Most working people have some interaction with a certain tight-knit group of people in our society: smokers. I had such an encounter recently when I began my first secular job in quite a while. We took a break from training, and I figured I would go outside to enjoy the nice weather and build relationships with some of my coworkers. As I went to sit down at a table of about five of these coworkers, I realized they all had something in common that I simply couldn’t relate to: the need for a smoke break.
Like most people, my initial reaction was to cough a lot and slowly back away. No one likes second hand smoke, and these days most agree that smoking is a bad habit that endangers the person doing it as well as those around them. This became clear as I decided to hang out in the “danger zone” for a while. I half-jokingly asked, “I’m not smoking, is it okay if I sit here?” Thankfully, they invited me into their club and proceeded to explain to me various reasons they’re smoking. None of them had anything to do with it being the right thing.
The truth is, smokers know what they’re doing is bad for them, but they do it anyway. Christians often respond to such a dilemma with disdain. We rant about the dangers, we avoid smokers at all costs, we don’t allow such a substance in our home or in our car, and we practice our disapproving looks daily. And if we ever see a “Christian” who is smoking? Well, let’s just say there’s a reason that word is in quotes.
What if Christians showed compassion for smokers? Sure, let’s acknowledge that smoking is a bad habit. Let’s acknowledge that if God wants someone to quit smoking, they can and they should. But let’s acknowledge a few other things too:
- Quitting is hard. While I don’t buy into the idea that “addiction is a disease” and that one who is addicted to smoking loses all personal responsibility in the matter, I do think it’s important that we realize that it can be a rough, oftentimes traumatic experience to give up what for many is a huge part of their life, not to mention the physically addictive nature of smoking.
- Smoking is bad for them, but so is that thing you do. Let’s face it. We all do things that aren’t good for us. Big Macs, driving without seat-belts, bungee jumping, not getting enough sleep, getting by on caffeine, etc. Those habits which we suffer from are going to be pretty big planks in our eyes for as long as we insist on berating or looking down on those who smoke.
- Smoking isn’t actually addressed in Scripture. Okay, it’s bad for you, probably unwise, and so probably sin. But in truth, smoking in any way that enables us to rebuke others in any authoritative sense. We can keep our friends and church members accountable, questioning them and making sure they understand that nothing is to be our master, but smoking is no reason to discount someone’s spirituality or faith, though our culture may encourage us to believe so.
- We are called to sacrifice. Consider opening your home or car to smokers. If you’re serious about evangelism, wouldn’t you be willing to accept a weird smell in your car and a little lung damage in exchange for the opportunity to share the gospel with a coworker or friends without any unnecessary stumbling blocks? I understand that this challenge isn’t for everyone, but some of you ought to be willing to accept such a risk.
I should make it clear: this post isn’t about whether or not it is okay for you to smoke; it’s about our response to those who do. We need to remember that smoking does often serve as a stumbling block for many nonbelievers as well as believers, and so one needs to think long and hard about the repurcussions of taking up such an expensive and risky hobby. But we also need to remember that no matter what we refuse to do, if it’s not refused in love, it’s a useless refusal.