The other day at the dentist, as he was scraping away the plaque off my teeth, I found myself thinking about the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Now God doesn’t wear a surgical mask or have a waiting room full of Highlights magazines, but in some ways he is like a dentist; for just as our teeth need constant care and attention, so too does our soul.
There are certain things I can do to take care of my teeth: I should brush my teeth at least twice a day, floss my teeth daily, and not eat too many sweets. But no matter how much care I spend in doing these things, I still fall short in my desire to have perfectly healthy teeth. I must rely on the expertise of a dentist who can detect and remove the defects in my teeth and can make them dazzling white.
We can apply this analogously to our growth in the spiritual life. I can say my prayers every day and do some particular good deeds, but without the grace of God, I could not do all the good deeds needed in my life and any good deeds I do perform could not be meritorious. I could never attain the happiness of the beatific vision. It is God alone who can treat and heal my soul and bring me to everlasting life.
Now notice that the dentist actually takes away the plaque off one’s teeth. The dentist desires to see my teeth and my gums free from bacteria and disease; he does not want my teeth to rot and decay. He wants the entirety of my teeth to be restored to health, both on the outside and on the inside. That discomfort we feel when the dentist uses the scraper on our teeth should be a relief for us: it is a renewal of our teeth.
God operates in our soul in a similar way. God does not merely cover over our sins with a veil of faith in the Redeemer; the Redeemer actually redeems us from our sins. He takes away our sins and infuses in our souls the life of sanctifying grace, and from this life arises the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity.
We could point to Christ as the soul’s ideal dentist. Just as a dentist scrapes away the plaque off our teeth, God, through the effect of grace, especially in the sacraments, takes away the sin on our souls. And just as a dentist does not wish to destroy our teeth but to perfect them, so too God does not desire to destroy our human nature, but to perfect it: grace perfects nature.
I am very thankful to have dentists who will scrape my teeth so that I can have healthy teeth. I am even more grateful that God loves me so much that He takes away my sins so that I may have a share in eternal life.
I will take you away from among the nations, gather you from all the foreign lands, and bring you back to your own land. I will sprinkle clean water upon you to cleanse you from all your impurities, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you, taking from your bodies your stony hearts and giving you natural hearts. I will put my spirit within you and make you live by my statutes, careful to observe my decrees. You shall live in the land I gave your fathers; you shall be my people, and I will be your God. (Ezekiel 36:24-28)
Image: Gerrit van Honthorst, The Dentist