE PIPE.”

As it turns out, one little filter can make a very, very big difference. After a month of drinking water separated from most of its impurities, having to go back to the city’s supply was cringe-worthy. I had trouble even finishing a glass; it wasn’t long before we were buying bottled water from the grocery store.

How a filter works

The purpose of a filter, in any application, is to separate two things that are stuck together. The spam filter on whatever email service you use is intended to keep you from receiving the stream of junk email that countless online shysters are sending your way. A circular polarizing filter for a camera lens makes sure only certain aspects of sunlight make it into your photo. And a water filter, of course, is for keeping unwanted sediment and debris from making it into your drinking glass.

A water filter does this by forcing the water from your faucet to run a sort of gauntlet. Physically, it provides a sort of “net” that anything bigger than a water molecule gets trapped in. Chemically, carbon blocks act as a sort of magnet, coaxing smaller debris out of their bond with water and onto itself. The end result is much, much cleaner water in your glass, with most of the unwanted gunk trapped in the filter.

Appearances can be deceiving

What shocked me the most about my adventure with the water filter was that, not long ago, I’d been perfectly content to guzzle away at the same water that I now have to fight not to spew out. Until I was drinking filtered water on a regular basis, I couldn’t tell that there were any impurities in the city water. It was just normal, clean water to me.

When I was in Kenya to help out with a church camp, I was reminded on multiple occasions not to drink the local water. Sanitation was so nonexistent there that well water was usually infested with the kind of bacteria your colon has nightmares about meeting, and drinking it would likely give you plenty of time to familiarize yourself with the layout of the country’s bathrooms. Native Kenyans, on the other hand, drink it on a regular basis. Because they’ve spent their whole lives with water that polluted, their bodies don’t make as much of a fuss about it. It seems as clean to them as city water once did to me.

In other, very simple terms: Just because what you’re allowing in your life seems clean doesn’t mean it is.

A spiritual filter

So let’s talk spiritual implications. We live in an unbelievably polluted world. Dissect any aspect of society’s day-to-day life, and you’ll find all manner of impurities. And as Christians, we face the challenge of living in it, without being a part of it (John 17:14-16). But how is that even possible?

Well, in simplest terms: a filter. That’s exactly what God’s law is—a filter designed to allow in the good parts of life while filtering out the garbage. Take a look at each of the Ten Commandments and what you’ll find aren’t arbitrary laws or whimsical statutes, but a set of filters to ensure better living. Keep lies out of your life and you’ll earn trust. Don’t allow yourself to covet and you won’t be plagued with the stress of keeping up with the Joneses. Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy and you’ll find a much-needed day of rest and rejuvenation every week. The list goes on and on.

And it’s not just the Ten Commandments. The entirety of God’s law is a filter against the worst kind of garbage—sin. It is sin that tears apart relationships, shatters trust, destroys entire lives and just generally degrades us until nothing good remains. Remove even one facet of that filter, and you allow an entryway for sin to snake its way into your life.

Put your filter to use

You might be like I was with my city’s water. It tasted fine; I assumed it must be fine. Likewise we can look at our lives—at what we’ve come to accept as clean—and not realize just how much garbage we’re actually letting in. Christ reprimanded the congregation in Laodecia because “you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked” (Revelation 3:17). Our imperfect senses can sometimes convince us that our condition is better than it really is.

God didn’t give us the Bible as a paperweight. It is filled with all the information we need to construct the perfect filter in our lives, keeping sin away from us and allowing the good in life to come through untainted. That filter requires continued maintenance, meaning we need to look at it every day and compare to what God recorded for us and make sure the two match up.

God didn’t intend our lives to be filled with garbage. But it’s out there, and when we don’t use His perfect law as a filter, we’re going to run into it. As David writes, “Who is the man who desires life, and loves many days, that he may see good? Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit. Depart from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their cry. The face of the Lord is against those who do evil, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth” (Psalm 34:12-16).

It sounds to me like a filter is a pretty worthwhile investment.

Until next time,

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