Christians are called to a high standard by the Bible. They are expected to live out their lives in a specific way and act with high levels of integrity in everything they do. The vast majority of Christians do their very best to live up to these expectations. That said, the Bible does not explicitly state how to handle every situation. In those cases, human interpretation is required. This, however, can lead to confusion, uncertainty and wide variations between what one person considers biblically acceptable behavior and another considers contemptible. There are any number of situations that can cause Christians anxiety over whether or not their actions are sinful, but there are a few things that seem to crop up on regular basis.
“What if I learn about other faiths?”Christianity is a monotheistic religion, and the Bible states that the religion is not one that is meant to be mixed with other faiths. A person can easily be Buddhist and Shinto simultaneously or practice any number of Neopagan traditions at once. Christianity, however, is not easily combined with other faiths. Like the other Abrahamic traditions, it explicitly warns against attempting it. As such, many Christians seem to think that they are damned if they ever read so much as an excerpt of a Buddhist sutra, open the Quran or skim a translation of the “Bhagavad Gita.” At the same time, however, modern Christians are very likely to have Hindu neighbors, Muslim coworkers, Neopagan clients and at least one Buddhist in their extended family. Christian children are going to grow up surrounded by children who wear hijabs, do not come to school on Yom Kippur, refuse to eat beef, talk about karma seriously and openly wear talismans and amulets. Many Christians are torn because they fear that they are breaking biblical commands by learning about other faiths, but they also find it increasingly difficult to function in the multicultural world without at least a basic understanding of other faiths.
To those who are concerned that they are doomed for reading a book about Hinduism, calm down. The Devil is not going to leap out of the ground and drag you into a pit because you wanted to know what on earth your coworker means when he says he will be leaving early on Thursday so he can observe the coming sabbat. Simply reading about another religion will not make you an apostate or doom you to an eternity in hell. It will, however, give you a better understanding of those around you and how they view the world. It may also give you a chance to explore and deepen your own faith. It will also allow you to talk about religion with your neighbors on equal ground. Reading about another religion is not a threat to your own faith. Frankly, if that is all it takes to break your Christian faith, your belief was unbelievably weak at the start.
“What if I swear?”Christian families often make a big to-do about avoiding foul language, but most of what modern people would consider to be swear words would not have been considered such in biblical times. Many modern words that are considered unacceptable today were actually technical terms in the past. Everyone’s favorite four letter s-word, for instance, is thought to have described a specific sort of bowel irritation or disease in cattle. The gender specific b-word swears, on the other hand, were at one point simple factual terms that described both a female dog and a child born out of wedlock instead of being foul language at all. As such, swearing as defined today is not really a serious problem in the way most people would think. It is rude and should be avoided both from a politeness standpoint and because the Bible calls people to live by a higher standard. This means you cannot cuss out your infuriating in-law. It does, however, mean that you are probably in the clear when you unthinkingly snap out a four-letter word at the jerk who just cut you off in traffic and made you stand on your breaks. The only sort of foul language that the Bible very explicitly forbids are uses of God’s name in vein. As such, from a biblical standpoint yelping “Holy s***!” when you are startled is actually preferable to a yell of “Jesus Christ!”
“What if I notice the opposite sex?”Christians are obsessed with sex. Most people would be baffled by that statement as Christians are notorious for trying to avoid anything that could be considered sexual immorality. This, of course, is where the obsession begins. To avoid sexual immorality, you must first define what that means. This requires a lot of thinking about sex and weighing what acts would be considered immoral and what would not. People think of ancient Rome as wildly sexually active, but take a look at some of the offenses investigated and punished by the Inquisition. Either people liked their sex really freaky in the 15th century or the Inquisition had come up with every possible form of sexual immorality they could think of and wrote it down.
Christians also tend to try to avoid any impure thoughts of sex or lust. This, once again, leads to a sort of sexual obsession. To prove it to yourself, spend five minutes trying really hard not to think about a pink elephant. Now, go walk through a toy store selling pink elephant toys. Good luck.
Since Christians are often so sex-conscious, there are all sorts of concerns raised by noticing that a member of the opposite sex is attractive. Have they committed a sin? What about if they are married and think that their waiter has gorgeous eyes? Have they committed adultery? Noticing that a member of the opposite sex is attractive does not doom you to eternal torment. It does not mean that you are impure. It means that you are human. Mankind is hardwired to notice when an attractive person walks past. Simply recognizing that a woman is beautiful or a man is handsome does not make you unfaithful to your partner. Now, if you go up to that attractive person and start trying to get them to go home with you, that is a different story.
“What if I have questions about my own faith?”The mere idea of having spiritual doubts and questions can be enough to send shivers down Christian’ spines, but many people go through a period where they question what they once whole-heartedly believed. This is not a state that should incite panic. Christianity is based on some of the most unbelievable events in human history. The disciples were there, and they struggled to believe that Christ had risen from the dead. Why should it be surprising that Christians 2,000 years later occasionally have doubts about some of the miracles Christ performed or question the reigning interpretation of one of His parables? Doubts are not signs of damnation. They are opportunities to grow. Questions tell you where your faith may need to be strengthened and have the potential to lead you to a deeper and truer understanding of your own religion.
“What if I disagree with my pastor?”Many Christians seem to be simultaneously aware and oblivious to the fact that their pastor is just as human and fallible as themselves. When the pastor’s children are being unruly, most people frown at the oblivious parents, as they should. When the pastor stands behind the pulpit, however, his word becomes law to many Christians. This can cause problems when a pastor says something with which a member of his congregation disagrees. It makes the Christian question both their own opinions and beliefs as well as their pastor’s authority. The reality, however, is that pastors are as human as anyone else. They tend to be better trained on the meaning and secrets of the Bible, but that does not mean that their every word is authoritative or correct. If you disagree with something your pastor said, you should talk to them about it. Their reasoning may make perfect sense to you once it is spelled out, or you may walk away feeling that your pastor’s logic was flawed, and you are correct. You will not know until you ask, but even if you leave feeling that your pastor is wrong, that does not make you a bad Christian.
Christians want desperately to live up to the expectations God has laid out in the Bible. That, however, can be tricky when dealing with situations that are not explicitly addressed in the Good Book. In those instances, sometimes the best things to do are to pay attention to your common sense and your intentions. Combining good intentions and common sense will solve many problems, and if that is not enough, well, that is what forgiveness is for.