November 25, 2020

The Love Of Jesus Is Enough: A Meditation on Morality

NOTE: I have chosen not to post a larger number of comments than usual. If you want to know why comments aren’t posted consult the IM F.A.Q. where this is addressed in one of the questions.

I could have posted some perfect examples of moral reasoning following our love, but I think the point is clearly made.

I recently searched my email archives and found a letter from a reader about the use of marijuana by a Christian. It reminded me of why I am more than a bit annoyed at the unhelpful moral reasoning that leaves out Jesus.

First, the highlights of the letter:

1) Almost everyone in America smokes marijuana or assumes it’s not wrong. (A statement that is factually untrue and if so, means nothing to the Christian. Great portions of the Bible were written to people living in empires and kingdoms that insisted everything from child sacrifice to emperor worship was universally the right thing to do.)

2) It’s no different than moderate use of alcohol. (Again, factually untrue from any number of angles, but it doesn’t matter. In scripture, comparing one thing to another without reference to God is meaningless. Similarities between legal and illegal behaviors don’t address why we make those distinctions. Why is it illegal to have sex with a consenting 17 year old but not with a consenting 18 year old? And the question for the Christian isn’t anything like “How is smoking week like drinking?”)

3) It doesn’t affect my life as a Christian. (Excuse me for appearing to know more about you than you do, but that’s simply not true either. The fact that you made that statement proves the statement is wrong. It’s like saying “In my mind, viewing porn makes me a better husband.” Your subjectivity poisons your moral authority. It’s like saying you stayed up to hear yourself snore.)

4) There is no reason to say someone is a drug user if they are using pot a couple of times a week. (Right. That’s assuming the term “drug user” no longer refers to a, you know, person who uses drugs. You’re asking for a special definition to protect your behavior.)

5) My friends and I have researched this and…. (I don’t want to waste the bandwidth with the examples that come to mind with this one…..oh just one. “The Cubs are going to win the World Series. I’ve been reading a lot of Cubs fan sites and…..”)

If you’ve had these conversations, you know how it feels. You are generally debating with someone who is completely blind to their MORAL situation, so they want the discussion to be a LEGAL and RATIONAL ONE. God is at the mercy of a reasoner, doomed to irrelevance so the preferred behavior won’t be taken away.

You noted the silence of scripture. You noted the complete lack of desire to know and do God’s will. And you should have noticed the total absence of Jesus.

Let’s assume that I am involved in an adulterous affair. What are the chances that I could prepare and deliver a talk on the subject: “Why this affair is, in my case, the right thing to do?” Why would I be able to talk for 10 minutes with complete sincerity about the rightness of my affair? Perhaps because I was morally inclined- or totally determined- to fully approve my own actions so that my conscience might be persuaded to shut up while I’m having sex? Or might it be because I am looking to approval from a few others whom I will award the title of truly insightful, thus insuring me of my moral superiority to those narrow and judgmental fundamentalists?

We are moral creatures, but our morality can be motivated a variety of ways. Terrorists believe the killing of innocents is somehow moral. Drug dealers believe it is morally right to deal drugs. Cheating bookkeepers believe there is a rightness to skimming their take off the books. Moral choices are at the mercy of our rebellious, sin-loving minds.

Now the response of many Christians to all of this is to attempt to “out reason” the reasoners. They try to present stronger, better arguments. They seek to demolish the other fellow’s reasons or to undermine the basis of his arguments. One can hear examples of this at most churches, in parenting classes, in Bible studies, in schools, in “values” seminars and so on. Christians are quite convinced that those who do not believe the Gospel are waiting to be bowled over by stunning examples of moral reasoning.

Christians have become great arguers of morality, especially the morality of their position on the great issues of the day. And it’s a fool’s errand.

Here is the problem, and please listen carefully if you are a young person dealing with this issue yourself:

The problem is that our moral life isn’t energized by arguments. Morality grows out of LOVE.

It’s not about reason. It’s about my affections: do I love God and others? Or do I love sin and self?

For a moment, imagine what it is like to teach your kids right and wrong every day for years, only to discover they are violating that morality while away from home. (Marijuana is a good example.) What is the usual response?

-blame yourself
-blame a corrupting influence, like Hollywood or the public schools
-blame the church for not teaching morality
-make it all a psychological issue and get medication
-blame the devil
-blame Christians who didn’t teach their kids as well as you taught yours.
And of course, buy a book and make a better argument the next time they are home.

We could stay here a long time and blow up each one of these responses.

The best response is simple: Your child doesn’t love God more than he/she loves sin. If their heart and their affections do not change, they will not change. Change follows love. Pain can effect behavior, but love shapes character, life, integrity and true actions done for and in God.

We are drawn toward what we love and we love what we believe gives us significance and security. For the Christian, the source of this kind of love is no mystery for the Christian. They mystery is why we refer to the source so rarely.

Love the Lord your God is a command to trust God as the source of significance and security. This settles the majority of moral questions on the spot. But there is more: For the Christian, morality is Jesus shaped. Jesus is perfect morality. His life teaches it. His spirit empowers it. His words embody it. Knowing Jesus and loving Jesus are the substance of morality. Moral choice is about how I live in and for the one who loves me most deeply.

Jesus doesn’t give his disciples any kind of comprehensive list of dos and don’ts. He says, “Come follow me.” Jesus moral arguments ask us if we love God and if we love neighbor and self. Then he shows us how, perfectly.

We belong to Jesus. Morality is simplified again: If I belong to Christ, what do I do? If he has purchased me, what is right for me? If I belong to him, what are the moral choices of one who chooses to be another’s slave?

On the most basic level: Whom do we love? What do we love? Where is our security and significance?

We are not comparing this with that, or loading up arguments to be compared and weighed. We are asking what it means to belong to the God who comes to us in Jesus and makes us his own?

