Let me clarify something: this post is not in any way shape or form meant to be a commentary on the marriage debate. I am using it as an example to point to something else that I think the Christian community should be concerned with. How Christians determine or distinguish what is sin, right and wrong, is an area of concern. We would be foolish to believe the line of thinking that has arisen in the marriage debate won’t play a role in how we think of other behaviors that scripture has named sin and more importantly behaviors that scripture isn’t as explicit about. Often times in discussions and debates about gay-marriage, you’ll hear someone make the following point: “Allowing two people who are already in a committed relationship living together to marry isn’t hurting anyone.” For the Christian—whose life and thinking is largely shaped by God’s revelation to us through scripture, and who is committed to having the life of Christ generated in them—this philosophy of using the question of harm to determine what is right and wrong is hugely flawed. Evidence of this kind of thinking has been around long before the “marriage debate”. It has led to many paradoxes that can’t be resolved if harm is the measuring stick of right and wrong.
The question of harm has allowed for many Christians to start questioning the validity and existence of Hell. The question of harm has caused many Christians to be unsettled by God’s allowance of evil, pain, and suffering in the world. The question of harm has allowed for many Christians to excuse numerous behaviors that God says miss the mark of holiness because we determine that it doesn’t cause very much if any harm. Ironically the question of harm was a reasoning that many in the purity and holiness camp used to try to persuade Christian teens to not even kiss prior to marriage because, they could be someone else’s wife or husband, and could cause harm in their relationship. Ultimately an ethic based on what is harmful potentially leads Christians to ignore or take issue with one of the central calls to the Christian life: to be willing to endure suffering, trial and testing. A Christian who determines right and wrong based upon how much harm is incurred will eventually have to question whether or not God should be God in the first place. A Christian who determines right and wrong based upon how much harm is incurred will not see, in Jesus, God was willing to endure more harm than we will ever know in order to deal with everything that is wrong with and in the world.
For a Christian right and wrong is determined by God’s holiness. Leviticus 19.2 summarizes all of the law of the Old Testament by saying, “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.’” In Ephesians Paul echoes the call to holiness when he writes, “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.” Not to say causing harm shouldn’t be a concern of Christians whatsoever. In the discussion of human ethics it’s a good place to start. For the Christian, however, human ethics begins and ends with God’s holiness. For the Christian often times the things that cause us harm, pain, and discomfort are also the things God uses to sanctify us and make us holy.