Lines. (part 1)

“Life and death are one thread, the same line viewed from different sides.” – Lao Tsu

There was this funny  Coke Superbowl commercial back in 2011 I remember from time to time. The scene begins with two border guards are un-trustingly pacing next to a thin wooden gate. One guard cracks open a bottle of Coke and suddenly all animosity melts away. Enemies become friends (if for only a moment) and both enjoy a refreshing beverage. If you haven’t seen it, click here:  

I was thinking about this commercial the other day after having an interesting encounter with my two-year old daughter. I’d left my laptop sitting on the coffee table during a short break from doing some work. As soon as I stood up, she shot over to the laptop like a bee to honey. I sternly pointed at the computer and reminded her, “No touch!” She looked at me half hurt and half angered, but trudged off toward her books.

Then she did something which I found intriguing. As soon as I left the room, she took one of her books, carried it to the coffee table, and placed it as close as she could to the laptop. As I peered around the corner, I watched her proceed to “read” her book, all the while sneaking looks at the laptop. She even went so far as to “accidentally” graze her arm against it a couple of times. Yet, the moment I cleared my throat to tip her off to my presence, she grabbed her book and scurried across the room as though she’d somehow unintentionally drifted next to the laptop. I find this incident ominously telling of human nature.

Despite growing up as the son of a minister, I didn’t come to understand Jesus and what his life, death, and resurrection truly meant until my second semester of college. This is also when I met my future wife. When we started dating six months later, I was excruciatingly aware of my propensity to “get physical.” This propensity was evidenced by my previous relationships. I wanted to do all I could to keep the relationship healthy by avoiding sexual encounters before marriage. Yet, despite my clear understanding of my weaknesses, I did very little to prevent her and myself from getting into situations which were a lot like the intimate settings I used to find myself in with my exes. We’d stay up into the wee hours of the morning talking and watching movies—it was all very familiar. 

So, we started to have these “slips” in our fidelity to purity. I won’t get into the nitty-gritty; suffice it to say God’s grace was paired with slow and progressive learning about how not to get into these situations in the future. It was a long process.

The beauty in me sharing this is God wants us to learn from each others’ mistakes rather than make them on our own. Keeping this in mind, if you want to avoid slipping into your own old sins, here’s what that experience taught me: People, including most Christians, want to slip up. It all comes back to this funny game we play with boundaries. We are good about not crossing them until there’s something on the other side we really want. The Coke commercial reminds me of this game. If anyone isn’t following me, I’ll explain.

The game is just this: we’ll see how close we can get without actually getting entangled in the thing we’re asked to avoid. This balancing act goes on until we “slip.” Then all of the sudden we’re reeling, hoping nobody noticed, and if they did notice, hopefully they saw that we “didn’t mean to.” In reality, we did mean to, or else we would have stayed good and well away from that boundary line; it’s awfully hard to slip to the other side when the line is ten feet away, right? The Coke commercial playfully illustrates this for me. The boundary is firm until the one guard wants a sip of Coke. Then, for a moment, the lines are redrawn, only to abruptly return to normal once the deed is done. I feel like we do this with things we want that aren’t good for us fairly often.

Walking a thin line

Maybe this is why Jesus used such extreme examples when he was talking about avoiding sin. In the book of Mathew, Jesus is quoted in saying: “If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.” Sounds pretty over the top, doesn’t it? But perhaps Jesus knows the human heart better than the rest of us. Perhaps the truth of the matter is if we have the capacity to “slip,” we will. Maybe the idea behind this command isn’t to be like Van Gogh and offer our severed members up as some noble love-sacrifice, but rather to cut off situations, friends, or anything which tempts us to engage in the sins we’re most tempted by. Why don’t we take this command more seriously? I know we don’t, or else we’d probably have a lot more 20 year old eunuchs running around.

I’m not suggesting we go hacking away at our bodies, but I do believe we can agree each of us plays this game. It’s different for everybody—for some people it’s substances, for some people it’s sex, for some it’s buying stuff, and others it’s relationships. It could be anything really. My point is if a person knows they struggle with something, someone, someplace, etc., isn’t it wiser to stay as far away from those things as possible rather than wonder, “How far is too far?” and continue to walk into situations which lead into those things? In fact, if you find yourself asking the question, “So what can I still do and it not be sin?” then I’d wager you’re playing the line game.

To be continued…