Susanna Wesley saw this clearly in her answer to her son John’s question about what is sin?

“Take this rule: whatever weakens your reason, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God, or takes off your relish of spiritual things; in short, whatever increases the strength and authority of your body over your mind, that thing is sin to you, however innocent it may be in itself.”

Morality becomes not just the question of love of God or neighbor, but what will the choice itself DO TO ME? What person will I become? What results from this choice in my capacity to know and love Jesus? To be aware of his love for me?

To the writer of the letter, I would say “What does using any drug in order to get high say to and about Jesus? What does it say about you and do to you as a person who belongs to Jesus?”

When I read the scriptures saying that Jesus is the alpha and the omega, or the author and finisher, I certainly think that the “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Jesus is the starting point for the Christian, but Jesus is the goal of everything in our life as well. It is not just “What would Jesus do?” or “How does this conform to the Gospel?” It is also “How will this affect my journey with Jesus? What will this do to me as a person following Jesus? How does this affect my vision of Jesus?”

We do not think about moral issues like lawyers, just as we shouldn’t think of salvation like lawyers, even though there is a legal dimension. Morality is also about relationships with God and family. It is about love, life and integrity. It is about who we are and who we are becoming. It is about where we come out and not just about what we do along the way.

Marijuana used wrongly is a sin. No question about that to anyone who takes scripture as their guiding authority. (The Christian pro-marijuana sites on the internet make it obvious why the phrase “What are you smoking?” continues to be meaningful.) But for the Christian, marijuana use is incompatible with knowing Jesus, loving Jesus and following Jesus. It seeks in a substance security and peace. It denies to Jesus his place and power. It replaces the Holy Spirit with an empty and idolatrous spirit.

It makes Jesus sad and it sells us a replacement for Jesus that has no place in being compared to the joy that is in Jesus. The Devil is an argument maker. Jesus is a lover. A Satan follower is like Peter, “thinking like man thinks.” A Jesus follower is a Jesus lover. Jesus is the bridegroom who pursues us with holy, relentless love. He desires a bride who loves him in the grace of the Gospel.

Let’s make moral arguments when appropriate, but as Christians, our morality is Jesus shaped and there is no way to make any moral decision without Jesus in the very center of every question.

Comments

  1. Kenny Johnson says

    I’m not sure I really follow what your saying… Do we have to understand everything we do in relation to Jesus?

    I don’t really disagree with your conclusion that using marijuana is or at least can be sin, but I guess I just am not following your logic.

    Are you saying that being high interferes with your ability to love God? We already know that the Bible condemns drunkeness and I think it’s safe to say that it’s really condemning intoxication. My feeling is that being intoxicated lowers your inhibitions and your ability to reason and act responsibly — which is why I think smoking marijuana is sin.

  2. >Do we have to understand everything we do in relation to Jesus?

    More like: We understand the entire Bible and everything in the Christian life in relation to Jesus. God, life, church, community, mission, morality–all of it is Jesus centered or its not thoroughly Christian.

  3. Oh, man. Let me hear this again and again, imonk. I am so lost without my point of reference, always and forever Jesus Christ.

  4. “But for the Christian, marijuana use is incompatible with knowing Jesus, loving Jesus and following Jesus. It seeks in a substance security and peace. It denies to Jesus his place and power. It replaces the Holy Spirit with an empty and idolatrous spirit.”

    I don’t think all or even most marijuana users are seeking security or peace by smoking. I agree that morality is based in love. But asking if I love Jesus before smoking is as valuable as asking if I love Jesus before drinking a can of coke. We need to add something else.

    We need to add reason to the mix. I think you’ve created a false dichotomy between love and reason. They need to work together. How would I know going out on Halloween was a sin if I wasn’t told? Do we say better safe than sorry? Or do we try our best utilizing love and reason we have now? We have to love enough, to reason clearly enough, to accurately decide if an action is a sin. And we’ll get it wrong anyways.

  5. Jeremiah Lawson says

    seems like the Wesley quote includes reason to me.

  6. As a former marijuana user 27 years ago, I can’t see how a commited spiritual life and smoking could ever be compatible:

    – It puts a barrier between you and everyone else

    – It’s an escape from life

    – Those using are usually self-medicating to run away from something in their life

    – Their love of self is low

    – It can become their god

    – and last but not least, it gives you the munchies, particularly for things like Hostess Ho Hos

    Having been there and having since been on a long journey to know God from the heart, this is something that would only cause me to move backwards.

  7. I think the quote by Susanna Wesley has it backward. I don’t think sin is about your sinful body weakening your mind. That seems to me to put sins of the flesh in the forefront and blames the material world for sin.

    I would say sin is whatever increases the strength and authority of the ways of the world and your own selfish desires over your mind and heart. This then impacts what you do with your body (sins of the flesh) or what your mind thinks about (sins of the spirit like hating your neighbor, envy, greed, lust).

    I think the point that sin is all about what we love .”..do I love God and others? Or do I love sin and self?” says it very well. That love, good or bad, comes from the mind and heart.

  8. Well, in relation to point no. 3 – whatever your opinion on the harmlessness of marijuana (and for the record, I’m agin’ it), it’s currently illegal.

    Now, even if everyone you know either smokes the stuff or doesn’t see how moderate usage is wrong, it’s still illegal. Which means you are breaking the law. You want to argue this is an unjust law and that Christians are not required to obey unjust laws? Fine, knock yourself out. Probably there was a lot of the same reasoning going on in the time of Prohibition regarding alcohol.

    But – this means that you are in the habit of breaking the law; of lying about it; of being deceitful; in short, you have developed a little cluster of attitudes and ways of acting that are bad for your character. And you think this has no influence at all on how you live as a Christian?

  9. Anything used wrongly is sin.

    Legalities aside, deciding what to do with pot is done exactly by comparing it to moderate alcohol use. If moderate alcohol makes me prone to behaving poorly then I sin by using it. Same with pot, when it is used in a legal way.

