Is Labour Dishonourable? – My Response to Nietzche

Is Labour Dishonourable? – My Response to Nietzche

In a post by Orwell1627 (found here) entitled “NIETZCHE: The Dignity of Work” is summarized Nietzche’s view of work as a dishonourable necessity for the purpose of enabling true artists and purveyors of beauty to practice their craft. He claims that the idea that there is honour in work is simply a slavish defense mechanism in which the labouring man is able to fight pessimism with the idea that there is some ultimate purpose for his being made to work continually.

This is a very brief summary and I would recommend going and reading the explanation in its entirety, but I will begin my response.

My first challenge to this view of work as a dishonourable necessity is twofold. Firstly, the production of materials to be used in the arts. What shall we say of the man who collects materials to mix paints for the painter? Or of the builder of excellent violins? Or of the quarry men who unearth great blocks of granite for the sculptor? Am I to understand that these men take no part in the joy and beauty of the process and the outcome of such artistic pursuits? They are allowed no enjoyment of it at all? Is there not a deep honour in men who give their entire lives not only to pay bills, but with their work to finance those most artistically gifted? In this way do we not all take part in the artistic process? The suggestion is seems foolish. The second half is that if one were to choose any great novel or film or work of theatre, he would come to realize that the only stories worth telling are the stories of a character starting at some disadvantaged point, overcoming obstacles, and being victorious in the end. These are the stories of humanity, the ones that make us feel the beauty not only of what is seen, but to imagine depths of not yet existing beauty.

Nietzche also would (according to Orwell1627) claim that for a man to labour in our western 40-hour work week and attempt art on weekends would still be futile and wasted time because those 40 hours could have been spent creating art (I am not aware of any specific definition of “art” that this is based around). This assumes that all people are in some way artistic, and that “If only they had the time” they might be composing tremendous earth-shattering ballads, or etching the ceiling of some more beautiful Sistine Chapel. Where does he draw proof from? He has the philosopher’s benefit of never being required to touch the mediums he claims intimate knowledge of, and so with humanity, with work, and workmen he knows only by what he has heard.

He does not hear the pride hidden underneath the voice of the complaining worker at the end of a long day, reciting the difficulty he had in his exquisite execution of his task in spite of overwhelming odds. He knows beauty only as what the Greeks have claimed, and sees not the beauty of beads of sweat, toil, the pursuit of the valuable, the rest after a summers work, the excellence of a deep breath in the shade. He sees not the art in the internal conversation of a man who, on seeing difficulty ahead, girds his loins and prepares for battle, to face the deathly cold or scorching heat, for his clan, for his wife and child, and for the pride of his name.

A book could be written on the objection that he is only claiming beauty as the sole useful pursuit of man because that is what the Greeks have taught him. His vision of Art is too small, and his vision of value. But I will leave that for now in favour of illustrating through the words of one of my own favourite artists.

Perhaps chiefly, Leo Tolstoy not only saw the beauty in, but came close to calling toil the only beauty, or at least the basic core of the life well lived. In his well-known quote from Family Happiness:

“I have lived through much, and now I think I have found what is needed for happiness. A quiet, secluded life in the country, with the possibility of being useful to people to whom it is easy to do good, and are not accustomed to have it done to them; then work one hopes may be of some use; then rest, nature, books, music, love for one’s neighbour – such is my idea of happiness.”

This quotation possibly better than any other encapsulates Tolstoy’s love for, appreciation and romanticism of the workman’s life. Indeed, hard work and morality were nearly the only things he ever wrote about.

G.K. Chesterton says about Tolstoy in his book Orthodoxy that Tolstoy romanticized peasantry because he was not a peasant. Chesterton also says that Nietzche romanticized war for the same reason. The true beauty, to him is Joan of Arc, who saw the beauty of valour and toil, and romanticized them, but was actually able to live successfully as a warrior and peasant.

Art is nothing without toil. All of men’s greatest true stories (and therefore inspiration for invented ones) come from a commonality among the greatest majority of people. These stories strike tones in common with all mankind on some level, that draw us together for or against some common object, and enable beautiful things to be seen in all that is done.

