Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Christians often ask whether a particular action is “allowed” or “permissible.” But maybe that is the wrong question. Instead, the question is whether a particular action is beneficial. “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are beneficial.” 1 Cor. 10:23. If one must ask whether an action is permissible, the answer is “yes.” But the outcome-determinative question is whether it is beneficial. Perhaps, if one is asking whether something is “permissible,” it is indicative of a much bigger issue than the specific situation at hand; it suggests an entire misconception of human purpose as “what can I get out of it?” instead of “what is good to do?”

Do you think this is right?

If so, some questions:

If all things are permissible, what about categorical sin? In 1 Cor. 7:36, Paul says the man who marries “…is not sinning.”

And if there is categorical sin, then in what way are 'all things permissible'?


Jeff said...

The entire idea of "all things being lawful" is really weird to me. Certainly the line between right and wrong has to be drawn somewhere, lest we descend into meaningless moral relativism.
Perhaps it's a John Stuart Mill type thing - when you have a choice to make, it is from a moral standpoint permissible to choose that which is beneficial to most?

Paul's point, if I had to guess, was something of a reaction to the strict legalism of rabbinic Judaism that rubbed him the wrong way. I think it's his way of saying that all the laws could and should be bent when it is beneficial to do so, and that the laws are meaningless if they don't benefit anyone. But I'm just spitballing here.

Ρωμανος ~ Romanós said...

Did I miss something when I read this passage so many times in the last 32 years since giving myself up to Jesus? In the bible translation I've used since then, the [original] Jerusalem Bible, verse 23 says, "For me there are no forbidden things," but not everything does good.

Although apostle Paul starts out discussing a large category of "forbidden things" at verse 6, he gradually focuses in on the dangers of idolatry and its 1st century daily implications, particularly what to do about foods that have gone the route of pagan sacrifice before being offered in the market for general consumption.

It has always seemed to me that Paul's main emphasis was on freeing people from guilt trips about dietary scruples of various kinds. He seems to be saying that you're free to eat whatever you like, as long as it doesn't cause grief to your neighbor. To me, what he says in verse 32 clinches it: "Never do anything offensive to anyone—to Jews or Greeks or to the Church of God."

In today's world, his advice plays out this way for me. When I am in a social relationship with God-believers of any faith, I respect their scruples without exception; when with the indifferent, I do not inflict MY scruples on THEM.

In regards to diet, I don't eat ham and cheese sandwiches when I'm with observant Jews, pork ribs when I'm with Muslims, chili con carne when I'm with pious Hindus, I don't know any Buddhists but I always eat tofu curries in Thai restaurants anyway, and I don't eat burgers and fries with my Orthodox Christian brothers on Fridays and Wednesdays.

Do I think any foods are "forbidden"? Well, frankly, no, unless they're just plain inedible. When I was in my early 20's, I used to hang out with Hare Krishnas and sometimes ate bhagavat prasadam (foods offered to Krishna in sacrifice) when visiting a temple. I did this knowing what I was doing, and I used to bring some home and feed it to my dog, because the devotees told me that eating bhagavat prasadam guarantees a human incarnation next time round. But that was really pretty dumb. I hadn't accepted Christ yet as an adult Christian, but was still in the kids' idea of Christianity. After I received Christ and rejoined the Church, I actually burned all my New Age books and destroyed any other paraphernalia I had. Since then I have never eaten food sacrificed to idols again either. It would be a "bad witness."

Do I think that there really is a significance to "foods sacrificed to idols"? No, not really. Paul says, there's no such thing as pagan gods anyway, and therefore there's nothing dangerous about eating food sacrificed to idols, even in his day, but especially in ours, when you have to go out of your way to look for some. Duh… well, maybe not, if you consider the fast food chains as modern day temples of a sort. Only their gods are merged into one, Money.

Sorry for this long comment. This is my take on it, anyway.