    And for those same reasons, but with lesser effects chocolate ice cream would a sin.

    It is used only for pleasure.

    It is used for comfort.

    It alters your state of mind.

    An inordinate affection or bad motives can make an otherwise innocent activity sinful, but it is not affection that defines sin, it is revelation and it is applied through the use of reason.

    It seems like you are trying to make two separate things into one:

    1- Things that are always sinful: like adultery, theft, ect.

    2- Motives and affections that make anything sinful.

    You need more than just love of Jesus to stop sinning, you need to know what sin is. We do need both.

  10. In CA marijuana is legal for medicinal purposes. Basically anyone over 18 can get a medical card. So the illegality of it isn’t as much of an issue here. If and when it becomes legal for recreational use I see no difference between smoking and drinking alcohol. Anyway, I’ve been married to a pot-smoker for the past 34 years. No, I don’t like it, but we’ve agreed it’s between him and God.

  11. this is quite possibly the best essay on christian morality in the contemporary world i have read. thank you.

  12. I am wondering why you haven’t mentioned the word ethics a single time. I don’t really feel that your piece reflects morality but legality and social perceptions of pot-smoking (i.e. the 34 year old idiot pothead who lives in mom’s basement listening to Zep all day in his PJ’s). An above poster made the point well – substitute alcohol (even moderate use) or chocolate ice cream into your piece and you are back to the same arguments I have heard from some teetotalers in the past.

    This reminds me of a Sacha Baron Cohen skit with him playing Bruno interviewing a pastor. He allows the paster to answer his questions with “Nicht, nicht!” or “Ach ja.” Starting with having sex with men, he works his way down to eating chocolate (“Nicht, nicht, unless in the fellowship of Christian friends”). In particular, I think this passage comes off as rather careless:

    “But for the Christian, marijuana use is incompatible with knowing Jesus, loving Jesus and following Jesus. It seeks in a substance security and peace. It denies to Jesus his place and power. It replaces the Holy Spirit with an empty and idolatrous spirit.”

    I am not a pot-smoker. I drink moderately and irregularly (sometimes less moderately). I also have a cup or two of coffee every morning, and none of these things are of an idolatrous spirit. I smoked pot twice at the age of 14 and never since then. Other than that I am not interested in it.

    The biggest barrier for me is ethical. Here in CA it is decriminalized and a misdemeanor to carry anything under around 30gm of the stuff (which means a $100 fine). But regardless, unless you are growing it yourself (which is NOT a misdemeanor), know personally and very closely the person that is growing it, chances are that you have blood on your hands (we all do from all sorts of things, of course). Not in the sense that you have killed someone, but that somewhere along the way another person really put his or her life on the line for your high. To me this is an issue of Christian ethics and truth-telling. You might enjoy your high or buzz, but once you are honest with yourself about the source of your bud, you must carefully think about what you are doing.

  13. I agree that mj definitely can have negative ramifications for physical/ spiritual health. I have to admit I’m more influenced by post-modernism here just because the current drug policies in our country have been based on the zero tolerance drug wars. 50% of America’s jail population is comprised of drug users; you can bet some of them are marijuana offenders. According to Gallup, about one-third of all Americans over eighteen have tried mj. Despite (or maybe indirectly because of) the war on drugs, mj cultivation has dramatically spiked in the last twenty years. Mj is constantly grouped in with the gateway drugs, although it is arguably not the most dangerous, and coincidentally, it is the only illegal one.
    Although I would fully agree with Jesus on the warning against drunkenness and hence the prescription for becoming a new creation, I would highlight the question of how we could realistically expect the marijuana situation to get any better as it is. Anti-prohibition arguments maybe more valid than we think. I don’t think God created marijuana accidentally, just like alcohol wasn’t an accident. Our society just developed different norms regarding the two, and by avoiding pot-smokers as Christians, we might be making a mountain out of a molehill when it comes to the level of perversion and hence, we might avoid a strong seeking population. I don’t see it as entirely unrelated to Jesus hanging out with drunkards.

  14. “You want to argue this is an unjust law and that Christians are not required to obey unjust laws? Fine, knock yourself out.”

    While we’re at it – does every driver on this board drive at or below the posted speeed limit?

    If not, why not?

  15. iMonk, I’m not entirely sure what you’re getting at here. I do understand when people argue from the legal or rational, instead of the moral. I don’t see marijuana broad-brushed by Scripture as morally wrong, so the letter writer could have used a moral argument more effectively. Genesis 1:29. Sometimes our morals are skewed by wrong thinking of the culture around us and the response to that wrong thinking is reduced to the legal and rational. I can think of examples where use of marijuana can be in love and with thanks to God. I’m not a user, by the way. Never have been. Except for the 2-3 times way back in Berkeley. Yes, I inhaled. 🙂

    Steve wrote: While we’re at it – does every driver on this board drive at or below the posted speeed limit?

    If not, why not?

    I prefer to take the biblical approach and drive at the speed of the flow of traffic, out of a concern for safety, even if it is above a posted speed limit. The second greatest commandment given by God Himself is greater than arbitrary laws handed down by hack politicians in Sacramento. Example: I drove from San Fran to LA quite a bit in the 90’s. It’s a long, straight 300 mile drive on rural I-5, and the flow of traffic was usually 85-90 mph. If I drove 65, I would be putting my fellow drivers at risk. Better to be safe and at risk of unfortunately getting a ticket than to be sorry for ending somebody’s life. Needless to say, I see things a bit differently on these issues.

  16. “As Christians, our morality is Jesus shaped and there is no way to make any moral decision without Jesus in the very center of every question.” That sums up the article quite nicely. It is interesting, however, how some of the responses have so easily detoured into reasons why this concept should not be front and center to the life of a Christian. In so many ways, we want to hold on to the smallest part of our lives and be god of that area, as if that decision gives us a type of control. But as a Christian, the only “control” I have is the free will to obey or not obey.