Finally, I would suggest that I, the free man who is able to work hard, and enjoy well-executed joinery and carpentry, to listen to the finest music I can set my ears to, take a breath of thankfulness for a cup of hot coffee on a cold day, who can joyfully run and joyfully rest, can read Shakespeare and the Bible, am more archetypal of the ideal liberated open man than Nietzsche ever hoped to be. His principals betray his slavish devotion to the Greek cultural principles and reveal his never being liberated, and as we know now,  by his own principals, he was enslaved.

The true beauty is in anything examined carefully, held up to the light, and declared beautiful. Human art will only ever have the value that is placed on it by us, the power to create art lies precisely in our judgment of the thing to be beautiful. The attribute of beauty wherein its value is completely extrinsic is the same reason why it makes men fools who make it a god, and makes men crazy when it is claimed to be the chief end of man.

This is worth considering. Though if one were to find the source of true beauty, he would be not far from finding God himself.

The Desolation of the Locust

The Desolation of the Locust

(Musical recommendation: Hallelujah – Joshua Hyslop
http://http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=p7q3EDTLQ-w)

The threshing floors shall be full of grain;
    the vats shall overflow with wine and oil.
 I will restore to you the years
    that the swarming locust has eaten,
the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter,
    my great army, which I sent among you.

You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied,
    and praise the name of the Lord your God,
    who has dealt wondrously with you.
And my people shall never again be put to shame.
You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel,
    and that I am the Lord your God and there is none else.
And my people shall never again be put to shame.

Joel 2:24-27

Originally this post was supposed to be about my grandfather, who wrote a song once with the main line of the chorus being, “He’s given me back the years the locust had eaten.” In a positive folky tune. He would speak by way of explanation in his best Johnny Cash that, “The locust being the devil, see?”

I was going to write about the joy of having sins forgotten, putting behind the time that I spent serving darkness instead of the light, and not only forgetting, but redeeming those days. About how lovely a man my grandfather is. But that must be for another time.

Tonight my wife and I got a call, and though I could only catch bits and pieces through the phone by her ear I heard enough. Someone we had known, who struggled with drug addiction for many years had committed suicide.

That horrible, awful thing. The action that pure-hearted men and women will always feel heartbroken over. And touching us closer than I’d ever feared.

For so long this young person had struggled for light. There were periods of lucidity and hope, and times of regression and darkness, and in brightest moments, our friend has known the love of Jesus Christ. And I still don’t understand, not that I’m owed it, but can’t grasp the plan. I’m an analytical thinker and I just can’t find the pattern, the way things fit into place. The horror of the locust cloud covering over so many years of a sweet, struggling person’s life.

The mourning for someone I hardly know has just begun, but I’ll be trying to understand for longer than I’ll feel the sting of it. The mourning is complicated, I don’t know what I hope for this person, and I don’t know what will happen.

I know what I’ve prayed. I know I pray for hope in the midst of absolutely soul destroying desolation. I pray for peace for the addicted. I pray for unbelievable mercy, because I know what dark clouds have passed over my mind, and that by the grace of God I have been sustained and renewed. He renewed the years the locust ate from me.

I may differ from my Catholic friends on this point, but I pray also that our friend enter the gates of Heaven, led by sympathetic eyes and into holy grace.

There will you be given back every darkened day,
There will you eat of that which truly satisfies,
There will you see only the brightness of the Glory of God,
And despite your earthly shame at your affliction,
There you will never again be put to shame.
No distractions, for He is God, and no one else.
May he deal wondrously with you.

Only God knows the state of a human heart, and I am thankful that he does. He is sovereign and holds all things in the balance, for which I am also thankful, for it means that it is not a waste to send my prayers to him.

As I reflect on my own life, and consider what it is I truly deserve for all of my arrogance and pride, for all of my thinking much of myself and little of others, the moments I have shirked God’s law and scorned his sacrifice, and allowed the cross to become odious, I am laid flat on my face by this grace. I cannot fathom it. And I don’t want to. It will always be immeasurably more than my reach. In weaker moments, therefore, I hold to this promise:

You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied,
    and praise the name of the Lord your God,
    who has dealt wondrously with you.
And my people shall never again be put to shame.
You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel,
    and that I am the Lord your God and there is none else.
And my people shall never again be put to shame.

O Lord, please do not tarry.

Can These Dry Bones Live?

Can These Dry Bones Live?

(Musical suggestion: Shenandoah, by Goldmund)

The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry.  And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord God, you know.”

