One of the things that bothers me most about living in a culture mired in spotlights is the sheer number of forums and opportunities available to say or do something foolish in public. Within that subset of bother, nothing makes me slap my forehead faster than shining the spotlight on Christians who haven’t thought through all the ramifications of their theologies or who make the most appalling statements when a mic is shoved under their nose.
I fully admit that I am one of those people whose mouth runs faster than his brain. Let me talk long enough and the chance that I’ll inadvertently say something that grossly offends someone runs to about 1:1 odds. People who know me only through the blog probably consider me some deep, intellectual introvert with a bit of Old Testament prophet mixed in. In other words, kind of scary. Fact is, I’m a big, motormouth chucklehead who spends most of his time laughing—and sticking my foot in his mouth at some point in the conversation because I don’t know enough to shut up.
That said, I am a much more reflective person than I used to be. I’m not nearly as hard on other people or myself than my former persona of “angry young man destined to change the world singlehandedly.” Which is why the whole issue of discernment in the real world is one that never leaves my thoughts.
We just can’t seem to get discernment right. And if we can’t get discernment right, then nothing else in life will function as it should.
A couple weeks ago, a conversation in the comments of Tim Challies’s blog brought this home. Tim had posted a link to a blog post on another blogger’s site. That blogger argued that Christians should not friend ex-boyfriends and ex-girlfriends on Facebook. Here’s the reasoning:
I believe that all relationships in my life either support or detract from my marriage, however tacitly, and they stay or go based on that criterion. I believe spouses should have access to each others’ phones and e-mails and should approve of each others’ Facebook friends. I believe privacy with exes, even and perhaps particularly virtual privacy, is dangerous. I’m on the road I chose, and no good will come from revisiting roads not taken.
C.S. Lewis said this:
There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.
Lewis’s rationale can be extrapolated to mean that we can think that there will never be a demon lurking around the next corner or we will think that one will always be awaiting us.
I believe the wisdom of Lewis’s statement applies to all aspects of the Christian life. We may find it easy to believe that money is neither intrinsically good nor evil, but we often find it impossible to think that some other aspects of life also fall into that same gray or neutral area. We want our good and our evil clearly delineated.
Yet life is not always black and white. When Christians automatically flee to those poles, we’ve abandoned discernment for a knee-jerk reaction.
In the case of the anti-ex blogger, her error is found in the automatic dichotomy imposed on human relationships. She believes that every relationship is either helping or hurting her marriage.
Perhaps I’m a serious backslider here, but who frames life that way? Isn’t that automatically assuming that evil lurks behind every corner? Isn’t that falling into a trap of unhealthy concern about everything that might possibly go wrong? Is it impossible for anything, even friending a former flame on Facebook, to be neutral?
My son’s bus driver warned him that he could not read on the bus anymore because some girl was reading, got jostled, and the corner of the book flew up and bruised her eye. So now on the school bus (emphasis on school) it’s a crime to read a book.
That’s where this kind of “anything might go wrong” discernment always leads.
Folks who advocate to live that way always call on the same verses:
Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.
—1 Corinthians 6:18
But as for you, O man of God, flee these things.
—1 Timothy 6:11a
Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.
—1 Corinthians 10:14
That’s a lot of fleeing. And when applied rightly in the right situations, it’s a proper response.
However, the problem is that fleeing is but one option, the most drastic one. It’s not the sole option for dealing with life that works for most cases. For a good example of when it’s appropriate to flee, consider this:
Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance. And after a time his master’s wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, “Lie with me.” But he refused and said to his master’s wife, “Behold, because of me my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my charge. He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except yourself, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” And as she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not listen to her, to lie beside her or to be with her. But one day, when he went into the house to do his work and none of the men of the house was there in the house, she caught him by his garment, saying, “Lie with me.” But he left his garment in her hand and fled and got out of the house. And as soon as she saw that he had left his garment in her hand and had fled out of the house…
Given what a lot of Christians endorse concerning relationships, it was a bad idea for Joseph to even set foot in Potiphar’s house in the first place, given that he was single man in the home of a married woman. But Joseph didn’t flee that situation right away, did he? Somehow, he resisted, as it notes, “day after day.”
Eventually, though, Potiphar’s wife trapped Joseph in a no-win situation, grabbing ahold of his clothing, and offering him the classic proposition again. So he fled.
In other words, the situation was so bad that fleeing finally became the only option.
How Joseph reacted throughout the entirety of his dealings with his master’s wife is how we must rationally apply the “flee model” of dealing with temptation.
In my conversation in the comments over at Tim Challies’s blog, a commenter who advocated the flee model for even the least issue eventually got to the point where he questioned whether youth groups of mixed sexes were a good idea because they don’t allow a good option for fleeing.
If that’s where we are in the Christian Church today, then we’ve lost the battle. We might as well barricade ourselves in our rooms alone. When our first instinct is to flee at the slightest temptation, then we are no longer practicing discernment. Instead, we have become slaves of finding a demon lurking around every corner.
Here’s the verse that mature Christians apply in most cases of temptation:
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.
Real Christians in a real world must navigate through gray. It’s why the Holy Spirit was put inside us. He’s our guide to dealing with issues that are unclear or those that have yet to descend to flight. He’s also the one who gave Joseph the will to say no day after day until it got so bad that fleeing became the only option.
In the case of friending ex-girlfriends and ex-boyfriends on Facebook, no blanket “helping my marriage or harming it” dichotomy exists in the real world.
Both you and the Holy Spirit know which exes it would be okay to friend and which it wouldn’t. Listen to what the Lord shows you about your own weakness and be mature about it.
And let’s also be mature and acknowledge that in a world of two sexes attracted to each other, we’re going to have to employ some other method than resorting to fleeing at the least attraction.
As an older married man, I want to speak honestly to younger men and those who have never been married but anticipate it some day: There will be times when you are attracted to women who are not your wife. Those women may even be the wives of your friends. You may attend a party with a lot of other couples, and before you walked into that party, you and your wife had some major fight about something stupid. When that other woman at the party lends you an ear, there might be a spark of attraction in that moment.
Discernment acknowledges forthrightly that such situations will arise. Discernment also acknowledges that flight is not always an option unless you want to be a complete idiot with no friends who makes his wife constantly suspicious of his seemingly unbridled lust.
The wise person must employ some other means of dealing with these kinds of situations. That’s real discernment. And it’s real Christian maturity too.
In my next post, I’ll talk about another discernment issue that even the most learned Christians fumble.