I’m old enough to remember when cigarettes were glamorous. All the big movie stars smoked and whenever there was a tense scene in a movie, the star would take a long puff from his cigarette and slowly blow the smoke onto the screen. The slow-growing cloud of smoke could signal a number of things: the character was confused and didn’t know what to do next, or the character was resolved and the final decision had already been made, or the character had decided that he didn’t. there was nothing to do. can do and they have resigned themselves to fate.
Either way, cigarettes were considered cool, even sexy. If you wanted to be cool like your favorite movie star, you would smoke too.
Then we discovered the link between cigarettes and cancer. Overnight, smoking became uncool and almost criminal. If you smoked, you had to go to a designated smoking area outside. No one could smoke inside a building. If you smoked, your insurance premiums went up and there were doctors who wouldn’t take you as a patient. Even before smoking in restaurants was banned by law, restaurants, like airlines, had smoking and non-smoking sections. inappropriate behavior in the wrong section caused social shaming and even more direct confrontations.
At school, we were forced to go to health conferences where we were told about the harms of smoking. A nurse or a doctor would tell us about all the chemicals in cigarettes and their effects on the body. There would be a large medical jar containing an exposed tumor-laden lung. There would be pictures of yellow teeth and mouth, lip and throat cancer.
Of course, now remember the times. Young female students were told what smoking would do to their skin.
The message was clear. Cigarettes would kill you and make you ugly doing it.
The church’s awkwardness in talking about sin reminded me of those early days of anti-tobacco campaigns. How do you address the dangers of the behavior without making it cooler than it is? Some studies have suggested that abstinence classes may, in some cases, increase sexual activity in young people. They become more comfortable talking about the topic and more aware of how to protect themselves from any anticipated negative impact.
The irony of all this is that if we are not careful, we will talk about sin and, despite all our warnings, our congregations might find sin more appealing after the sermon than before.
Unfortunately, for all our condemnation of sin and injustice, I fear we have made it more appealing. To hear some describe it, the church is made up of sexually repressed and uptight neurotics who didn’t handle our daddy issues well. I’m sure there are people like that in our churches. When you open the church doors and don’t charge admission, all kinds of people come in, but that’s not the point.
The quality and sanity of our members does not change the fact that sin has consequences. Ugly, upsetting and irreparable consequences that cannot be easily repaired. Sometimes these consequences can never be undone. I’ve lived long enough to know that nothing escapes you. Sure, some people may never be convicted in court, but the universe was built on justice. Sooner or later, creation corrects itself.
We were not created to tolerate the ravages of sin. It breaks down our bodies. For example, sex is God’s good gift to a man and a woman to express their love within the confines of a committed marriage. In the best moments, souls touch and the couple grows closer. In casual sex, the souls still touch, but then the couple disengages and the souls are separated. Souls are torn apart when they are separated and although they heal, the scars have no feelings. These days we have too many young adults whose souls are so bruised that they can’t feel anything at all. Our bodies were not created for multiple sexual partners.
As a result, we have become numb. We are unable to give love and unable to receive love. Every addiction leaves us the same way – numb. Sin is ugly. Sin numbs you. Sin destroys lives.
Lent is not a beautiful holiday. It begins with our foreheads smeared with ashes as we are reminded that we are going to die. We walk towards Easter through the last days of Jesus’ life. It’s not pretty. His prayer of blood and sweat in Gethsemane, His arrest and torture, the cross – Lent is silence, darkness, pain and ugliness.
Lent reminds us of what sin does. Certainly, it is sin we are talking about. It is our sin. These are our consequences. The scratches on His back, the nails in His hands – that’s what our sin has done. The debt will not remain unpaid.
Lent is the journey where we are reminded that we have not missed anything. We may not have been taken, but the bill was due. Someone will have to pay. Lent makes us reflect on our actions, our sins, our consequences.
It’s ugly, but Lent doesn’t let us lie to ourselves anymore.