Bernie Diaz, January 2, 2018
Many of us have brought in the new year with resolutions to improve our physical and fiscal health through better dieting, exercise and money management.
In addition, millions of Christians (I hope) are getting their spiritual house in order by resolving to improve their health by availing themselves to the ‘ordinary’ means of grace that God has provided his people, through the pathways of hearing his voice, having his ear and partaking of his body, as I preached to our church last Sunday, which in simpler terms means: the word (eating Bible), prayer and the church – the fellowship thereof.
And then, there are millions today on the left coast, who have resolved to partake of the consumption of weed, as California welcomed the new year with legal sales of recreational marijuana.
Although the state had issued only about 100 licenses to marijuana-related businesses so far, demand was ‘high’ (pun intended) and lines were long at dispensaries that opened on the first day of legalized pot.
Those that make the convenient “economic” argument for legal, regulated pot use, project the marijuana industry to bring in $1 billion annually in tax revenue for California within several years. However, in terms of precedent, I wonder how well that deficit-ridden state has done with its similarly sold lotto gambling initiative?
As WORLD magazine points out, the nation’s most populous state joins a growing list of others, and the nation’s capital, where so-called recreational marijuana is permitted even though the federal government continues to classify it as a controlled and illegal substance. Florida, the state where I reside and minister, legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes only last fall – thus far, by virtue of a popular vote.
Legality aside, this would not be the first or last ethically questionable legal right Christians have had to contend with. So, is marijuana use permissible for a born-again, Christ-believing, child of God?
Like many other issues and ethical questions facing man in the 21st century, scripture – as all-sufficient and all-authoritative as it is, does not deal with weed specifically by name for obvious historical reasons, leaving disciples of Christ with the responsibility to wisely discern this issue themselves as they strive to hear God’s “voice” and “have his heart” through Bible study and prayer.
The Push and Pushback for Pot
Interestingly enough, the growth of marijuana legislation (more pun intended), has stirred the curiosity of more than a few Christians as to its legitimate use. Already men and women in my church have shared in small-group discussions about wisdom, questions from friends in and around a community of faith as to whether God and his word permits the recreational use of marijuana.
As it applies to weed, there seems to be two main arguments posed by its ‘Christian’ proponents in justifying its use:
- Christian Liberty
Aside from the fact that It’s now legal in some states, there are also professing believers out there using the proverbial, catch-all tag of “freedom in Christ” in application to certain moral and ethical issues of ‘grey’ or in dispute, such as weed, as an immediate cover for imbibing, since the Bible does not explicitly condemn it in black and white terms.
Does the Bible explicitly condemn viewing pornography on television? The internet? Explicitly? Of course not, since TV and the web could not be on the minds of the biblical writers of antiquity. So, how many of you know whether or not it’s right to eat foods offered to idols? That doesn’t really happen much today in non-Santeria circles does it? Well, that was an ethical issue of concern to early Christians coming from a pagan and Gentile background who wrestled with their liberty to partake of that.
How did they know what to do? The Bible thankfully gives us wisdom from God and in his Spirit (applied knowledge), if we ask for it and run it through the principles and patterns found in scripture, where there are no precepts (clear commands or statements).
Paul in his 1st letter to a confused and controversy ridden Corinthian church posed certain principles or general truths to help them find such answers which beg questions in and of themselves that we can infuse the word and issue of recreational marijuana with. For instance:
- “Everything is permissible for me – but not everything is beneficial” (1 Corinthians 6:12).
Question: though ‘legal’ by law and not explicitly condemned in scripture, is smoking weed helpful or beneficial to me – physically, spiritually, and mentally? More on this in a moment….
- Everything is permissible for me’ – but I will not be mastered by anything” (1 Corinthians 6:12).
Question: Does using weed bring me under its power? Can it cause an addiction in me? Talk to most reforming drug users and abusers who have been in a treatment program if you’re unsure of this one.
- Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall” (1 Corinthians 8:13).
Question: Does weed hurt others? Can it? See above, and speak to victims of use and abuse who are dysfunctional and non-productive members of society and who have caused or been victim to workplace and auto accident injuries and fatalities due to marijuana.
