From the November/December 2015 issue of Discern Magazine

Hoarders: Buried Alive

Some harbor a compulsion to hoard physical things, often to their own hurt. But even more common is the human tendency to mentally hoard destructive sins.

Over the past decade reality TV has become one of the most popular genres of programming. There are shows like Survivor, The Amazing Race, Chopped, The Biggest Loser, Duck Dynasty, among many more.

One of the most shocking is the TV show Hoarders on A&E. There is also a similar show on TLC called Hoarding: Buried Alive.

Hoarders begins with this statement: “More than 3 million people are compulsive hoarders. These are two of their stories.”

The people in the show hoard books, clothes, trinkets, magazines. They hoard nearly any object you can imagine—junk mail, cigarette butts, even burned-out light bulbs. As a result of their compulsive hoarding, they face the threat of eviction, condemnation of their property, divorce and abandonment.

Quite literally, the things in these people’s lives are ruining their lives! In fact, living in a hoarder’s home has been likened to be being buried alive.

A parallel for Christians: the need to clean up our lives

Of course, the show Hoarders is not about all the hoards of junk people have collected. It’s about people cleaning up their lives—getting rid of the garbage, healing their relationships and creating the hope of a renewed and better life.

This dynamic of people struggling within themselves to clean up their lives provides an insightful parallel for all Christians. While we may not be compulsive hoarders as depicted on television, we can all find ourselves mentally hoarding things equally as destructive—watching or listening to unchristian materials, harboring vengeful attitudes or acting out of selfishness without regard to the interests of others.

Famous hoarders: the Collyer brothers

One of the most famous examples of compulsive hoarding is that of Langley Collyer and his blind brother, Homer.

The Collyer brothers were from a wealthy New York family, and they lived in a mansion on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.

Between the years 1933 and 1947 the two brothers amassed over 120 tons of refuse, junk and human waste.

Their stash—collected largely from dumpster diving—included newspaper, rope, baby carriages, rakes, umbrellas, rusted bicycles, old food, potato peelers, X-ray machines, a horse’s jawbone, human organs pickled in jars, six U.S. flags and one U.K. flag, 14 pianos, a clavichord, two organs and thousands upon thousands of books.

To God, you are worth so much more than the sinful junk of this world.

King Hezekiah’s hoarder intervention

When Hezekiah became king over Judah, God’s house could almost have been compared to the Collyer brothers’ home. The interior of the temple was trashed.

One of the first things Hezekiah did was open the doors of the temple. And the Levites began to take out the trash. First, they cleaned up the temple. Then they began to clean up their nation.

 You see, just as God’s temple had been cluttered with junk, the people of Judah had filled their lives with garbage. They had adopted the sinful ways of the surrounding nations. And their lives were full of filthiness.

Because of their immorality, the people faced eviction from their land and condemnation by God. So when Hezekiah came to power, he launched a nationwide intervention to clean things up. You could consider it like a Hoarders episode, but on a nationwide scale.

This amazing renewal initiated by King Hezekiah is recorded in 2 Chronicles 29:4-6:

“He [Hezekiah] brought in the priests and the Levites … and said to them: ‘Hear me, Levites! Now sanctify yourselves, sanctify the house of the Lord God of your fathers, and carry out the rubbish from the holy place. For our fathers have trespassed and done evil in the eyes of the Lord our God; they have forsaken Him, have turned their faces away from the dwelling place of the Lord, and turned their backs on Him’” (emphasis added).

Notice how God’s temple is referred to as the “house of the Lord” in the Old Testament. Now consider God’s house under the New Covenant.

The temple of God under the New Covenant

“Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16).

The apostle Paul calls each one of God’s people His temple! 

A person’s dwelling place is a person’s home. The temple is where God’s Spirit dwells. And so if you have God’s Spirit dwelling in you, that makes you God’s temple and also His house.

“If anyone defiles [pollutes or makes unclean] the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are” (verse 17).

The life of a Christian—like the temple of God (or, for that matter, the Collyer brothers’ home)—is a house that can either be kept clean or be filled with garbage.

God requires His house to be clean. And if a Christian’s house becomes too cluttered with garbage, he or she will be condemned as uninhabitable and will eventually be destroyed.

Filthiness and uncleanness in a person’s life is thus like hoarded garbage in God’s house. This garbage must be continually taken out for the house to remain inhabitable.

As a faithful follower of Jesus Christ, we must therefore continually be repenting and cleaning our lives from the filthiness of sin.

Are you keeping your spiritual house clean?

Returning to the Collyer brothers’ story, sadly in 1947 the two brothers were found dead in their home. Langley was crushed by a falling heap of junk he had rigged as a booby trap. Quite literally, the garbage in his life is what killed him.

After their deaths, most of the items in the brothers’ home were deemed worthless and disposed of. The salvageable items were sold for less than $2,000.

Ironically, what should have been the most valuable of their possessions—their house—was deemed unsafe and a fire hazard. In July of 1947 the mansion was destroyed. 

Consider the Collyer brothers’ story as an analogy for your life: 

  • Do you recognize that your most valuable belonging is having a clean spiritual life where God’s Spirit can dwell? 
  • Or are you so consumed by the worthless things of this world that you fill this house—your heart and mind—with junk (2 Chronicles 36:14-16; Nehemiah 10:39)?

Entering a hoarder’s home

In one of the Hoarders episodes, a friend of the hoarder summarized how God must view us when we fail to remove sin from our lives.

In this particular episode the hoarder’s home was such a health hazard that the city was on the verge of evicting the woman.

The friend of the hoarder knew her friend had a problem, but she had never seen the hoard herself. So in this episode the friend stepped inside the house for the first time.

As the two women weaved their way through hoarded piles of junk, the scene was absolutely appalling! Not only was garbage piled up to their eyeballs, but there was animal excrement all over and roaches running about. And yet the hoarder had this powerful attachment to her stuff.

You could see that the friend could hardly believe her eyes. And while she was completely disgusted by what she saw, at the same time she was moved with a deep compassion for her friend. 

Looking around at all the filth and junk, the friend of the hoarder thoughtfully turned to her friend and said, “You’re worth more than this. Why do you do this to yourself? Humans shouldn’t live like this.”

Her words resonated: “You’re worth more than this.”

The two women hugged and cried. 

Putting it into perspective

Imagine this woman holding on to all that garbage! That must be how God sees us when we don’t remove sin from our lives.

To God, you are worth so much more than the sinful junk of this world. That is why Jesus Christ came and died for your sins. He died so that your life could be cleaned out and become a fitting home for God’s Spirit to dwell (1 Peter 1:18-19).

In 2 Corinthians Paul once again calls God’s people the temple of God. He shows how God’s Spirit must live in a temple that is clean. Like oil and water, God’s Spirit and sin simply don’t mix.

“For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? … And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. …

“Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 6:14, 16; 7:1).

Don’t be like the Collyer brothers and let hoarded garbage destroy your life. Rather, follow King Hezekiah’s example, recognize the value of God’s temple, and clean it out. When it comes to the sinful pulls of life, always remember that you are worth more than this.

About the Author

Kris Kobernat

Kris Kobernat is a member of the Church of God, a Worldwide Association, in the Dallas, Texas, area.

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