Many people in advanced industrial societies, including many Christians, find such language distasteful. Yet they might be reminded of what Mary Douglas argued in a 1993 work: there is a universal feeling that sin somehow defiles human beings.32

32 M. Douglas, In the Wilderness: The Doctrine of Defilement in the Book of Numbers (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1993).

Years earlier she had studied the widespread sense of purity and defilement, pointing out that behind the Code of Holiness in Leviticus and its persistent distinction between clean and unclean lay a common concern for order and completeness. ‘Holiness’, she wrote, ‘means keeping distinct the categories of creation. It therefore involves correct definition, discrimination and order.’33

33 M. Douglas, Purity and Danger (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1970), 53; see also D. P. Wright and H. Hubner, ‘Unclean and Clean’, ABD vi. 729 45.

The pollution of sin brings dangerous disorder and fragmentation; things must be brought back to harmony and wholeness. Drawing on Douglas, Colin Gunton concluded that ‘we shall … begin to understand the nature of sacrifice when we come to see its function in the removal of uncleanness which pollutes the good creation’.34

34 C. E. Gunton, The Actuality of Atonement: A Study of Metaphor, Rationality and the Christian Tradition (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1988), 119.

(3) Talking of the personal causality of priestly love that instituted a new covenant and communion with God might seem to introduce language that takes us away from the Letter to the Hebrews. Yet that text does portray Christ the High Priest actively mediating a new covenantal relationship with God, which brings a final, festal gathering in ‘the city of the living God’ (Heb. 12: 22–4). But what of Christ’s priestly love? Hebrews invokes love when exhorting Christians to a life of faith, hope, and love (Heb. 10: 22–4), but needs to be enriched by drawing on John (e.g. John 3: 16–17) and Paul (e.g. Rom. 5: 8) for the theme of divine love. The redemption effected through Christ’s priesthood has revealed and communicated the divine love to human kind. The tri-personal God has created the conditions in which our response can be made. One can speak then about the ‘empowering’, creative quality of the divine love that is embodied in Christ the High Priest and that draws men and women to respond freely in love. They are enabled to love by being loved. Human love has the power to generate love; ever so much more does the divine love, at work in the priestly activity of Christ, possess the power to generate love. Hebrews, through its rich language and pictures, presents Christ as vividly and powerfully actualizing God’s redeeming love.35