SPIRITUAL - PART 4
Sunday, May 19, 2019
I heard a voice say, “Get up, Peter! Kill and eat!’” I responded, “Absolutely not, Lord! Nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth.”
We all want to live good, moral, and righteous lives, yet in truth, Paul reminds us that we all sin and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Yet somehow in our “righteous minds,” we have created our own hierarchy of sins. If someone calls us out when we disobey God’s law, we quickly respond as though our infraction is relatively insignificant on the larger scale. “I’m only human,” we say. “Nobody is perfect.”
Yet when someone else commits a sin that we could never imagine committing ourselves, that sin becomes so repugnant to us that we are quick to condemn. As Jesus says, we rarely notice the “logs in our own eyes” (Matthew 7:3-5).
“Morality binds and blinds. It binds us into ideological teams that fight each other as though the fate of the world depended on our side winning each battle. It blinds us to the fact that each team is composed of good people who have something important to say.”
“If you really want to change someone’s mind on a moral or political matter, you’ll need to see things from that person’s angle as well as your own. And if you do truly see it the other person’s way—deeply and intuitively—you might even find your own mind opening in response. Empathy is an antidote to righteousness, although it’s very difficult to empathize across a moral divide.”
― Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion
This description of the endless moral, ethical, ideological and political battles in our culture and our world sounds a lot like Peter’s dilemma when he was called to the home of a Gentile, and not just to his home, but to dine with him at a table full of unclean foods.
“Absolutely not, Lord,” he responds.
Notice the irony and the confusion present in Peter’s response.
On one hand, he is saying “Absolutely not” to something which he considers to be a horrible sin, that is, eating unclean foods that go against the Jewish dietary laws.” This is admirable and proves Peter’s desire to remain pure and righteous.
But in the same response, he says, “Lord”. The very Lord and King he is seeking to honor by not eating with the Gentiles is the same Lord and King he is defying by refusing to do so. How can this be? Would God call us to sin?
Of course not.
But as Jonathan Haidt says, morality binds us together but also blinds us to the stories and experiences of others who do not share our moral values.
Consider these words from the Apostle Paul to the church at Corinth.
Everything is permitted, but everything isn’t beneficial. Everything is permitted, but everything doesn’t build others up. No one should look out for their own advantage, but they should look out for each other. Eat everything that is sold in the marketplace, without asking questions about it because of your conscience. The earth and all that is in it belong to the Lord. If an unbeliever invites you to eat with them and you want to go, eat whatever is served, without asking questions because of your conscience. But if someone says to you, “This meat was sacrificed in a temple,” then don’t eat it for the sake of the one who told you and for the sake of conscience. Now when I say “conscience” I don’t mean yours but the other person’s. Why should my freedom be judged by someone else’s conscience? If I participate with gratitude, why should I be blamed for food I thank God for? So, whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, you should do it all for God’s glory. Don’t offend either Jews or Greeks, or God’s church.
1 Corinthians 10:23-32
Everyone has a conscience, and that conscience or moral code is determined in life by a number of factors including upbringing, culture, education, religion, etc. And because everyone’s experience is different, everyone’s conscience is slightly different. For one person a single glass of wine may be as bad a sin as drunk-driving. For another, a fully stocked wine cellar in their home tells a different story. Has either one sinned? Not necessarily.
God wasn’t calling Peter to sin, but God always puts relationships first. Our conscience should never prevent us from “building others up”. Our conscience should never allow us to “put someone else down”. God isn’t interested in our personal moral values. God is interested in how we treat those whom he loves, regardless of how their conscience may or may not differ from our own.
If we view someone else as morally repugnant and keep our distance, we may just be keeping our distance from Christ. Jesus says, “Whatever you do (or do not do) for the least of these, you have done (or not done) it for me” (Matthew 25:45).