We’ve all heard it said many times, “cleanliness is next to Godliness,” but is it true? Well, in some sense everything is next to Godliness, but obviously, that can’t be the sense that people mean when they toss out that aphorism because then it wouldn’t mean anything useful. Not that people are all that averse to saying things that are either meaningless or just not useful, but when they say “cleanliness is next to Godliness,” they do mean it to mean something.
So what do they mean when they say it?
Well, you know, it’s one of those phrases that seems to be designed to be deliberately ambiguous. That way, you might not get exactly the same meaning that the person saying it meant for you to get, but you still think they said something wise. They move up in your opinion, because you think they said something worthwhile, and yet, really, you would’ve come up with it on your own if you’d ever had any reason to think about it.
So for the record, what meanings do I see: God is pure, purity is a form of cleanliness, or vice versa, so by being clean we are being god-like. Or: Cleanliness is a form of taking care of ourselves; God gave us our bodies and expects us to care for them, so cleaning ourselves is doing what God wants us to do. Or: By keeping ourselves clean on the outside we develop the habits that will also lead to us keeping ourselves clean on the inside and to keep clean on the inside, we must live without sin and living without sin is only completely done by God. You’ll note that this last one is also covered by another old saying, “clean body, clean mind.” I could go on with different interpretations, but they’d pretty much all be variations on a theme (and what theme is that? Why it’s “cleanliness is next to Godliness”).
I’d tell you what God had to say on this, but, well, when you were a little kid did you ever ask your Mom a fairly straightforward and simple question only to have her make you work it out on your own? And just dropping it wasn’t good enough, no matter how much the answer really wasn’t important to you, you brought it up, she’d tell you, so now you had to figure out the answer. Well, sometimes God is like that.