Paulfg has just posted an excellent reflection (“More godly than God Soft Hands Jesus”) on a lot of the commentary surrounding the movie/book “50 Shades of Gray”, and the oft-heard Christian echoes of “do not watch the film, do not let this filth enter your eyes, I have not watched it, I never will, and you shouldn’t either.”
Paul rightly points out these scriptures:
”Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.” Mark 7:15
”What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.” Matthew 15:11
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For me to say “I agree”, would be comically pretentious. Not only do I agree, but for more years than I could count I agreed SO much that I would judge and ridicule many Christians with principles more conservative than my own. I have NO sense that Paulfg is doing this, and I don’t want to be read that way. I only see Paul as confronting a rightly wrong thing… what I call “bubble wrap Christians”, who seem to believe that if you can keep “evil” from coming in through the eyes, ears, or touch… you can keep it out of your universe. (Would that were so!)
I have more than a few friends who keep their radios and TV’s tuned to nothing but “Christian” programming…. not so much because they truly ENJOY that programming, but rather because they are afraid of seeing or hearing anything else. They subscribe primarily to the “Three Monkeys” interpretation of the Gospel, apparently believing they can insulate their hearts from darkness or shadow.
And I used to “judge” them. Even if I did not do so in words, in my heart I would “ridicule” them. Paulfg does not. But I did… Can you relate? I hope not, but I think most of us have or do at some time or another. Whether we think eating fish on fridays, or praying the rosary is “quaint”… or that saying grace before meals in public is “showing off”… or that carrying a big print Bible to church in these days of iPads and electronic tablets is exhibitionist… or that abstinence from alcohol is contrary to Scripture, or the reverse… I have struggled for years with the challenge of not judging the piety or devotion of others by my own standards.
Ironic, is it not?
This is the nature of the critique of those who advise all others “not to see this movie”, and judge/condemn those who do… at the very same time that I, for one, am tempted advise all others “not to listen to these critics”, and judge/condemn them and those who do.
Um… it seemed like for years I could not find the “center line”, the “balance point” between “not judging” people for their taste in reading, drama, or art… and judging those who did! Given my own worldview, I almost constantly struggled with this frustration. My Jesuit Dad was the world’s best at attaining this balance, and he had a saying. “I have unboundedly liberal principles, that lead almost unerringly to conservative conclusions.” And that was true. There were no unaskable questions, no unspeakable thoughts, no irreverent propositions… God, when left free to consider all possibilities and propositions, always leads back to Scripturally consistent outcomes.
OK… now I want to share a “how” thing… not so much a “what” or “why”, but a “how?”… but I don’t want to come off as “having my act entirely together” on this, with some tone of “spiritual superiority”. You are more than welcome… invited even… to pray for my ongoing “reformation” in this area. Over years, as I struggled with my own judgmentalism, God would lead me to the same Scriptural place… every… single… time…
“Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his ownmaster he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” [Romans 14:1-4]
“Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way. I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” [Romans 14:13-17]
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So here’s the thing… here’s my problem…
When people whose conscience convicts them that it is “sin” to watch a given movie, and they go watch it anyway, that is out of order. OK, fine so far. BUT, when they tell OTHER people who do not share their convictions, that watching that movie is “sin”, because of THEIR convictions… that’s just as wrong.
And, of course, when *I* judge… whether for watching, not watching, advising to watch or not, or refraining because of these criticisms and commentaries… *I* am just as out of order as any of it!
It’s like being stuck on some horrible mess of fly paper. Every way you turn or twist, you just keep getting caught and gummed up. I was left “twisting” this way for years.
Finally, only a fairly short while ago, (and written up in this blog in a reflection on drosophila), I got this sorted…
The “trick” to this is… follow one’s own conscience, realizing that God deals with us each in our own appropriate way. “Share” about those reflections freely, as the spirit moves one, for the encouragement or edification of others… But only in the encouragement of “obedience to one’s own template”, NOT for the imposition of one’s own template onto the lives of others.
It takes no special training or theological sophistication to know the sense of “violating one’s conscience” or “being wrong”. Little children get this one down fairly early in life. There’s nothing “neurotic” or “psychologically unhealthy” about the sense of “right and wrong”, or the signals of conscience given off when we violate our values. In fact, we have a variety of “symptom terms” for conditions that have no sense of right/wrong or responsiveness to the “Ayenbite of Inwyt“, or the prick of conscience.
I know this may sound incredibly dense, but after a lifetime of wrestling this specter, I finally “got it”, and came ’round to the simple statement the Apostle Paul put right out there in black and white, that… “I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love.”
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C.S. Lewis, in The Screwtape Letters, narrates Screwtape advising his apprentice (Wormwood) about encouraging judgmentalism, spiritual arrogance and superiority in his “client” (the fellow being tempted). Screwtape’s comments include:
“We have quite removed from men’s minds what that pestilent fellow Paul used to teach about food and other unessentials—namely, that the human without scruples should always give in to the human with scruples. You would think they could not fail to see the application. You would expect to find the “low” churchman genuflecting and crossing himself lest the weak conscience of his “high” brother should be moved to irreverence, and the “high” one refraining from these exercises lest he should betray his “low” brother into idolatry. And so it would have been but for our ceaseless labour. Without that the variety of usage within the Church of England might have become a positive hotbed of charity and humility,Your affectionate uncle SCREWTAPE”
Eventually, I figured out the key that sorted this whole thing for me. Having done so, I sometimes upset some of my more conservative brethren, because it can seem to them as if I “have no standards”. But, rather like my boss and mentor from long ago, it comes down to the “One Rule”, and the iron grip of the discipline of that.
The key Scripture here is: “One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God.” [Romans 14:5-6]
Or, as the One Rule was woven into my internship, “discern the clearly delineated will of God, as affirmed by scripture, love, and witness of spirit, and obey that without hesitation or argument.” I find it enough of a challenge, these days, to conform to this alone. I don’t need to try to “inform the conscience of others”, or overlay my template on their lives.
But… but… what about exhortation? What about encouragement? What about confrontation of sin?
Well, that would be a whole new post of its own, but here’s how that works out in my own life and walk…
I encourage everyone I know and love to… discern the will of God for each moment as affirmed by their conscience and spirit… and do that. Right alongside that there’s the truth that although I endeavor to do that, sometimes I don’t succeed… and Jesus embraces us regardless. Like all of humanity, I am frail, I stumble and fall with clockwork regularity.
What then? Then Jesus stretches out His hand, I grasp it and He helps me up, we brush off the dust, and keep on walking. It’s the JOURNEY that He enjoys… the destination will come in its own time. If I keep staring at the map, or inspecting everyone else’s, I miss all the scenery, adventure of the trip, and joy in the company of wondrous travelling companions!
Grace to thee — The Little Monk