One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him….One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind….I know and am convinced in the Lord that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. (Rom. 14: 2-3, 5, 14, NASB, emphasis mine)
(Actually, the entire chapter of Rom. 14 is good to read in this case; I just selected a few key verses.)
These days, postmodern thought is radically changing the way people view the world compared to a generation ago. Probably the most prominent element of postmodern thought is the base assumption that there is no such thing as absolute truth–that what’s true for one may not be true for another. For Christians, this tends to pose a problem, because absolutes form the foundation of our belief.
Not to completely mess up that mindset (okay, maybe just a little), for today’s meditation I have chosen possibly the most “postmodern” Scripture in the Bible. Why? Because at least in this passage, if not in others, Paul blurs the lines a bit. Is it sin to eat or drink certain things or not? Paul’s answer: it is if you believe it is!
How vague can you get?
Have you noticed how Christians often have very different views on what’s okay to watch, or listen to, or eat or drink? (Particularly drink?) While the Bible teaches us to guard what goes into our minds and bodies, it doesn’t seem to give a lot of detail on what that looks like–unless, of course, you go back to the Law of Moses. The New Testament is pretty vague about a lot of it.
I have to admit (woefully) that I have had several seasons in my life where I got pretty legalistic about what I would (and would not) watch or listen to (or drink), and was quick to judge others who made different choices than I would have. I look back at those times and can now easily see how I was majoring on the minors, determining the quality of someone’s faith or discipleship based on choices that (as Paul indicates here) aren’t really of kingdom significance.
And yet, don’t we as Christians make similar evaluations on a regular basis? We have a certain set of behaviors in our minds that define a “good Christian”, and chances are most of them have nothing to do with acting like Christ. They’re more about what words we won’t utter, what things we won’t drink, what movies we don’t watch, what music we avoid. More often than not, we’re defining ourselves by what we don’t do even more than by what we do.
So…does this passage mean there aren’t really absolutes? I don’t think that’s the case; this is one Scripture out of a whole book of ’em, and the Bible makes the boundaries clear in many other cases. What I do think is that there are some actions that aren’t as significant to God as the heart behind the actions. In other words, why we do (or don’t do) some things is more important than what we do (or don’t do).
As for the question of postmodern thought, the question of absolute truth, and how that reconciles with my faith in Christ…here are some of my personal observations, or conclusions I’ve arrived at in my own journey in recent years:
- Much of what we see as “absolute truth” is based on our deductive reasoning of the facts at hand, or how we interpret the Scripture. It seems very clear to us, but it is actually based on limited information.
- This way of viewing “absolutes” is part of our modern culture and linear way of thinking. (One plus one always equals two.) It is not, however, the same logical approach people used in Bible days.
What I mean by this is that while I still believe in absolute truth, I don’t always know what that absolute truth is, because I don’t always see the whole picture. I can still be fully convinced of certain things in Scripture, but I no longer feel it’s my responsibility to convince everyone else. Even more importantly…absolute Truth to me now is represented not by a fact, but by a Person. Jesus is the Truth. When I know Him, I will know the absolute Truth.
And I think this is even where Paul is going in Romans 14. When Paul says we need to be convinced in our own minds, he’s not saying “anything goes.” He’s actually reflecting a very Jewish way of thinking, a way of thought most of us don’t use, and the key is in some of the verses I didn’t quote before:
“He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God. For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.” (Rom. 14:6-8)
What do we make of this? What’s more important here is not what we eat or drink, or whether we abstain, but whom we are living for. In the Hebraic way of thinking, when all of life is lived unto God, everything is sacred. Rephrased for Christ-followers…absolute truth isn’t about eating and drinking, but about the Person we follow–the Person we’re living for.