Have you ever wondered which came first “must” or “musty”? And how are they related – if they are related at all? Of course, by now you might be thinking that “he must be crazy” for asking these questions … or just plain “musty”!
Personally, at first glance, I think the must came before the musty. And here is the reason why: A “must” is an obligation, something that is necessitated. And thus it is generally associated with an external power forcing us into a prescribed behavior. However, we view ourselves as fiercely independent, the lords of our own lives, and thus we view those “musts” as “musty” – rank, pungent and offensive.
As I was musing about this, I noticed that another description of musty was “spoiled by age.” Having just turned 69, this grabbed my attention, for I certainly am not the same person I was in my early 40’s. Have I, since then, become “dull, heavy, spiritless” (another definition of the word “musty”)? The scales tell me one of those words is true, but I pray the other two are not!
Where do these ruminating thoughts originate? Could it be the by-product of reaching the same age at which my father died? Perhaps, but I do not think so. I prefer to think they grew out of our Wednesday morning discussion of Romans 3 – which reversed my thoughts of the order of origin between “musty” and “must”.
The conversation begins with the statement “None is righteous, no not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless (or, we might say, “musty”); no one does good, not even one.” (Romans 3.10-12) The bible – or, I might say, the truth – is very clear. We all start out “musty” – rank, pungent, and offensive. It is who we are by nature.
However, thanks be to God in Christ Jesus, this is not the end of the conversation. “But in our time, something new has been added. What Moses and the prophets witnessed to all those years has happened. The God-setting-things-right that we read about has become Jesus-setting-things-right for us. And not only for us, but for everyone who believes in him … Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinner and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by the means of Jesus Christ.” (Romans 3.21-24) The external force of God upon us, rather than being him saying, “You must behave this way,” is him in his gracious love saying, “I must do something to rescue these musty people.” Yet, even then, in his love, he does not force this rescue upon us. He allows us to remain fiercely independent, the lord of our own lives.
However, “God sets right all who welcome his action and enter into it, both those who follow our religious system and those who have never heard of our religion. But by shifting our focus from what ‘we’ do to what God does, don’t we cancel out all our careful keeping of the rules and ways God commanded? Not at all. What happens, in fact, is that by putting that entire way of life in its proper place, we confirm it.” (Romans 3.30-31) In other words, our “must”, rather than being an external obligation forced upon us, is an internal drive recognizing that God – the designer and creator of all – knows what he is talking about when he says, “This is what life and living is all about.”
This means that, not only our personal mustiness, but also our “spoiled” way of thinking that we know better than God, are gently and lovingly being transformed by God – not by his application of external pressure, but, through enlightenment. As he illuminates us, our “must” becomes an internal, independent drive that recognizes both the wisdom of God’s ways and our dependence upon him and his grace. Our lives become a sweet aroma to his nose, even though we keep noticing a remaining pungency on our end.
Are “must” and “musty” related? I think so. God in his love said, “I must do something about that musty smell coming from the people I created.” So he sent Jesus, who absorbed all of our odor into himself, and gave us his clean, fresh aroma. Then, as he enlightens us with his Word, he transforms us from being “dull, heavy, and spiritless” (musty) thinkers into people whose lives are exciting, free, and Spirit-filled … free to love all … free to give ourselves away in service to others … excited to enjoy every blessing God in Christ pours into our lives. And I must say, I see nothing “musty” about that!