In  Isaiah 65:6 NIV, we read, “And all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind, our sins sweep us away.”

Well, that sounds harsh.

Good deeds like volunteering in food kitchens or collecting trash from the roadside, fight hunger and pollution. Good deeds attack the trashy elements of our culture, much like a wash rag removes dust and dirt from our homes. Of course those rags get filthy, but does that make what we do with those rags no better than sins? Don’t all good people go to heaven? A philanthropic atheist may have a point when he asks a church going parishioner why he doesn’t tithe.

Another World

A Visit to an Operating Room

Heaven must be wildly different from anything we can conjure up. We know a few things about it, though. It is full of wondrous sights, sounds, smells, and creatures we can only imagine, and we hope, our loved ones. We also know nothing impure or sinful can exist in its rarefied space.

In a tiny way, I see a similarity between heaven and an operating room. An operating room is unlike any other room we encounter. Despite bacteria laden humans, the instruments and surfaces holding them, are germ-free. No bacteria are allowed in those areas as are no sins allowed in heaven. (No, the surgeon is NOT God.)

A Few Rules

I’m going to steal this analogy from my nursing background. I’ve done a few stints in the operating room, so let me set the stage to make my point that the values are different there.

There are at least two nurses involved in a surgical procedure. The “circulating” nurse is not sterile (in the bacterial sense). He or she does not scrub from fingers to elbows, nor does she wear a sterile gown over her scrubs. She wears a mask (as all who are present in the operating room do).

The other nurse scrubs, wears a sterile gown, gloves, and her role is to assist the surgeon, usually by handing him/her instruments.

There are two sterile table coverings, one atop the other, on the table that holds the instruments. Everything from the table edge, and the doctors/nurses sterile gowns from waist down, is considered “contaminated.” That’s why those who “scrubbed” hold their sterile gloved hands together near their upper chest when not engaged in the operation. The back of the sterile gown is considered contaminated. So when one passes another in the operating room, they do it back to back.

The circulating nurse opens the coverings of the sterile instruments over the table and lets the contents just fall onto it. The “scrubbed” nurse will arrange the contents with sterile gloved hands touching sterile instruments. Sterile can only touch sterile.


That’s the choreography in the room. Now, to make instruments, gowns, table coverings sterile. Some items arrive sterile from the factory. Other things, like instruments, need to be re-sterilized after use. The staff washes and then wraps them in a cloth. They place the washed and wrapped instruments in an autoclave to kill all bacteria under extremely high heat and pressure.

Only then can they be used again in surgery. Otherwise, they still would be too filthy to be used.

Back to Isaiah’s Analogy 

No matter how much of a clean freak I may be in my home (okay, friends, stop laughing), or on what cycle I wash my cleaning rag, it remains too dirty for an operating room.

The operating room is not the same environment as my home, no matter how clean. If one wanted to use my clean rag in the operating room, it would need sterilization in the autoclave. If we compare the operating room to heaven, where God dwells, then the autoclave represents Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Only by that cleansing can my sins (filthy rag) be clean enough for God’s presence.

Good deeds and generosity make this a better world. But in God’s Kingdom, only that which is made pure through Jesus and His sacrifice, our autoclave, is welcome.

My best is not good enough without Jesus.  It’s a dangerous philosophy to believe good deeds can earn us any rewards beyond this temporal world.