  17. Michael, I like your comments very much, “On the most basic level: Whom do we love? What do we love? Where is our security and significance?” and “It seeks in a substance security and peace. It denies to Jesus his place and power. It replaces the Holy Spirit with an empty and idolatrous spirit.” And Susanna Wesley’s statement about sin is perfect.

    And Radagast: I love your comment!

    I work with kids who get in trouble with the law and I hear over and over, “Marijuana calms me down. It helps me sleep. It’s better than my meds. Alcohol is worse.” It is true that I see more people doing violent, dangerous things while under the influence of alcohol. But that doesn’t make marijuana “good.” People can come to treat their pot like a God: it helps them through life; it helps them to be happy; they feel like they are being better people and more loving while stoned. There is even a group in Maine that is trying to get the courts to agree that their pot use is part of their religion.

    Pot use is merely masking the pain that folks feel because they do not know the power and love of God. The more masked it gets, the less they know that they need God. BUT…what do I do about the friends who do use pot? Well, at this point, I have not been with people using pot for a long time. Probably because once they had kids they got used to the fact that they had to hide their use, so they continue using “secretly” and I don’t see the use. But I do know it happens. I need to love them just as they are. That’s what Jesus would do. Jesus loved people FIRST and THEN they repented. It was not the other way around. And there are so many sins we need to repent of including anger, jealousy, greed, pride, etc. It’s just that pot use is so tricky in that the folks feel they are better people when stoned, so it’s hard for them to understand that it’s not something God would want for them. Think of it this way: can you picture Jesus getting stoned? I can’t. But I do think some pot-smokers would say, “For sure!”

    And just for honesty’s sake: I did use pot during my late teens and twenties. I regret that and think that I was being very stupid. I came to see it as clouding my mind and my very being. I became eager to straighten out and preferred reality to being stoned. And as I became aware of the presence of God, I saw even more so what a stupid, dangerous, destructive thing I had been doing years ago. I pray for those people who feel they need pot, alcohol or other drugs to get through life. Life IS difficult but people need to know that God is our Comforter and our support. And we can’t just TELL them that; we need to SHOW them that. Words are cheap.

  18. All of the arguments and rationales I have read here and elsewhere are ones I have used for a long list of sins. Relevatisim, ethics, my individual abilities to know God in ways you can’t; I have used them all and more. At some point I began to truly submit my will to God and then the dominoes started to fall: porn, moderate drinking, South Park, Snickers bars. They all were idols I had set up so I wouldn’t have to worship Jesus. Unfoutunately, until you get to that point in your relationship with God where you are willing to really seek His will and then obey, you can rationalize just about any behavoir as being acceptable.

  19. How quickly this has descended into a legalistic debate, missing one of the chief points in the post, specifically that “our moral life isn’t energized by arguments. Morality grows out of LOVE.” What we have here is arguments for following rules and justification for breaking rules.

    I’m with Steve on the the speed limit issue. There’s nothing quite as funny as being blown off the road by a mini van with a Jesus fish on the back, who’s driver, out of their unselfish love and concern for ME, is risking a ticket.

    I struggle with discernment of whether or not some action or thing represents love of self over love of God. Taken to it’s extreme, I could end up wearing plain clothes in a house with no adornments whatsoever (including pictures of family and loved ones) subsisting on bread and water. No slavish devotion to television shows like Lost, House, CSI, etc., no potentially dangerous habits such as internet use, no wasting money on non-essential things like Kindles or the next DVD/HD/BluRay technology, and on and on this could go.

    The “either or” mindset that says you cannot enjoy one of life’s pleasures without excluding God is ridiculous, and in my mind, used as another manipulative argument by those that don’t approve. These are the same folks that pull out the big gun of “stumbling block” when they need to end a debate.

  20. In the case of a child smoking pot, I do see that throwing blame around would be useless and encouraging greater love for God would be the path to take. What is the best way to encourage that love for God in one’s child, though, other than the parent attempting to engender greater devotion in his own life? That is a long process (lifelong!) and some situations call for more immediate action. That is why I err with my children so often on the side of doing nothing because I know that I am not as moral, faithful, devoted as I should be and thus feel wrong in asking them to be what I am not.

  21. I know we didn’t come here to debate pot usage. But I have to say that I find it kind of hypocritical to say that alcohol usage of x amount is okay, but pot usage of a similar level is not.

    If our discussion were based on the morality of breaking laws (as pot is illegal in most cases in the US), that’s one thing. Obey the laws of the land and render unto caesar and so forth. That’s good – Christians are obligated to obey the law, even ones that “harsh” your “mellow.”

    But why is pot usage any more toxic to your relationship with Christ than alcohol usage, other than the fact that usage breaks the law? If it were legal, why would it be any different than having a couple of beers?

    If you’re saying “mind altering substances” are bad, then alcohol is right up there. If you’re saying it’s a bad example? Well, same with even STEPPING INTO a bar.

    Sorry if I steered us off track.

  22. Kurt McInnis says

    The idea of love for Christ (not fear or reason) being the basis for my obedience has been a recent development in my spiritual life (thanks in part to Steve Brown). The following song from the RUF Hymnbook speaks volumes in the title alone, but I hope the whole text helps others as it has me.

    “Love Constraining to Obedience”

    Chorus: To see the Law by Christ fulfilled,
    To hear His pardoning voice,
    Changes a slave into a child
    And duty into choice.

    1. No strength of nature can suffice
    To serve the Lord aright
    And what she has, she misapplies,
    For want of clearer light.

    2. How long beneath the Law I lay
    In bondage and distress
    I toiled the precept to obey,
    But toiled without success.