Ezekiel 37:1-3

Imagine if you will that the entirety, known perfectly, of who God is could be represented by a mathematically perfect circle. And so the sanctification of an ordinary human (the growing in righteousness) starts with a single point. That single point is the first meeting of a man with the first really true thing he knows about God. It is one-dimensional, simple, and the single object of his focus, walking around to see the other sides will yield no new information and he is left underwhelmed but still intrigued. Then suddenly a second point appears, and a man learns that God not only is but is Love. A line connects the two dots, and a second dimension is born.

The world of this man expands suddenly, another axis by which the world and the truth might be navigated and understood. A man then is told the truth of Jesus, one person of the Triune God, about his coming, his words, his deeds, what it means, and the weight of sin and death on a world wondering what kind of a saviour could this be? More points appear, they connect and connect, creating a triangle, then a square, and more and more vertices are added as each really true truth about God appears before him.

One day he accepts these truths, and then another element is added, a dimension of time, wherein what he sees and the words he reads are now alive and moving and acting upon other objects, and the characteristics of God all modifying each other in a beautiful and complete dance. But yet more comes continually adding and adding together, and a man spends his whole life pursuing the truth of who God is, and eventually there comes a time when the ordinary eye cannot distinguish between the vertices, and the spaces between them. It looks, at least to the casual observer, something very much like a perfect circle.

Who would know differently?

The man knows. And God knows. Though honest and sincere attempts are made in fervent men and women to be made righteous in a slow and steady progression, and though they meditate on the very words of God day and night, and though they seek him daily, though they pray without ceasing, though they take care of the widows and the orphans, there is still just the very slightest feeling that this is something like THE truth, but not quite. It is like the lines on this very screen, and from even where I sit the letters on this page look completely smooth and every curve organic. But I know that if I come within a certain distance I will see the pixels. The grains. The imperfect.

Forgive me for relying so heavily on the abstract, but this is where my mind forms the framework for the real world.

As I have moved through life, trying (and yet allowing the work of the Holy Spirit to move me) desperately to move towards that which I know to be of eternal value, to see the perfect, I know that my waking eyes, and the eyes of my mind are as yet incompatible with what is perfect. They require an upgrade that is not available in this life. I know, and I will always know that even if I were to see the perfect, I would not be able in my actions to mirror it exactly.

I see often that I forget a truth, one that others hinge upon, and there is a break in my near infinite polygon. I regress, I lose focus, thinking the circle of my sanctification more perfect than I ought, seeing my understanding as more perfect than it is, and I am set back hard upon parts of the path I have already walked, and shall most likely walk again.

It is in these moments that I have sometimes repeated back to God his own question. “Can these dry bones live?”, and then with Ezekiel, “O Lord God, you know.”

Can these bones live? When after knowing and seeing what I think to be something of the true Glory of God. After I have with St. Augustine had “such delicious thoughts” of God and his Goodness that I would nearly be ashamed to write them down. Yet still I falter, and I see all the jaggedness of vertices and oblong in my hard won circle.

O Lord! Can these dry and dead bones live? Will I ever shake the stench of death off of them? Will you prophesy your word over me? Fill me with the breath of life? Will you end my exile in a foreign land and welcome me in to your holy hill?

Dear God show me your glory, at the expense of everything else. The Glory that shines, and sustains life by its glow, that currently covers Heaven itself, and I will pass away, all I know will pass away, all the foolishness of the words I write and say will pass away, when the perfect comes.

O let the perfect come.

As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.  For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

1 Cor. 13:8b-12

After God’s Own Heart

After God’s Own Heart

I know how this will sound. I know what you must think. All of this talk of pursuing perfection and impossible ideals and demanding that everyone follow some stringent and Pharisaic set of principles can never be kept up. It must be a falsified, conjured, and only possible in the imagination. And perhaps that is true. It is often true, but there are moments of an inexplicable quiet lucidity that I have long felt but only recently decided to reveal to you.  I will not claim any sort of perfection or nearness to perfection, but only that I delight to ponder it daily. The God who speaks, the God who provides, the one who takes away the sins of the world, he has revealed himself to me at many times and in many ways, most often through the Bible, and he gives me hope. He gives me reasons to sing and to smile and find true joy even in adverse circumstances.

