Are cookies, coffee and calories sinful? Is it wrong to put a spoiler on your minivan? Are drums from the devil? Will you become an alcoholic and go to hell if you allow a drop of alcohol to pass your lips? Is it wrong to watch secular movies? Will you become demon-possessed if you dare to look at paintings by the likes of Picasso and Van Gogh?
Is it always wrong to generalize?
I’ve used the British spelling of “gray” ( g-r-e-y) in my title: I hope you can indulge me. If you can’t, you really do need to read this post.
A Christian comedian who was very popular a few decades back, Mike Warnke, once described legalistic Christians as being “so narrow that they can see through a key-hole with both eyes”. Not only do some people want to avoid enjoying their lives, but they don’t think anyone else should enjoy theirs either. I don’t think…I hope I’ve never been that extreme in my zeal for God. Such legalism is usually-but not always-a sign of self-righteousness and a holier-than-thou attitude. This attracts no-one to the faith or to us.
THE ULTIMATE REDUCTIONIST/ MINIMALIST
When I first became a Christian I was so intent on parting myself from my former way of life and all that I perceived to be “of the devil”, that I purged myself of almost everything I possessed, everyone I knew, and all I had previously enjoyed.
I cut myself off from all my former influences and pleasures. Friends thought I’d been brainwashed by some American cult (cults from anywhere else in the world were perfectly acceptable). In fact they were so “concerned” about me that they avoided me like the plague. Perhaps this was a sign that I was actually on the right track, because:
“What fellowship can light have with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14).
Having been a bass player by profession, I sold my bass and my amp. I detached myself dramatically from my musical and theatrical contacts. I disposed of all my books, memorabilia and photographs, and my entire record collection-all the music I had loved, enjoyed and been influenced by for years.
For a time I was terrified that if I so much as puffed on one cigarette ever again or had a single sip of beer I would be cast immediately into the lake of fire. God would reject me, the rapture would pass me by, and I would be “left behind” to suffer all the evils of the Tribulation and subsequent judgment.
All that remained of my possessions and my former life was a bed and a Bible…and I was considering getting rid of the bed.
SWINGING BACK AGAIN
About two years later I underwent my first and my deepest bout of backsliding. Disappointment with God’s performance-the one I expected from him-made my heart sink a million miles. I didn’t reject the Lord in my life: I just put him to the back of my mind so he wouldn’t become a hindrance. The cause of this pendulum-swing turnaround was my own loneliness. I was so hurt that God would not give me a lover, a family and some Christian friends as he seemed to do for everyone else, that I intentionally allowed myself to slide at least part way towards that perdition, in a quest for company and for a girl.
Now I’m going to disappoint some of you by fast-forwarding to the present without sharing the intervening juicy details (for details, send a check or money order for $5000 to the address below…)
IN THE MIDDLE
Now, many years later, I find myself enjoying things which some Christians would consider unacceptable, un-godly, too worldly, and maybe even damnable. In fact, I regularly thank the Lord for what he allows me to enjoy and blesses me with.
No, I’m not one of those people who gets high every day and has a string of live-in lovers. Such things are among the “black and the white” things of life as far as I’m concerned: the things we can know are wrong in the eyes of God. As Paul said after listing some of the real sins of life:
“…those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:21; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10).
Instead of those damnable lifestyles, I’m speaking here of things which are not forbidden or perhaps not mentioned in the Bible, but which some self-appointed judges among Christians decide are sinful, shameful and damnable.
“Cookie-cutter Christians” is another of Warnke’s terms, which describes the product of some in the Christian world who, if they had their way, would have us all be identical to them or their favorite preacher in every detail. Even the discussion of grey areas is out of bounds in their eyes. If we were really Christians, they think, we would all be just like them: bored, boring and dispassionate.
FREE TO BE GREY (NOT GAY)
God has called us to freedom within his clear laws, not to a regimented tyranny (2 Corinthians 3:17). Yes, I agree that it’s sinful and damaging to indulge in certain things perhaps not mentioned directly in scripture, such as cannabis and over-graphic movies. And yes, he wants us to spend our lives in worship of him and loving and caring for our fellow man and those around us, rather than in serving ourselves. But it’s a big beautiful world which our God made: he didn’t make it to be ignored. He didn’t design our incredibly complex, inventive, creative human nature just so that we can cower in a corner and be bored out of our brains until we die.
It’s not God’s desire for us all to be the same (and how boring life would be if we were). Why does our DNA contain so much potential for variation, if we’re supposed to be cookie-cutter humans? This variety in our genotypes and our phenotype and our personalities, is there for a reason.
Grey areas do require some thought and prayerful Biblical consideration: are they really grey areas or are we just trying to excuse our disobedience? What kind of guidance does the Bible give for our consideration of grey areas?
“Everything is permissible for me-but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible for me-but I will not be mastered by anything” (1 Corinthians 6:12).
Paul advised care for others as our ultimate guide in those grey areas:
“Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak… “…so this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge” (1 Corinthians 8: 9, 11).
We must consider others in the out-working of our freedom. We don’t all have to conform to the life of the ultimate Christian reductionist in order to avoid creating stumbling blocks, but rather those things not forbidden in scripture which we may allow ourselves and which others are not able to enjoy or accept, should not be flaunted in front of others whose faith may be damaged.
In recent months I’ve made myself a promise: I refuse to snore and to fade and to fizzle out until I’m dead. I intend to make fireworks and go out with a bang. God gave us life. Life is beautiful-let’s not waste it. Let’s live it to the full!