    3. Then to abstain from outward sin
    Was more than I could do
    Now if I feel its power within
    I feel I hate it too.

    4. Then all my servile works were done,
    A righteousness to raise
    Now, freely chosen in the Son,
    I freely choose His ways.

  23. Imonk,

    I’m a college student in NYC, and many of my friends and peers smoke pot. Having said that, I’ve heard my share of arguments for why pot should be decriminalized and legal. In my experience, and from various Christian articles I’ve read, the moral and ethical argument for why people shouldn’t smoke pot all fall flat when compared to the arguments for small to moderate pot use in a personal setting.

    Pot smoking is wrong, short and simple; however, such a position cannot be based on any moral, ethical, or “natural law” foundation, but solely on loving Jesus with all your mind, heart, soul, and strength. You are totally right.

    But man…sometimes I wish things were more clear cut…Jews have their 613 laws, Muslims their fatwas, we Christians have only Jesus…which is great, but sometimes…I miss the law…

    The problem Imonk, is that people can warp Jesus into anything…the homosexual Jesus, the “I accept drug use” Jesus, the hippie Jesus, the anarchist Jesus, the Republican Jesus…in the end, I must ask, “Will the real Jesus please stand up? Please…?”

  24. Having had my stint in the drug culture and then had many profound life changing experiences in the Holy Spirit — I choose now to wait for the latter to come at His bidding rather than the artificial release of mind altering biochemicals at my whim, to the detriment of my bank account, my mental health, my spiritual progress and the endangerment of my life and that of everyone around me, thank you.

  25. Oh, I don’t know. I haven’t toked in almost 30 years. If it were legal, I’d probably smoke once in a blue moon with friends. (I do confess that I drive the speed limit because of Ro 13.) I’ve been married for almost 20 years, and certainly wouldn’t say the same thing about adultery, even though it is legal. I find it hard to make a biblical (let alone Christo-centric) case that imbibing marijuana to enjoy the buzz is always intrinsic sin.

    When IM asserts that “for the Christian, marijuana use is incompatible with knowing Jesus, loving Jesus and following Jesus,” I’d agree that any level of use is sinful for him. And I’d also agree that any significant level of use is incompatible with following Jesus — as with alcohol, tobacco, sugar, fat & etc. — but I disagree that any use is incompatible with following Jesus. (And, again, I haven’t smoked for almost 30 years, so I’m not trying to rationalize and justify my own behavior.)

    That said, I’m fine with it being illegal, if the social cost of decriminalization is greater than the social cost of criminalization — DUIs, its use as a gateway drug (although the latter might change if it were decriminalized), etc. The social cost of criminalization is pretty steep also, however, with the number of folks imprisoned for violating marijuana laws.

  26. btw — the second part of my above comment is the definition of addiction ….

  27. Sherwood MacRae says

    Enough about the Biblical approach. If we are to be called Christians, then we are to be followers of Christ. It was He who said, “You must be born again.”

    We all came into this world as babies, we were born out of our mother’s womb.

    And what the first thing we did? If you were anything like each of my four children, it was either cry for food or attention or, more likely, mess youur diaper. That conclusion went on for a few months and then, you learned to crawl on your knees and – eventually, to walk on your two feet. What am I saying? Simply, the birth process has little to do with you, it has everything to do with those who cared for you and helped you to become more like them.

    I was “born again” as I was about to reach my 45th birthday and looking back, I was a lot like those children I helped to raise. I needed a lot of love and attention and I have to believe it was available to me. Then, I learned to “creep” and to “walk and talk” and twenty years later, I could look back and see that I had matured, somewhat.

    As I read the initial post and several of the responses, I began to wonder how far they were along in the maturing process. If you were one of those, I would ask you to examine for yourself.

    At the “spiritual” age of 34, I am no longer caught up in such discussions. Even before I was born – anew, I had seen the results of drug use in many of those I met on a daily basis. It was not for me. As I became alive to Christ, I observe and listen and when it was applicable, I may have responded. More often, I went on my way.

    In the very first book of the Bible, God asks two questions of His first “born” – one, the question that most of us recall, “Where are you?” (Gen. 3:9) A very important question for all of us, who believe in Him as we need to be able to answer, should He ask of us, “Where are you – in terms of your relationship with my Son?”

    The second is often missed, but is every bit as important – “Who told you that you were naked?” (Gen. 3:11) In this instance, He was referring to their physical condition, that they were naked. But, to be honest, He has had to ask of me, “Who told you – that you should believe in evolution, or that abortion was not a sin?” And when I responded as best I could in those moments, He often suggested that I was listening to the false “prophets” of this world and not to Him, listening with my ears and not with my heart.

    And when we have learned to listen, we begin to hear more clearly.

    Thank you for listening….

  28. How does what you’re explaining here differ from how others might explain their objections to (even moderate or slight) alcohol use?

  29. iMonk, you sage:

    In my experience, non-loving morality drives people away from the Lord much more effectively than non-loving pot smoking.

    “Morality grows out of love,” isn’t that kind of a poor choice of words? The definition of the word “morality” emphasizes judging behaviour.

    If it stops at judging a single behaviour, perhaps morality can grow from love; but if that behaviour creates assumptions about how a person thinks and feels, and about what their relationship to God is, the love may have left the building.

    You don’t need love to moralize: politicians, fundamentalists, terrorists and myself have proven that many times.

    “Righteousness grows out of love,” strikes me as more in line with scripture.

    Blessings,
    a

  30. I loved the Susanna Wesley quote! What a summation.

    This line was also great ‘It’s like saying you stayed up to hear yourself snore” Indeed we are unable to see what we stand inthe thick of.

    Your blog is disctince and always takes me down an interesting little side path…thank you!

  31. “It’s not about reason. It’s about my affections: do I love God and others? Or do I love sin and self?”

