Smoking requires deception. No, not that Thank You For Smoking, spin-doctor media manipulation. I mean personal, intimate self-deception. Bald-faced lying—from yourself and to yourself.

I know, I know. Smokers will object: of course it’s bad for them. Who hasn’t heard of smoking’s dangers? Even those who choose tar-thick Marlboro Reds or Turkish Golds acknowledge the harm of cigarettes, but continue all the same. I know this because I used the same justification for years. When confronted about my little habit, I’d respond sincerely and confidently—“I know it’s bad for me.”

In some sense, there’s nothing dishonest about that. Like most Americans, I’ve always been well-informed about the dangers that frequently inhaling smoke pose to the human body. I’d heard about the studies that say 1,300 lives are lost in the U.S. each day due to smoking-related diseases, and someone surely recited to me, at some point, the litany of potential health costs tied directly to smoking. I’d even sit all the way through those “Y Do U Think?” ads on TV, probably out of respect; then I’d head outside and burn through another Camel Menthol. Clearly I knew what I was doing, right? 

For years, I filled my lungs with a thick tar in open opposition to the truth about cigarettes’ effects.But in another sense, because of the abundance of warnings attached to cigarettes, I’d have to lie to myself in order to smoke, and I did. And, as a foolish undergrad, my justifications would usually appeal to the higher virtue of building community with smokers, of frequent breaks from work or study, of making new friends when bumming cigs. When pressed on the issue, though, I’d ultimately have to fall back to the central lie that every smoker has to tell themselves in order to keep inhaling day after day: “The benefits of my destructive behavior outweigh the negative consequences.” Or worse, “Those consequences everyone talks about, they won’t touch me.” Often it’s subconscious, though becoming cognizant of this lie doesn’t always lead to recovery, and may even breed a deeper obstinacy.

Lying to ourselves this way is nothing new. In fact, mankind has been spinning this deceit since Genesis 3. Eve believed the serpent’s lie, that not only would she escape death after disobeying God, but that she’d in fact receive a far greater benefit: she would “be like God, knowing good and evil.”

And with every sin that followed and flowed from the nature of that original sin, we humans been telling ourselves a variant of the same lie: “I know what’s better for me than God does.” This is the lie that sits at the foundation of all sin, which creates arrogance so deep we may not even be aware of it. And as we train ourselves to exchange truth for lies in our sin-filled hearts (Romans 1:25), we condition ourselves to ignore plain truth everywhere else. It’s no wonder sinful hard-heartedness can lead to the hard-headedness necessary for smoking—or other similarly self-destructive behaviors.

Few sections of Scripture capture this condemning pattern of sinful self-deception better than the Minor Prophets, and maybe none more acutely than Obadiah, the shortest Old Testament book. In one devastating chapter, this unknown servant delivers God’s message to the people of Edom, a nation—unwittingly—destabilized by their own deceit, still celebrating Judah’s destruction by the Babylonians in the early 6th century B.C. They mocked God’s people from their mountain fortresses, strongholds that they considered impenetrable, but were not.

God’s message to Edom in Obadiah 1:3-4 is an indictment of that false trust, and an illumination of the truth regarding their vulnerable position.

The pride of your heart has deceived you,
you who live in the clefts of the rock,
in your lofty dwelling,
who say in your heart,
“Who will bring me down to the ground?”
Though you soar aloft like the eagle,
though your nest is set among the stars,
from there I will bring you down,
declares the Lord.

Destructive behavior (i.e. sin) has real consequences—the truth will out, often through precisely the painful penalties our foolishness has assured us we would avoid. Edom would pay the price for its misplaced trust and self-deception. Only a decade after Obadiah’s writing, Edom was utterly destroyed by Babylon, mountain fortresses and all.

Pop culture, too, affirms the moral corruption of overt self-deception for years, particularly in its most archetypical struggles between good and evil. Consider the destructive influence Tolkien’s Ring of Power had on Gollum, or Palpatine’s hard sell for the Dark Side in Star Wars: Revenge of the SithAnd in the same way, our bodies and lives bear the consequences of the lies we tell ourselves.

For years, I filled my lungs with a thick tar in open opposition to the truth about cigarettes’ effects. Knowing but not submitting to the truth reveals our fundamental disbelief of that truth. Yet, despite our affirmation otherwise, to trust in the lie of some false benefit over the richness and complex beauty of the truth will always disappoint us.

The writing is on the walls of our lungs and the smoking gun appears throughout our cultural artifacts: Humans are deeply scarred by the lies we tell ourselves, the idols we exchange for the truth, the feeble fortresses we elect to trust. I was fortunate enough to realize and submit to this truth fully after only a few years of smoking. May we all, by the grace of God, escape any smoke-filled haze that tempts us to self-deceive to find our souls cleaned in the light of the truth of Jesus Christ.

img via DucDigital


3 Comments

  1. Hmm, another parallel with the Edomites is that the Edomites rejoiced in the affliction of their close relatives, while the close relatives of the smoker have to endure the consequences of second-hand smoke.

  2. I’d rather people lie to themselves about smoking than lie about climate change.

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