Would I want to be a stumbling block to a brother or sister in Christ- injure their conscience, by using and advocating the use of this potentially harmful drug?
- So, whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).
Question: Does smoking pot glorify God? How does the use of weed make much of, make known, or show Christ to a lost and dying world? As Voddie Baucham would say, “If you can’t say ouch- say amen!”
2. Alcohol Use
Indeed, the Bible does not explicitly condemn the recreational use of alcohol nor require its total abstinence, as a long, historic and culturally acceptable substance in most civilizations over the millennia.
Consider the following though: consumption of alcohol in the Bible served necessary medicinal purposes without many if any alternatives (Proverbs 31:6-7), of more contemporary means of sedation and pain relief.
Further, much research seems to indicate that the wine and strong drink of Biblical times was consumed as a mixed beverage with water, or fermented in much less potent concentrated does of alcohol than today. That said…
Question: does God’s word not caution us to abstain from (Ephesians 5:18, Proverbs 23:20-21, etc.) anything that negatively impacts our self-control (1 Peter 4:7)?
Some might compare regulated and moderate marijuana use to coffee drinking, cigarette smoking and alcohol use. While it may be pointed out that all those substances have psychoactive compounds – there are notable differences between them too.
As Jeff Lacine made clear in his article, “Marijuana to the Glory of God” at DesiringGod.org,
As Christians, our goal is knowing and experiencing the full and undistorted reality of the glory of God in our resurrected physical bodies (1 Cor. 15:12–49; Phil 3:20–21; 1 Cor. 13:12). This is our trajectory as Christians. This is our aim…. We want to see things as they really are. The Christian use of any kind of psychoactive substance should always align with this gospel goal of looking to see things clearer. We do not want our vision of reality distorted.
Consider this principle in terms of a psychoactive substance most American adults use every day: caffeine. Why do people drink coffee in the morning? To help them to see things as they really are, rather than through the fog of grogginess. The right and proper use of this God-given substance helps us see things as they really are.
He goes on to note that this is why people drink at weddings but not funerals – at weddings “moderate lubrication…can be in keeping with reality” since it is a time to celebrate. In this setting “proper and moderate use of alcohol can be a clarifier and not a distorter,” whereas at a funeral alcohol use might well be obscuring reality.
But what then of weed? Lacine argued, “both from research and personal experience” that cannabis use distorts and numbs a person’s perception of reality. We might expect a regular user to argue that it doesn’t numb their thinking but, as Lacine notes, if marijuana is numbing their thinking, that’s going to also impact their ability to perceive its impact on their thinking.
Though I might disagree with this author as to the celebratory aspects of alcohol’s ‘moderate lubrication,’ since it too may remove moral inhibitions and distort reality for users, it would be more than difficult to make the argument that alcohol is as powerful in concentrated doses as marijuana today and even if it were, what possible advantage could there be in legitimizing the use of yet another potentially mind-altering substance?
As Jon Dykstra notes in his article from Reformed Perspective, “There is a reason that marijuana has long been associated with the couch, a bag of chips, and a television remote. Put another way, marijuana has never been associated with engaged parenting…. studies have shown a high correlation between regular cannabis use and the clinical diagnosis of Amotivational Syndrome.”
True, last resort medicinal use aside, what would the positives be to American society to have a greater number of its citizens smoking weed?
The Better Question
Perhaps the most important biblical principle pertaining to this and similar issues, is found in Hebrews 12:1. There we read: Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,
Question: how does smoking pot help me run? How does weed help me grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ?
Another translation of the phrase including the word, “weights” from the English Standard Version of Heb. 12:1, would be, “everything that hinders us”, or as the New Living Translation (NLT) renders the phrase, “let us strip off every weight that slows us down.”
Therefore Christians, when considering the recreational use of marijuana, the question, “Is it a sin?” according to Jesus and Paul may not be as good a question to ask as “Does it help me run?” Or, “Does it get in my way when I am trying to become more patient, more kind, more gentle, more loving, more holy, more pure, more self-controlled? Does it get in my way or does it help me run?” Christian that is the wise question to ask and answer.