    “We are drawn toward what we love and we love what we believe gives us significance and security. “

    I don’t think Michael’s point was the marijuana use nearly as much as how we decide what is wrong, or try to justify what we want to do as right. Or rather, whether is pleases God. Bottom line, if I love God most, I will do what pleases him most. If I love myself most, I will do what pleases me most.

    My ongoing problem is a heart that often loves me more than God. What I focus on, what gives me pleasure, what dulls pain and brings comfort other than God is sin. I find myself crying with David “Create in me a clean heart, and renew a right spirit within me.”

    I think the verse about the eye being the light of the body applies here as well. What we spend our time focusing on becomes the light that guides our steps.

    For me, alcohol and drugs aren’t on the radar. But reading… I can spend all day and be up all night to finish a good sci-fi novel. My comfort, my distraction from pain and responsibilities, my focus…that becomes a sin.

    Maybe I could start a church that makes novel reading a sin….wait, that’s already been tried.

  32. If something’s against the law, we shouldn’t do it – “render unto Ceasar,” etc., coming straight from Jesus, being rationale enough.

    When we DO do it, we should at least have enough integrity to own up to it without inventing some nonsense arguments to defend ourselves with.

    Following Jesus step by step means relinquishing our right to argue the Law with Him. Not following Jesus means doing whatever we want.

    As someone who basically does whatever he wants, the distinction is clear to me.

  33. “Pain can effect behavior, but love shapes character, life, integrity and true actions done for and in God.” I believe you have captured an extraordinary truth in few words.

    Excellent.

  34. Jacob Harding says

    Why is sin sin? Is it because god is so smart and wise he alone knows what is good and bad or is it because he is the creator and therefore the author of good and evil. The latter surely is the more orthodox. Whatever god decrees is so simply because he decrees it. It is not as if good and evil were abstract from him and he alone has the wisdom to discern it and then tell us. Why is it wrong to kill someone? Is it because it is disgusting or unfair? Is it because it causes another pain? NO! Sin is sinful because god decreed it so. When we take what god has said is wicked and call it good we have attempted to usurp the authority and wisdom of our creator. There are many good reasons to avoid a sinful act because of the consequences and the obvious repulsiveness of it, but when we not only commit a sin but then try to explain it as good we have attempted to do something that is reserved only to the creator. Ofcoures as sinful creatures we are constantly trying to overthrow gods authority. Our flesh wants its own desires which are far removed from god, but thankfully through the power of Christ we hate this old man within us. We see our deeds and know our desire to be our own ruler and we despise it. We often give in to it and even at times allow ourselves to indulge in it all the while still hating it.
    Now, hopefully,if you are a christain, you have not seen any major theological error in the above paragraph. Simply put, god hates sin but woe to the one who calls sin good. Ok…vice versa. What if I take what god has called good and call it sin? This can’t be so bad since it is not going to result in sinful behavior. I mean…all I have done is say to god “You are not so wise. I think this should be evil.” Now, let me clarify. To abstain from something which is not sinful is not what I am talking about. If you are convicted to abstain from something that god has not prohibited please here me when I tell you to do what you are convicted of! Please do not take what I have written as a call to go against your conscience. However, there is a huge divide between a personal conviction and a creation-wide decree over an act.
    So sin is sin because god said so and good is good because god said so. I don’t think I need to go any further.
    The fact that it is illegal does present an obstacle and could result in a whole seperate thread on gods authority and mans, and our responsibilities to each. If we lived in a country where abortions were mandated would we obey man or god? This is ofcourse an unfair and extreem example since murder is a sin and since NOT smoking pot is not a sin. But we can obey our government and abstain from marijuana and still declare it to not be evil by gods design.
    I would like to see someone answer this question. “If we condemn marijuana because of how we percieve its effect on us, then how do we keep this from applying to everything else not specifically mentioned in the bible?”.

  35. Memphis Aggie says

    Morality grows out of love – what a beautiful expression of truth, and one that I can remember. I makes perfect sense too when I think how back to how much I changed to please my wife because I love her. It just makes sense. If you really love God, then pleasing Him by keeping the commandments is easy because you want to please the one you love. Helpful synopsis Michael.

  36. I completely agree with what I believe is the main point of the post . . . Morality stems from Love.

    However, on the specific example of Marijuana I feel that you have set up your opinion in a way that any attempt to rationalize a different answer proves your right answer . . . neither of which I agree with.

    Many I feel hav made the points I want to, but I’ll touch on some again.

    I do agree with those that claim this is more about ethics, legality, and “blood on our hands” than about the actual substance. Alcohol, Bank Accounts, Video Games, Dr. Pepper . . . all these things can play the role that you seem to say that Marijuana ALWAYS plays in a persons life. Its not wrong to enjoy things and perhaps we ARE actually finding peace in God by enjoying and giving thanks for his creation.

    There is a lot to discuss on this, but I believe that most Christians agree with your conclusion on Marijuana mainly because of the stigma and culture around it. But I venture to say that most Christians in 30 years (Marijuana will be legal soon) will read this and see you as a legalist.

    Some very good points in this article, but also some very poor absolute statments.

  37. I agree that there are things that are always wrong, and then there are things that stem from bad motives. What’s not of faith is sin.

    I just do not think that I could swallow the pill that pot is and always will be sin in all places, all circumstances, and all times. Like adultery. Not buying it.

    However, I do sympathize with disdain for the puny rationalization that pot smokers use to justify their behavior. That always raises a red flag with me and points to the strong likelihood of sin. Kind of like the metropolitan community church with their stance that the Bible never says homosexuality is a sin. Or the Muslims in the middle-east having a historically revisionist conference on why they know the holocaust never happened. Hello? Does ANYBODY see an ulterior motive here? I feel like I’m taking crazy pills!