If the earlier part is what you’ve thought than what is coming next can only be considered an absurdity. But I feel this welling of my heart and soul to only attempt to put into words the things that only lightly touch upon my waking mind as if an echo of heaven, a waking eternal bliss that fills me with such joy I cannot comprehend. While I work, while I drive it hits me that I’ve spent my life hearing and learning about the God of the universe and to grow to find that he is true? To find that he is THE truth? My heart can hardly contain. There is no structure to this and I cannot apologize for it. I feel not the pressure to organize my thoughts into anything proper or dignified. So I have had it in my head to write a psalm. Not inspired scripture but script inspired by scripture. This has no doctrinal authority, it is just an expression of my affections.

So I take in a deep breath of air and this is what exhales:

O Lord, my Holy Father,
Teach me to know your ways,
Let me learn your precepts and observe well your laws.

I see and know that they are perfect,
I believe they revive the soul,
They are sure, ‘Making wise the simple.’
For, ‘No one ever spoke like this man.’

Who can lift a burden as you lift them?
Who can shower his children with such a joy?
Who can make all things new, all extraordinary?
In the desolation of my heart I could not have imagined you.

For you are good, yes, you are goodness,
Let me never forget,
Good is everything that comes from you.

Let me not be far from you O Lord!
Let me not forget your ways!
Keep my heart steadfastly attentive to your words.
Keep me in your loving arms.

For you strengthen the weak, you lift high the needy,
In my hatred of you, you brought me.
I despised, and you bore my affliction,
I was dead in my sin, but now ‘Alive in Christ’!

Could I ever turn away? I know my heart!
I am so prone to wander yet I know that you are true!
Is there darkness yet in my heart? Destroy it!
The rapture of your presence cannot be undone.

Truly, you have marked me,
The very heat of your glory has made it’s mark.
Truly I desire to know you and be fully known,
To hold not only the law but your gaze,
Could a man contain it? Could he suffer your presence Lord?
Could weak unknowing man ever draw near to the Lion of Judah?

I know the veil is torn!
I know the ransom is payed!
But dare I even still?
Would your glory not overwhelm me entirely?

I give what you have given back, take it from me,
My life, my all, my heart and soul.

Yes, your absolute presence would destroy me to my very foundations,
So destroy me, I will never need to breath if I have seen your face.
Though I am lost except in memory still I will live in you.
I might cry “Woe to me! For I am a man of unclean lips!”

But I know that I love you,
Help me to love you rightly.

All of your presence Lord.
All of your glory.
Overwhelm me.
Consume me.
I am none, and you are all.

 

Even if these words never see their full potential, even if I never stop struggling. Even if I speak an unkind word or hurt the helpless through selfishness and greed, I will pray these sorts of prayers and think in these terms as long as the Lord allows.

It has been given to me that I may be able to imagine a place I might run to in my actions and in speech. A brighter city. So I will continue to paint as loftily as I can imagine the ideals as they come along, because I need to be looking to what is greater than myself, walking out to me on these tumultuous waters, this sea of sin and transgression, lest I begin to sink, looking into my depths instead of toward his glory. Knowing that even if I begin to sink, ‘he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and purify all unrighteousness.’

Peace and Amen.

 

Speak a true word.

Wake, feel your worth, O my soul
Speak the word, the word that can save us all
Awed by grace, I fall on my face
And scream the word that can save us all

-Thrice, Stand and Feel Your Worth

 

“Y’know usually you come up with pretty good things to say but don’t do any more of that care bear **** alright?”

That’s what he said to me the day I decided to say what needed to be said. I was a safety representative for my job in a modular manufacturing plant and in our pre-workday meetings I would often be called upon for a “safety moment”. The idea was that every day I would draw to attention something for our interior finishing department to keep an eye out for our own safety and those of our co-workers. To care for each other’s best interest.

What I had noticed was that many of my co-worker’s first instinct early in the day was to interact in a cajoling, playfully insulting way, and that was how these men got along with each other. Some were more aggressive and abrasive than others but generally this was how the day went.

But I also knew that a young man in our department had just lost his father to cancer.

When you work in close proximity to other groups and trades all day and everyone has a job to do sometimes things can get heated, so I decided to make a point of that as my safety moment for the day. I encouraged them to find out what kind of day their co-workers were having before assuming that there could be a no holds barred session of insult and criticism and in that way maybe reduce the amount of disagreements and arguments in the workplace. That was it. Just a little consideration in case you happen to meet someone on the worst day of their life, and the first and maybe only thing you do to them is to tear them down further.

