Thursday, August 6, 2015

Do not Handle, Do not Taste, Do not Touch!

My article from this week's newspapers answers a question about whether there are certain things that can make a Christian unrighteous by having contact with them:

Q:  Are there certain things that would be sinful for Christians to consume, hear, see, or come into contact with like there were in the Old Testament?  If so, what would those be? 

It seems that human understand instinctively that something has gone wrong in this world and that living here comes with a certain degree of spiritual danger.  In an effort to remedy this, prohibitions on contact with certain items in the physical world are a common feature among religions throughout the world. 

A common example is eating the meat of certain animals, or meat at all.  For others, they see certain places as forbidden or certain words that should never be uttered.  They may even propose that those who hear forbidden words or see others committing a forbidden act or come too close to a forbidden thing are made unholy or unclean by their contact. 

The Old Testament laws given to Israel bear a resemblance to the description above, but those who read them closely will discover that there is a distinct difference in the way that they approach this compared to the religions of the world. 

To begin with, Genesis describes several centuries where the Law of Moses is not in force, yet people like Noah, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac, Jacob and his twelve sons are not regarded as any less accepted because they do not have it or follow it.  This seems to indicate that these laws are for a certain time, place and purpose rather than being universal decrees.  

In addition, the objects and actions they forbid are not treated as defective in themselves, but they are to be avoided to teach a greater truth about sin.  So the people avoid touching lepers or certain animals and they follow certain grooming rituals as a way of showing them that sin corrupts them and must be cleansed. 

The ultimate goal of all of this was a promise given as early as the third chapter of Genesis that a particular descendent of Eve would one day arise to provide the permanent remedy for sin. 

When Jesus arrives, he disregards all of the extra regulations the Pharisees had made regarding what to avoid and how to wash if one might have contacted something or someone who was unclean.  He tells them, “There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him… Whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?”

We also never see him go to the priests or the temple to be cleansed after he touches and heals a leper or someone with an unclean discharge or a demon.  This would have been required not only by the Pharisees but also the Law of Moses.  However, Jesus could not be made unclean, therefor had no need for cleansing.  Instead, his inherent cleanness flowed out to the person to heal them rather than their uncleanness being transferred to him. 

When the Apostle Paul was confronted with people who thought that Christians ought to avoid consuming or coming into contact with certain things, he responds by writing, “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink... “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” …These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.” 

Jesus and Paul both demonstrate that what causes our problem with God is not what comes into us from outside but what comes out of our own hearts and desires.  For Christians, it is not a thing itself that is bad, such as food, drink, sexual intimacy, or any other earthly element, but rather when it is used in a way that is inconsistent with the Creator’s will.  The sin comes not from the earthly thing, but from our sinful desire to misuse it against our neighbors, against our own physical and spiritual well-being, and against the Lord who gave it. 

No comments:

Post a Comment