The Gospel According to Essential Oils

by Andrea Burke August 6, 2019

I have hesitated to write this for years. My social circles are full of people who use, sell, market, and make a living off of these tiny bottles of “plant juice,” as they’re affectionately called. But, as someone I used to know once said, I love you more than I’m afraid of you.

And before you get all up in arms with me, before you roll your eyes and slam your laptop shut in irritation with someone who “just doesn’t get it” or who is overly-sensitive about something that God gave us, I’d ask that you just listen.​

And, full disclosure: I am not anti-oils. I have no doubt some of them work. I have a few staples on my shelf that we’ll use for cleaning and clean breathing, for good sleep and cozy baths. I cook with a few. I diffuse others. There’s no better smell to me than a home filled with the scent of cloves, cinnamon, and lemon in lieu of Lysol. ​

I am not against you, friend. 

I’m against the golden calf that I’ve seen built in your midst.

I’m passionately for you and your health, and passionately opposed to anything that has the form of godliness and calls for all your gold to fashion it. I’m all for subduing creation and cultivating what God has given to us from the ground to use for our health and body. I also know that this is our tendency as children of God — to be led away from pure and simple devotion to Christ. ​

We have traded the Holy Spirit for bottles of plant juice. We have added to the gospel through smells and scents, and promised those we lead that joy is found in something you apply to your skin and not something that happens to your heart. We’ve said forgiveness is enabled by sandalwood and lavender, and have placed the power of the cross on a back burner, after we’ve diffused some angelica for a bit. ​

We’ve traded the things of heaven for the things of earth. And isn’t this the subtle lie that seeps beneath every contortion of the gospel? The belief that sure, Christ is enough. Yes, he’s sufficient. Of course the Holy Spirit works within us. But maybe we could do our part too to make the magic happen. ​

Some could argue — you take medication, right? How is this any different?

My concern is this: I don’t take Tylenol for my unbelieving heart. I don’t pop an ibuprofen for when I’ve run out of money. Zoloft and Xanax may help your head process thoughts in a more balanced way, but anyone who takes them will also tell you that they are not the ultimate source of joy. The concern is not that they help; the concern is that they’ve become our Helper.  And there’s already one person who has that role and He doesn’t get diffused. You are right in one thing — we were meant to be utterly and completely dependent on something. The error is when we begin to think it comes in a vial.​

I’m worried that the influencers and those who garner a paycheck at the end of the day are first going to hand you a bottle of “Hope” before they point you to the hope of Christ. That when the struggle of life hits your bank account or fridge, you’ll be tempted to diffuse “Abundance” before asking the Spirit for his fruit. And I highly doubt when we read through Hebrews 11, we’re reading about how the heroes of our faith applied an essential-oil blend before they faced the circumstances at hand. (And yes, “Faith” is an option for purchase through one company.)  

Lest you think I’m assuming too much about my audience, I would say that 99% of those I know who use and sell essential oils through MLM companies are also professing believers. This is not a New Age market of people who have willingly traded the cross for the creation. 

False gospels, false cures, false antidotes for the sickness in our souls have been around since the dawn of creation. Since the serpent deceived Eve with his cunning, we have been led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ (2 Corinthians 11:3). Before you think I’m just panicking and wringing my church lady hands over no big deal bottles of perfumes, let’s walk through a popular essential oil company’s descriptions of their blends:

  • Forgiveness: “Forgiveness™ contains an aroma that supports the ability to forgive yourself and others while letting go of negative emotions, an important part of personal growth.”
  • Faith: “The INFUSED Faith™ Inspired by Oola essential oil blend has been specially formulated to help you feel grateful, humble, and fully secure in your place in this world. This confidence-boosting blend enhances spiritual influences, promoting deeper meditation and a greater sense of spiritual awareness and connectedness. Faith affirmation: I am grateful, humble, and fully connected.”​
  • Finances: “The INFUSED Finance™ Inspired by Oola essential oil blend has been specially formulated to encourage positive emotions and increased feelings of abundance. This uplifting and inspiring blend also brings clarity and alertness. Finance affirmation: I am financially free and living abundantly.”​​
  • Humility: “True humility is the foundation of emotional strength. Humility™ is a blend of pure essential oil scents that promotes deeper spiritual awareness.”​

Last I checked, the fruit of the Spirit is the following: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, Self Control. These are things the Spirit produces within us. He knows we are incapable of mustering them up in our souls or self-affirming our way to the top of the mood mountain. We need something more. We need an external force to move us from death to life. ​

These are not things we can bottle up. They’re not feelings we can produce through deeper spiritual awareness or self-affirmations. They’re not moods we can pull onto our shoulders like clothes. A popular belief system among these crowds is the gospel of self, for some the teachings of “oola,” for others the affirmations that accompany any self-adulation praise —I am enough. My future is in my hands. ​

All day long, tell me how clove and cinnamon and peppermint and lavender can aid in the care of my home and family. Tell me how lemon is good for my circulatory system. Show me how Thieves kills germs like nobody’s business. But stop telling me that you’re a happier person because of your roll-on blend.

We cannot serve God, then find our comfort in the things of this world that promise us an empty gospel, an empty hope, or a false gospel that tells us our redemption is elsewhere. We do not need oola; we need 2 Corinthians 2:14-17: ​

But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing,to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.​

The hope of our lives, the peace of our souls, the joy of our hearts cannot be manufactured by anything on this planet. We need the cross, the blood of Christ, the stone-rolling-away sound of an empty tomb to scrub our hands clean of the idols we’ve worshipped. We need the aroma of Christ, the fragrance of the gospel, the truth of a work that only God can do. I do not need a salvation of oils, a diffused hope, a cure that demands if I just tried hard enough, applied enough, believed enough. ​

My prayer is that we’d be the kind of people who can marvel at the beauty of creation, who can take dominion over it for our good, and who also know when we’ve exchanged the Creator for the creation and the truth for a lie. I don’t need Jesus + oils. I need the resurrected Christ, from now until I return to the dust that the plants grow in.

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