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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.


11 Comments

  1. I don’t know if I buy the smoking is sin part, but yeah, it’d be nice if Christians didn’t syncretistically envelope smoker-hate into their Christianity. All the Christians who smoke (and especially those of us who do so responsibly) would sure appreciate it.

    The Danes last blog post..20080821

  2. Well there goes our teen readership Rich! Thanks a lot…but seriously, good thoughts.

    I am not of the persuasion that smoking is sin, but you’re thoughts are good and well received by me.

  3. Yeah, cigarettes are for dilettantes, cigars are for 20-somethings who want to fake maturity, pipes are for old guys and for young guys who want to imagine they’re cool even though we know they’re just pretentious, and hookahs are for parties or private home enjoyment (as public enjoyment of a hookah is really just a combination of the dilettante, the 20-something faking maturity, and the pretentious.

  4. gimme a break. you’re one of them squishy “christians”

    what you’re saying isn’t based on truth but your opinion and you wish to “tickle the ears” of your readers.

    1. that doesn’t excuse anyone. it doesn’t even soften the edge on their direct failure to accept responsibility.

    2. thats a logical fallacy. if i do something bad, it doesn’t excuse the smoker.

    3. smoking is a sin absolutely undisputably especially when you know its bad for you and you do it anyway.

    4. and im sure that no one is so addicted that they can’t pause their polluting for a few minutes in my car. so, no i will not tolerate smoking in my car. if you wanna kill yourself, you’re answering to God for that, but don’t be “imposing” your stupidity on others

  5. @David – He can’t. Mitch doesn’t have feelings. He’s a robot come from the future with one mission and one mission alone: to derail actual conversation between between people through arrogance, discordant argument, and base generalization, all to the end of the destruction of the human race that his robot overlords might have an easier time inheriting the earth during the robot wars of AD 2027. Oh, and his secondary objection: to use the phrase “tickle the ears” at least once every day. (Robot programmers in 2027 at least have a sense of humour, you see.)

  6. In all seriousness though…I don’t think anything in Rich’s article actually constitutes a “logical fallacy.” I also think that your comments, Mitch, miss the entire point of the article. I wondered if you wanted to maybe engage in some intelligent and God-honoring, Christ-exalting, Christian edifying conversation. Don’t let our sarcasm and jovialness drive you away.

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