That wasn’t the only comment I received in response to my safety moment but the rest were much the same.

That was the day I started to realize that it doesn’t matter what people will say or do, they need to know the truth. Words have so much more power than we think they do sometimes. The closer in relationship you are to someone the more power they hold. My wife, for example, knows everything she could say that would rend my heart and soul to pieces. But she also knows the things that can set me up on mountaintops of self-confidence and assurance.

I used to say things like “The way guys know if they’re friends is if they can insult each other.”  But I don’t believe that anymore. I used to, but I no longer think that is the best way even for men to relate. For the last ten years the phrases “Speak the true word.” and “Speak glorious truths.” have often come to my mind and I’ve spent countless hours trying to consider what that looks like.

Ephesians 4:29-32 says:

29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

I believe our words change things. What we call down on others can be loosed in heaven. Our words can cause eternal activity, things that change the course of history, and I don’t want to waste time with anything that will damage for a day, much less till the end of days.

To you, reader, I want you to be encouraged, built up, loved, assured, made whole, made new, and restored. If I have to correct or rebuke I want to speak the truth in love. I don’t want to divide. I will continue (if I have truly yet begun) to be the bleeding heart. The mocked one. To be turned aside and dismissed as caring too much, as I once accused others of doing. And I regret every moment I could have told someone that I loved them when they needed to hear it, to love someone enough to say something that might destroy our friendship but restore their soul! There are such times, may they be few for you.

I remember what C.S. Lewis says about being a writer and a dreamer is that I may often imagine being a better person so vividly that I may convince others I am that person when I describe them, and convince even myself. I don’t want to do that. But I think right now that I will be content to be reviled and cast out, all for standing out in the fringe, in the desert, calling out to any who would listen:

“True joy is offered to you, and it is offered freely! I love you because God himself loves you so incorruptibly! Strike me if you must but accept His forgiveness! Hate me but love HIM! Trust that he is good! Know that he is true! Don’t look at me but look at the one who saves, who transforms, He takes away the sins of the world!”

To put to death each day the desire to see the creation as precious in itself, and to consider every person, every desire, every good thing in a 10,000 year view; these are the desires of my heart. So that in the very moment that eternity hangs in the balance, I will speak the true word.

Lord let it be so.

Faithful in the Grey

“All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.

These words from 1 Corinthians chapter 10 were written to a church that was celebrating the freedom they had found in the grace of God. They were once under a law that was too much for them. The covenant of the Old Testament between the people of Israel and God. After many thousands of years the nation of Israel had found time and time again that it was impossible for a man or woman to live in complete accordance with these laws.

This was not unjust. The level of difficulty of a law or order has nothing to do with its rightness.

And so when this Church heard the news of Jesus and how his death had overcome sin and paid the price for them, they rightly rejoiced! The freedom that came after the burden of being a slave to sin and constantly offering sacrifices of no real power, and to find that the sacrifice had been made to cover all past and future sins meant the release of a burden that no man could bear. The celebration was justified. A peace in the heart that could never have been explained or foreseen is a cause for great joy.

But that is not what the writer of this letter is talking about. There are other actions, with less clearly drawn lines for if they are to be considered sin in the first place. I have spent a great amount of thought on these grey spaces. Some are spoken of little, and others not at all in the Bible. But there are ways to determine if they are lawful and beneficial for you or if they are unhelpful, and actually destructive, in your life.

I have heard a preacher once say that you know the things in your own life that either increase or destroy your affection for truth, Jesus, and other people, and whether or not you can handle some or any of those things.

I’ll start with an example of the sorts of things that are spoken directly to in scripture, and work into the more difficult to define.

Alcohol. Christians, as has been written by better men before me, must be “teetotalers”. We must put to death any desire in us to be seen as strong or manly in the site of others by the amount of alcohol we can consume without passing out or talking foolishly. Ephesians 5:8 states “Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.” And so we have a clear guideline for the place of alcohol in our lives. Can Christians with a clear conscience take part in a glass of wine? Absolutely. Assuming we have not and are not being drawn into addiction. But what is the redirect in this verse? “But be filled with the spirit.” We know the focus of much of the world is to be filled with new and better and stronger drink. It is epidemic. But in the church our epidemic should be a desire for more and better and stronger works of the Holy Spirit. I could put it this way: Don’t worry about what you drink, but become obsessive about your pursuit of holiness and intimacy with the Holy God. As a serial hobbyist I know that all obsessions of material things will forsake you and ruin you, and the only obsession that I know will improve you and leads you to care more for others is of God’s word, his presence, and the recognition of his voice. So, let our ears be tuned to it.

