A lot of Christians that I know are really into smoking these days. I think that it is a unwise act at best. So I am going to challenge the practice and throw down the anti-smoking gauntlet.
My History with Smokers
Looking back, I actually have a pretty long history with smokers.
When I was a kid my parents smoked cigarettes a lot. So much so in fact that once my dad accidentally put a cigarette out on my Han Solo action figure’s back melting a burn mark into him. For years I just went on pretending that this was an injury that Han had suffered from being frozen in carbonite. Over time though my folks heard about the dangers of smoking and quit because they didn’t want us kids to suffer from the well documented side effects of second hand smoke. As a result, the rest of the rebel forces were also spared a fiery inquisition.
In Jr. High and High School I grew to love the smell of a good pipe. My grandfather smoked a pipe and it is impossible for me to smell one even today without immediately thinking of him. It is a fond memory. And in fairness to smokers my grandfather, like George Burns, did not suffer any known side effects as a direct result of smoking.
In college I even smoked a bit myself. I was a social smoker – cigs & cigars only. It was pretty common practice for whoever was hosting the party to have a dorm room full smoke by the end of the night. One year I simply caved figuring I was already partaking fully of the secondhand smoke. I smoked at maybe a couple dozen parties in those those days. Smoking was kind of like excessive drinking – an adolescent rebellion to visibly show that we thought we were adults while still trying to cling to our youth. It was also pretty obvious that a few of my peers had become addicted to cigarettes as a coping mechanism for dealing with the inherent stress of college and life in general.
At grad school in Princeton, there was a pretty nice cigar shop in town with a smoking room. A very few times in my first year there my roommate and I would go buy and smoke some high-end cigarettes/cigars. A few guys really got into smoking pipes as a fad. All of the above seemed very Princeton-esque in a way, feeling somewhat elegant, regal even, fitting appropriately the mystique that accompanies being in a community of academic elites.
Maybe we were trying to be cool. Maybe we were trying to deal with intense academic stress. Maybe we were trying to exert our masculinity/power. Or maybe we were just outright naïve.
So all of the aforementioned in perspective, I recognize that it is currently a popular behavior to smoke cigars in certain Christian circles (particularly younger ones), but I have to wonder really what is the attraction? I guess for some Cigars are treated as a luxury. For many it appears to be an edgy type attempt to claim a tough-guy/girl image of sorts like numerous films stars in the Hollywood elite. In some Christian circles smoking is even used as way to gain the trust of those who otherwise might be reluctant to hang with a Jesus follower. It’s like code for saying “hey, I am a Christian but I’m not that kind of Christian”. Other just genuinely like cigars – if you can buy the argument that indeed there is no addiction or self-image manipulation/self-medicating going on in the act of smoking. I personally find that hard to believe.
What Changed My Heart
Of all of the events and observations in my life the distinctive event for me that made me realize the futility of smoking came a few years out of seminary. I received a call from California, from my Uncle Don on my mom’s side asking me to come to California. Uncle Don knew that I was in ministry, and had relatively recently been diagnosed with lung cancer and was not a professing Christian. He wanted me to get on a plane and go visit him. I left to see him almost immediately.
I had always kind of looked up to my uncle, mostly because he was a hard worker and, growing up in a relatively poor rural place, he had found a way to become what the world-views as successful. Uncle Don was the stereotypical model of the American Dream – a regular rags-to-riches story. He had made his way from North Kingsville, Ohio to Cleveland and then on to Silicon Valley in California, ultimately working at an executive level with a computer components company. He traveled the world, raced Jaguars, and on his visits home always told us of his latest adventure. He also though, because it was the executive/hip/yuppie thing to do, smoked a bunch of cigarettes early on and then, as he grew older, increasingly started smoking cigars.
As I boarded my flight to San Jose, I prayed how I would share the gospel with my uncle who I had looked up to all of these years yet didn’t know very well. My grandparents were already there and that gave me all of the indication that I needed that the situation was dire.
