A Window into Life in the Suburbs

"Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these." Luke 12:27 (NIV)

Monday, May 31, 2010

God Talk: Legalism & Responsibility

Unless you've been hiding under a rock with the vacuous Patrick Star or meditating in a Tibetan temple on the complete oeuvre of Mozart's operas, the vast majority of tv watching types would've have heard about "Lost" and (finally!) after six long, convoluted seasons the tv show about castaways has come to an end. There's been plenty of chatter online but I'm not going to join in that conversation because well, I could only muster enough enthusiasm for the show for 2 and a half seasons. The overuse of flashbacks in S2 and the piling of one mystery on top of another convinced me quickly that I was being led down the garden path. In short, I was wasting my time with a poorly conceived show.

I bring up "Lost" because it came up in one of my favourite Christian blogs as a post was written in part about the finale. The blogger expressed mixed feelings about the ending but took comfort in the fact that as believers we can trust in the fulfillment of end of world prophecy and God's Sovereignty in all things.
Seems harmless enough, right?
Apparently not.
Later on in the meta, a dispute quickly broke out about whether Christians should watch an "immoral" show like "Lost" and then write up about it in a serious theological blog. It's odd, isn't it... the rapidity in which stuff like that happens and the vastness of the internet allows people the cloak of anonymity so that they can leap before looking.

Legalism seems to be an affliction of the religious. Not that I'm an advocate of libertinism... far from it.
But aside from own children, I don't feel that it's my place in life to tell other people what they should or shouldn't do with their time or money. Even if I'm really, really tempted to do so. Hence, if I'm asked for my opinion, I may give moral or philosophical reasons why I think "Sex and the City" (for example) isn't worthy of our eye time but I don't really think I have a right to go beyond that. Personally, I find it liberating that I'm not responsible for what other people get up to. I have enough to worry about as it is. Ultimately, each of us are accountable to our Creator for what we do with our lives.

As an aside: I remember when The Da Vinci Code hit the big screen, I had an email exchange with some of the younger adults in my church as to why I thought they shouldn't be filling Hollywood coffers going to see it but at the end of the day, I don't know if they all ended up going to see it. The Da Vinci Code bothered me more than most of the claptrap that comes of out of Hollywood because of the blatant disregard for history. I can stomach alternate/contrary viewpoints in the name of fiction but pepetuating outright lies is another matter.

The Pharisees were the classic legalists. Perhaps they started with good intentions in wanting to clarify things for the public (as in the case of the Sabbath, for instance) but then gradually they started trusting in their legalism for spiritual legitimacy and superiority. That I think is the fundamental problem of legalism -- it leads to pride. It leads to us thinking that we're better than others because we can follow the rules to the letter while the slackos out there are not trying hard enough. Legalism also blinds. When you believe that you're doing a marvellous job keeping the rules, you can't see grace... the modus operandi behind the gospel. Because grace says that you can't keep all the rules (except in some superficial way) and only through Jesus can we please God.

Still, those of us who are responsible for the spiritual well-being of others (teachers, pastors, parents, group leaders) walk a kind of moral tightrope. While we shouldn't judge others according to how they spend their leisure time, we need to be very conscious of those who look up to us as role models. Caring for God's people is a very solemn and sobering responsibility, not to be taken lightly. Lots of things may be permissible but in certain contexts may not be wise.

A Case in Point

I'm a teetotaller from upbringing and from choice. Being a teetotaller might not lead me to being a better Christian compared to say Mary, my MOPS coordinator but it might prevent me from falling into obsessive modes of behaviour. Sadly, there's so much alcohol abuse in this part of the world that it's made me more determined to abstain entirely. It's no skin off my nose as I've never had a taste for it and it's no great sacrifice on my part not to partake in the occasional libation. I'm not bothered by other Christians drinking wine or beer within certain legal/biblical boundaries but I haven't been bullied into coming to the position that I have. Another perspective that led me to this way of thinking came when I was a young newish TESOL teacher gainfully employed for the first time. I loved socializing with my colleagues but a lot of it revolved around drinking alcohol. Everyone seemed to assume that drunkness was the final destination during the festivities so for me not drinking at all distinguished me in some small way.

In many ways, I'm all for us being hard on ourselves... temptations abound and we're not islands. But we shouldn't put burdens on others where the Bible doesn't, particularly where the good news of Jesus is concerned.  Legalism restricts and enslaves while the gospel frees us to make the right choices at the right time and at the right place.

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