    Whining excuse making notwithstanding, I have never and will probably not ever smoke pot for the simple reason that it is illegal. While I do not claim to be the most perfectly law abiding citizen in the country, I do believe that cooperation with the legal authorities is a commanded sign of true Christianity. If we demonstrate that we have contempt for any authority that doesn’t align perfectly with our own reason, then how are we supposed to show a lost and dying world that there is a God that they will have to answer to and he has revealed Himself truthfully in His word?

    However, if you are in a country where pot is legal, I just don’t see how it could be absolutely sinful. Habit forming, mind altering, escapism? Certainly a potential. Just like alcohol.

  38. Michael,

    Am I correct that this post isn’t about Marijuana at all? If I were to decide (after much council with pastors parents etc.) that in a particular situation, it would be loving for me to smoke pot, that the best way for me to follow Jesus would be for me to smoke pot, I’d be in a situation you’re not addressing at all in this post, right? (For the record, the hardest drug I’ve ever “used” is single malt. And I have no intention whatsoever of ever doing any drugs.) You’re just using the issue of marijuana as a touchstone for how our moral reasoning isn’t usually as Christocentric as it ought?

  39. Cody Barnes says

    Great article iMonk. I would have to agree with some of the others, in that I’m finding it hard to follow your thought. However, I did pull some good stuff from it though.

    As far as all the the talks of legality of pot, man can create what ever kinds of laws he wants, it doesn’t make them just. Like in Romans when Paul said the law pretty much just lets you know what you’re doing wrong. Creation of new laws just makes new criminals. Hearts have to changes, and no man made laws can change a heart.

    I agree that many people look to justify their appetites. For what reason, I don’t know. Maybe an admission of wrong requires action, which requires effort. I have many vices, and to the best of my abilities, I try not to justify them. However, I constantly feel compelled to change them.

    I don’t really know though. Reasoning is the worlds game, and people aren’t won totally with reason. Love is irrational, and any who’ve ever engaged in it know.

  40. When someone tells me that it’s hard to follow what I’m saying, I go back over the piece several times and look for problems. Obviously there are always problems and there are things I could say better or with more detail. I don’t have an opinion of my writing that exempts me from being obscure and distracted. Since Sunday I’ve had plenty of opportunities this week to be completely pulled out of my game.

    I am suspecting that my overall point regarding moral reasoning that doesn’t reference Jesus at all isn’t hard to comprehend. I suspect that the transitions in this piece may be hard for some to follow. Primarily, it starts out reasoning with the pot smoker and then, after suggesting this isn’t the route that actually addresses the core of the problem, goes into territory that many people haven’t considered or connected.

    I’d be interested in specific questions more than in the announcement that I’m not being clear.

    I preached this material this morning and others testified that it was on target and helpful. I’m more direct in speaking, so if there are places I’ve been unclear or gone astray, I’d like to know what is specifically in mind.

  41. Seems spot on to me. I’m sharing this with my Junior and Senior students today.

    Thank you.

  42. I think a lot of times we lack the Fear of God. After all Fear of God is the beginning of wisdom and we are to work out our salvation with fear trembling.

    I know that 2 of my biggest sins(they are 2 of 7 deadly) are sloth and gluttony. I would be hard pressed to argue how my overeating would benefit the kingdom of God. I heard preacher once say it was very for him sit and listen to people criticize those with substance abuse problems yet that person was digging their grave with a spoon and fork. I find it very hard to understand how smoking mrj would benefit the kingdom of God.

    I think too many us are more worried about justifying tour own actions rather than obeying God.

  43. I thought it was pretty clear.

    I knew a Pentacostal pastor in a small town who basically lost his job because he smoked medicinal marijuana for chronic pain. So the example is not so hypothetical!

    I could imagine a situation where love would compel us to smoke marijuana. For instance, if a chronic pain sufferer was experiencing scruples and excessive guilt over easing his pain with marijuana, the charitable thing to do (as his pastor or friend) would be to say “Here, let’s smoke a joint together”. (provided you’re not breaking any laws by doing so)

    I’ve heard of bishops breaking their Lenten fast by eating meat with scrupulous people who needed to eat meat for their health. As St.Francois de Sales always said “Charity is the measure of all virtue” and charity should be our only consideration in deciding what we do. It’s the sum of the whole law, after all.

  44. What’s abundantly clear to me is this:

    1) There’s an inherent risk in depending on “out reasoning” someone on this kind of topic. Not because there’s some denigration of reason, but because reason in a tandem with our affections = our deceitful heart.

    I hear a lot of reasoning that assumes the affections have been unplugged. Wrong. I don’t care if it is a weed smoker arguing for a reasonable, moderate use or it’s Tim Keller arguing for the existence of God, reason and the affections work together.

    2) THEREFORE, as Christians we should directly undertake these sorts of issues from the standpoint of how the issue relates to love for God, love of God, God as treasure, Christ as lover, etc. What does the choice to smoke pot say about God and about me as one who confesses that God is the treasure in my life? How does this issue stand with Paul’s statement of the value of Jesus Christ in Phillipians 3?

    A reasoned debate has value, but as a Christian, I don’t make decisions by that method. I measure all things in the light of the surpassing value of Jesus Christ.

  45. Just for Quix says

    iMonk said, “I preached this material this morning and others testified that it was on target and helpful. I’m more direct in speaking, so if there are places I’ve been unclear or gone astray, I’d like to know what is specifically in mind.”

    Perhaps it’s because you’ve been preaching to the choir? *smile*

    You’ve constructed a reasoned argument that proclaims that reason isn’t as useful a moral tool as Jesus-centered love. The Jesus-centered moral principle is an important and essential one, but best lends itself to preaching where the answers to the moral conundrums we refer are self-evident to the audience and culture, or can be settled with a clear appeal to authority, such as with the Bible.

