You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. It is written: ‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,every knee will bow before me; every tongue will acknowledge God.’ So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God (Romans 14:10,11).
Yesterday a young friend of mine, a former coworker, invited me to his place to play poker with his friends. I gladly obliged since I have always enjoyed visiting his home, talking with his father (who is my age) and messing around with his buddies.
A few hands after we got started, we were ushered into the kitchen where some sandwiches and cookies were waiting. My friend’s mother kindly prepares a little spread each time we have a game at their place.
As we were munching, my friend’s Dad began to bring out bottles of various spirits. He noted that he himself nor his son drank alcohol, but we were welcome to them. The father noted the alcohol was so plentiful because he had been given bottles of it by former students and others.
My friend’s other two invited guests were regular drinkers. They had no trouble inbibing. I, on the other hand, am not a drinker except on rare occasions.
When the father mentioned cognac I became curious. I had never tasted what to me seemed to be kind of an elite beverage, and I wanted to try some, so I did.
Later, during our game, one of the drinking players took a short break and went home. He was busted and had to go get some more money.
When he returned he had some famous brand of Irish whiskey with him, and offered me a bit. As with the congac, I accepted the offer and noted how smooth this particular drink was.
As the game went on, I also found myself losing. Although I don’t play Texas Hold ‘Em much, losing to these guys was a new experience for me. I had won the pot the last two times I had played.
Luck I guess. We don’t play for much, but as I am on a tight budget I winced at even the few euros I was giving up.
As I have reflected on this past evening, I am curious about something. What has sparked my interest is my emotional reaction as I: was offered and drank alcoholic beverages; lost money while playing cards.
What I experienced in my feelings last night was guilt. Why is that, I wondered?
In thinking about it, I have determined that my evangelical Christian background influenced my emotions. It occurred to me to ask myself,”What if so and so knew about this (and certain influential Christians in my life popped up)?”
My reaction to my participation in last night’s events were not earth shattering. Indeed, I had a few sips of alcohol only. Furthermore, my losses at poker were worth the expense in my view.
I thought,”Where else would I have had so much fun and had such good food and drink at these prices?” Yet, the guilt still floats through my subconscious.
Because of this, I have mentally been running through some biblical principles I know about such issues. For example, I know that the Scriptures make no probibition against drinking alcohol. It only speaks against drunkenness (Ephesians 5:18).
I also know that the Bible exhorts believers in principle to not violate their consciences, nor to hurt weaker believers in their practices (Romans 14;13,22). In my case, I am pretty sure my guilt was not the result of the breaking of my conscience, only a reaction to what I believe some folks in the evangelical circles I hang around would think.
In fact, as I have thought further I have even patted myself on the back. I know we are to take care of our bodies as temples of God, and I refrained from the cigars offered (I Corinthians 6:19). I thought,”I have enough health issues. Why add to them by inhaling smoke into my lungs.”
Indeed, I even engaged in a little more analysis and judgment of my own.”Why, Dwight Moody, a hero of Christendom, was a smoker. If some people knew their Christian history, they wouldn’t be so smug.”
What is going on here in my heart? I think an episode of the TV medical drama “House” called “Love is Blind” has helped me to flesh this out.
A young blind man named Will is brought into the care of Dr. House. While in the hospital he is visited by his girlfriend Melissa.
As the writers of this episode make clear, Melissa is quite controlling. She treats Will like a child. This is perhaps because Will is a minority and blind and Melissa is a healthy young white woman.
Will tells the doctors he intends to marry someone else he met while the couple were “taking a break” because of Melissa’s behavior. “Most of the time she acts more like my mother than my girlfriend,” he tells the female Dr. Adams, who thinks Will is treating his girlfriend badly.
Indeed, Will breaks the news to Melissa during one of her “mothering” incidents that he is breaking up with her. She storms out of the hospital room distraught.
What I perceive in Christianity as it is practiced in some circles in America is this tendency for believers to “mother ” one another . I suppose it is only human nature for people to like to tell other people what they think is “good” for them, but Christians at times like to add the air of God’s authority in their pronouncements, as if they speak for the Almighty.
The truth is that in many cases they are only speaking for themselves and their opinions. Their understanding of what is good and not good for others may or may not be legitimate or appropriate, but they come across as if they bear the “Word of the Lord”. Furthermore you get the impression that if you don’t follow their way of thinking, you’re be in their doghouse.
Will’s worsening condition provides the scaffolding for my teachable moment in relation to how believers ought to actually treat one another. The doctors determine that the right course of action to save the young man’s life, but it means he may lose his hearing in addition to still being blind.
When he learns the news, Will refuses treatment. He tells the doctors he has had enough of his suffering and can’t bear any more.
Enter Melissa with Dr. Adams. The script best bears out what happens next.
Melissa: Will, it’s me.
Will: Let me guess. The doctor who thinks I’m an ass wants you to convince me to live.
Will: It won’t work.
Melissa: I know. So I won’t.
Will: Wow. You’re that angry?
Melissa: I’ve made enough decisions for you. This is your life.
Will: Why’d you come back?
Melissa: Because I love you. And I want to be with you for as long as I can.
Will: Melissa, I’m so scared.
[She moves from the doorway to his bedside and takes his hand.]
Melissa: Me too. I’ll always love you.
Will: Even if I was deaf?
Melissa: Even if anything.
This unconditional love moves Will. He accepts the “cure”, and the next morning asks Melissa to marry him. She enthusiastically accepts.
Melissa treated Will as an adult, allowing him to make his own decisions, including life or death ones. She no longer tried to manipulate him into the path she thought best.
The results of Melissa’s course in this fictional drama were positive. Perhaps the end result won’t always be so rosy, but it would behoove believers in Jesus Christ to give each other the same kind of freedom.
If a person takes a public stand on some issue important to us, and especially if they are trying to influence others, we have the right, perhaps even the duty, to oppose them. But on private matters of conscience, cutting each other some slack seems to be in order in my mind.
A little less arrogance and a little more freedom of choice, “even if”, would go a long way in today’s world. God Himself gives us that kind of freedom, so why don’t we do the same?