If you want a reason to stop smoking immediately, go spend a week with someone in the advanced stages of lung cancer. That is all of the convincing you will ever need unless you are an outright addict or unwise. In my vocation I experience a lot of death. My wife works for a hospice and I have even served as the president of a large hospice’s board of trustees. So I know the general ropes when it comes to what is involved in dying and care for those who are in that process. But to date, my uncle is the worse case of suffering while actively dying that I have ever seen.
He would literally cough so hard that his eyes looked like they were going to come-out of his bald, chemo-ridden head. He would vomit buckets of fluid that continues to fill up in his lungs over and over. There was so much fluid that his vomiting would literally overflow the toilet. His lungs would fill so fast that increasingly he would go into fits of rage because his body would recognize that he was literally drowning and then release adrenaline into his system sending him into fits of uncontrolled fury with almost superhuman strength. At one point he put his hand through a window. In another moment he tried to choke my grandmother almost to death. In a very real sense a cancerous intruder, foreign to his body, had possessed him. Often times he would not even remember such outbreaks following the event. He was constantly sobbing, exhausted, tortured – so much so that even the doctors said that there was little that they could do for him in his condition.
On the plane to see him, I was worried what I would say to him. I didn’t have near the experience I have now with these matters and I was fearful that I would misspeak. When finally uncle Don rounded the increasing cycle of coughing, rage, vomiting and back to exhaustion again, we caught a short time to speak. He asked me to “tell him what, I knew”. Overwhelmed and unprepared for what I was experiencing I reverted to an almost subconscious academic historic account of who Jesus was and why even skeptics like myself had come to believe in him. Two minutes in my speech my uncle interrupted me and said “No, No. Just tell me what I need to do.” He was dying and he knew it. He didn’t want some theological treatise, he wanted his nephew to share with him what he had to do so that he could experience what came next without fear – even if his body was overtly going to act otherwise. It was in that next moment that we essentially went through the sinners prayer together and he put his faith and trust in Jesus Christ. A week later, an associate pastor from Menlo Park Presbyterian Church who I cold-called, graciously made the long journey down to baptize my uncle. I don’t even know that pastor’s name that jumped through those necessary denominational hoops for my uncle (I never met him) – but I will be grateful to him and that church my whole life for their willingness to help my family in that horrific time of need.
My uncle died soon after. I led his funeral a short while later. It took my dear grandmother months and months to emotionally recover from what she had seen my uncle go through. Realistically, you don’t ever really recover from experiencing something like that – you just cope and try to deal with the trauma of the situation as best as you can.
Smoking Just Isn’t Worth It
So look brothers and sisters, I am not seeking to cast judgment on those of you who smoke. No to the contrary, I simply love you enough that I want you to consider what you are doing and why you are doing it and then realize – it is simply not worth the risk to you or the people you love. I understand how easy it is to get to such a place of comfort with the act. I understand the social or personal motivations involved. But considering all of those things I have to tell you, it still isn’t worth it.
Relatively recently, one of my Christian friends whom I (and many others) dearly love and respect quoted Charles Spurgeon on his Facebook page. Apparently, according to my friend, Spurgeon was accused of sinning when smoking a cigar to which Spurgeon responded:
“Well, dear friends, you know that some men can do to the glory of God what to other men would be sin. And notwithstanding what brother Pentecost has said, I intend to smoke a good cigar to the glory of God before I go to bed to-night.
If anybody can show me in the Bible the command, ‘Thou shalt not smoke,’ I am ready to keep it; but I haven’t found it yet. I find Ten Commandments, and it’s as much as I can do to keep them; and I’ve no desire to make them into eleven or twelve.”