    Jesus-centered morality invites us to be shaped extra-rationally (and perhaps somewhat irrationally) in loving relationship with and submission to God. Where something like marijuana use can lead persons to honest and reasonable differences on the moral principles behind it, to address it with Jesus-shaped love is for ourselves to deal relationally with the persons with whom we wish to dialog.

    That’s a time-consuming, difficult and possibly very rewarding process when we engage each other on this level. But it’s not a principle that necessarily lends itself with certainty to absolute moral pronouncements, one way preaching, fueling culture war, or establishing moral policy unless we all agree Jesus is an authority. And even where Jesus’s preeminent authority is accepted there can be genuine ways we can experience Him, individually and collectively, and still come out of it with a different ‘policy’. That mixes things up.

    Say, for example, you engage in a Jesus-shaped, loving way to address a moral issue, say marijuana abuse. It seems we could pretty confidently predict who will need to be changing behavior and how. We confidently expect we will mutually derive a moral certainty — a “policy” — out of the exchange: abuse is wrong. But if we relationally engage a responsible, well-considered marijuana user it is very possible we leave the exchange appreciating the other and possibly even agreeing to disagree.

    Are we willing to stake future marijuana drug policy, both legal and moral, on that result? I’d dare wager many Christians would not.

  46. I had nothing to say in this piece about “policy.” I am writing about how Christians articulate their moral choices as the victory of reasonS and with the notable absence of reference to the one thing that measures all value: Jesus.

    For the record, in regard to public policy, I’m for decriminalization for personal use.

    If I am engaged in moral reasoning over Jesus-worshipping/loving/following, then I admit it: Call this article FAIL.

    ms

  47. I am honestly baffled by the confusion that some posters are expressing regarding this post. It seems quite clear what iMonk was trying to get across:

    “If I belong to Christ, what do I do? If he has purchased me, what is right for me?”

    After reading the comments that seem to either be confused or arguing for the “freedom” of drug use, I noticed that none of them mention how Jesus would view it. But the overriding truth that iMonk stated was:

    “our morality is Jesus shaped and there is no way to make any moral decision without Jesus in the very center of every question.”

    The only unfortunate thing is that he saved that statement for last when many of us had stopped reading.

    Christians cannot, I repeat CANNOT, have a moral discussion/decision without Jesus at the heart of it. Every point, argument, example, and rationale must revolve around the person of Jesus Christ. And Christ showed us the measuring stick that we must use in Mark 12:30: “Love the Lord your God with [everything you have]” If anything, I repeat ANYTHING, interferes with your ability to act on that Ultimate Truth, it is sin and shouldn’t be there.

    Another way to put this is: Does God love or hate [whatever moral decision you need to make]? Yes, I do believe that God either loves it or hates it; God is not ‘meh’ about morality. If God loves it, then we should love it. If God hates it, then we should hate it. Every Christian has to make the decision of whether or not smoking mj (or any drug) is right or wrong, and that decision is based on whether as a slave to Christ, would my Lord and Master say “Well done my good and faithful servant”?

    I’ll end with this: “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Col 3:17)” Does that mean whatever? Yes, whatever. Everything? Yes, everything. Can we honestly argue that we can smoke mj in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father?

    (iMonk, feel free to snip/edit as needed.)

  48. Just for Quix says

    iMonk: excellent points.

    Reason is hard to disavow as a useful moral tool as it is so darned practical, everyday and accepted. Among one another I see that we Christians address our moral positions quite regularly by Jesus-shaped factors and language, be it on our Bible understanding or even our life experience. If we have a Jesus-shaped life then we consider our experience reliable enough to take a moral stand upon.

    So why do we not see this kind of dialog in our exchanges in society or with the outside world? Is it that we refuse to engage relationally, and are more comfortable with one-way preaching? Is it that we consider a Jesus-breathed faith and morality individually useful but unpersuasive before those who do not also value Jesus? Are we embarrassed by Jesus, believing that if we include Jesus-shaped moral explanation as part of a reasoned position that we compromise the strength of the latter with the former? Is it that reason is a far better bedrock on which to dialog with a post-Enlightenment society than faith or faithful relational experience?

    Or is it that we Christians really are postmoderns through and through.

  49. iMonk,

    I just wanted to add to postface what I wrote earlier: Your point about morality shaped by Christ-following is very well taken, even if I had trouble with this excerpt:

    “But for the Christian, marijuana use is incompatible with knowing Jesus, loving Jesus and following Jesus. It seeks in a substance security and peace. It denies to Jesus his place and power. It replaces the Holy Spirit with an empty and idolatrous spirit.”

    This post reminds me of one from the first days of Lent about fasting in that the point you made was good (fasting should be in light of the New Covenant) but there was something else people latched onto – in this case cannabis use.

    Perhaps the problem I am having in swallowing this whole is that I feel like you might be, along with many Americans, giving pot-smoking special status by assuming that it is always used to seek security and peace outside of Christ.

    But, I do follow this line: Many basic things we do are to seek security and peace outside of Christ, which is why we as Christians have to await the resurrection and judgment where all things will be made new and tears wiped away. Even by eating every day I point to a certain level of human brokenness in that I have to nourish my body or I will die – even eating can remind me of death. Or sleeping. I seek solace in these things every time I grow hungry or tired. As a Christian I have to work out what it means to live after Easter, after death has been overcome and Christ is Victor, Kyrios Christos. This gives me hope, and shapes how I live.

    Is this reasonable?

  50. The sticking point with me is that you’re leaving out the fact that sincere persons of faith can disagree about what denigrates, or what enhances, or what is neutral to their faith walks. Everything you’ve said about smoking pot is said just as confidently by teetotalers about moderate or occasional alcohol use. Isn’t all this addressed in Colossians 2: 16-18?

    And it’s also a problem that you’ve set up your article in such a way that anyone who disagrees with you can automatically be said to be trying to justify their particular sin because of their selfish hearts. Not conducive to good discussion.