But what about things that are “morally neutral”? Sure I can have a glass of wine. Sure I can spend a day playing video games. Sure I can and probably should get regular exercise. God has made the world with a myriad of good and right things that for each person, may (with a heart of glad thankfulness to God) be enjoyed for our joy and HIS glory. But some of these things may hurt you. I have found that I can’t spend multiple hours on video games. I can’t explain why and I don’t fully understand it. But for me in my life, with the personality that God has given me, I am made to feel weak to temptation, despondent, inattentive, and mentally drained when I partake. So what do I do? I abstain.

What about exercise? I enjoy running in crisp air or hiking in the woods, the rush of blood and the heightened heart rate that makes me feel alive. But what if it is taken past enjoyment of God’s creation and how he has wonderfully made us all? Am I constantly examining myself for physical improvements? Am I so focused on my flaws that I need to purge them from me by excessive exercise? Do I constantly compare myself to others and give pride yet another foothold to distract me from the beauty of the metaphysical, for God’s love and his immensity and how the way he has made us speaks to his wisdom and goodness? In all honesty, I would say: sometimes. What does that mean for me? It means that I don’t carve out my day to go running all the time. I don’t give up time with my wife and son very often for the sole purpose of physical improvement. But I do make an effort to include my family in things that benefit my spirit. Climbing mountains, walking on riversides, and taking those times to drink in the good that God declared over his creation, the bits that are still there despite the fall.

So I take my exercise in measured and intentional amounts, I don’t play video games, I enjoy an occasional drink in an appropriate setting, with those who take a similar view. There is a second part to this idea in 1 Corinthians, and that is “Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.” Now what does that mean? It means in the grace and power of God we take this thing one step further. We work by the Holy Spirit to identify those things that are beneficial, and which are neutral, and which tear down ourselves, but God’s work on the inside of us is always and forever making us look outward at others to see what we can do for their benefit and their good, so they would glorify HIM.

Once those things are identified and we have good conscience about all of them in light of the truth of the Bible, we must stop thinking about ourselves almost altogether, and about the good of others. Other people are going to have different strengths and weaknesses, and if we wish to live a life that puts others first, then we need to consider our morally neutral acts in light of those around. It says in Romans 14:15 in the context of whether or not someone may think eating or drinking of a certain food be sinful or not: “If your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died.” So if we know that our friend can not drink alcohol, and indeed is convinced it is sin, then we abstain at the very least in his/her presence. For the Christian, we must almost universally participate in less than our conscience allows us, for the sake of others. 

For the first time in my entire life, I recently had to ask my gracious and godly friend to refrain from something that was causing me to stumble. I don’t think he acted wrongly, but I could not in my heart get around his opinion on something that I held dear. I am a vegetarian, someone that Paul earlier in chapter 14 of Romans calls “the weaker brother.” And I had to ask, in a sense, for my friend to apologize to me. I had never thought of it in this light before but to plead with a stronger brother on your behalf, that you might not sin in your heart but be in good communion with the church family was one of the most humbling things I’ve experienced. I’ve rarely had a real problem doing what was right (generally, and even that not to my credit, but a gift of God), and I’d up till then held that it was a strength of character that allowed me to endure the light ridicule of others if it meant not grieving their hearts by admitting my hurt. There may still be some truth to that, and we should always try to suffer all offense graciously, but that’s not what was going on inside me.

Why do I write all this? I write it to say that you can never know if the day will come that you will be the wounded one, the weaker brother or sister, in need of the grace and kindness of your family and friends to be willing to sacrifice things they have every right to, covered by the grace of God for your benefit and yours alone.

When,–not if– that day comes, you will want to look back and see that you had always conceded your rights for the good and building up of others. Many things are lawful, but not everything is beneficial or helpful, so let us seek not just our own good, but the good of his neighbour.

In this way, we can live righteously, together in love, in the grey.