Lovingly, I want to point out that using this quote to defend modern Christian’s practice of smoking is simply B.S. Spurgeon lived in the mid-to-late 1800’s when the general public wasn’t blatantly aware of the risks of smoking on the body. Put simply, this is a poor theological argument by Spurgeon even in his day claiming that omission is permission. I could use the same Biblical argument regarding wearing MC Hammer Pants, watching Teletubbies re-runs, TYPING IN ALL CAPS, and singing Justin Bieber songs but everyone right away still knows that all of those things are just simply wrong. (I’m Joking. Sort of.)
So Why Shouldn’t You Smoke?
Here are just a few basic reasons.
Smoking Doesn’t Fit a Model of Good Stewardship
I Corinthians 6:19-20 reads: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body,”
While this particular Scripture certainly could also apply to a lot of issues (i.e. eating habits, proper exercise, spiritual disciplines etc.) it most certainly applies directly to the issue of smoking. Would you deny God what is God’s?
Smoking Doesn’t Consider the Greater Needs of the Body of Christ
As a member of the community of faith people rely on you. You have a responsibility to be there for them if you can. I Corinthians 12:12 talks about the Body of Christ (the Church) being made up of many parts. As a Christian you are one of those parts that can either try and help support a healthy Body/Church or actively choose to disable the Body/Church through your own intentional self destruction.
Smoking Can Hurt Your Family
If you have a spouse or kids and you smoke are you thinking about the potential impacts that your behavior could have on them? Maybe you die early leaving them to care for themselves. Maybe you give them cancer via second hand smoke. Maybe you put them through the agony of seeing someone they love riddled with pain. Maybe you unnecessarily bankrupt them with medical bills. Maybe none of this happens – but ask yourself is the risk necessary or merely opulent selfishness?
Smoking can be an Addictive Behavior and Addictive Behavior is Idol Worship
Ten Commandments bluff called brother Spurgeon.
Culture Equates Smoking with Power… Yet the Christian knows that God is Our Ultimate Source of Power
Whether it is in politics, movies, or sports – smokers (cigars smokers primarily) have been marketed as people who have power, wealth or elegance. Winning is symbolically “rewarded” by smoking a cigar. But Christians know that these are just veiled attempts to claim power and the credit for ourselves. Victory ultimately comes through a relationship with Jesus. Acting as if authentic power comes from anything other than Christ or that success is somehow a result of our own merits in the absence of God is again, idolatry. Why should we perpetuate false cultural notions of power even on the smallest scale?
Christians Who Smoke May Turn Non Smokers off From the Gospel
There are plenty of people who simply don’t like smoky environments. If one’s ministry plan is to show off your “coolness” by having a smoke together then one should consider the potential people that you might be turning away. Is the habit of smoking worth the risk of turning someone away from the Gospel who might otherwise might have heard and responded to it? Personally, I think that Christians can create isolation and division within the Body of Christ by encouraging unnecessary social behavior that excludes persons who would have otherwise willingly been involved. Let me be clear, smoking is not the only way Christians exclude people – that is obvious. But do we really need another way to exclude others?
Smoking By Christians Can Be Seen as Blatantly Hypocritical
Christians who smoke yet want to be visible in supporting causes to end Cancer or Disease are revealed as hypocrites because they don’t actually care enough to change their own behavior – they just want to appear to be doing the right thing.
Smoking By Christians Doesn’t Show Sensitivity to Those Who Are Ill
Some people get cancer and have never smoked a day in their life. They may not be at fault, period. Yet if we show that we don’t care about the life that they are fighting to preserve how does that show sensitivity to their plight? It doesn’t.
Called to Something Better
The above points aren’t meant to be an all-inclusive list, nor are they without potential rebuttal to some degree, but they are meant to show that when one begins to look at the act of smoking comprehensibly it is obvious that it is a self-destructive/community damaging behavior. As followers of Jesus I think we are called to aspire to better than this. We can do so by simply reasoning and supporting one another as a Christian community. The fact is that we have all got our own stuff that we are dealing with. Together, in Love, is how we find a better way to live in Christ and Glorify God daily.