Sometimes do and sometimes don’t (Part 2)

What do you think? Did the Washingtonian florist do the right thing to refuse to do the flowers for the wedding between two gay men? There has been no shortage of surly pontificating over this one issue, and in my view, way too many words have already been wasted on it. So, why would I waste some more? It’s certainly not the kind of issue that I tend to be so concerned about that I would take the time to publicly posit yet another opinion. Yet I decided to take my time – and yours, if you’re willing to have it taken – not because I have a firm idea about what she should’ve or shouldn’t have done in her circumstance.fork in the road

In fact, as strange as it may seem, I actually don’t have an opinion about it. Again, so why write? Not because I can’t think of anything else to say on other topics. In fact, I have about 130 articles (literally) that I’ve begun and plan to return to in their appropriate order.

No, I hope to share about this from a slightly different angle. What should this Christian lady have done? Should she have sucked it up and done the thing or not? Here’s what I think. Ready for a heavy revy (short for revelation)? I think we can’t know for sure, and to say we do know is hubris!

4 Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him.

5 Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes. Proverbs 26:4-5

A while back I offered some thoughts on these two Proverbs oddly juxtaposed. If they seem antithetical that’s because they are! “Don’t answer a fool according to his folly,” and then, “Answer a fool according to his folly.” Which is it, Solomon? How can these both be true?

See, this is the thing about Proverbs. It was never meant to tell us exactly what to do in every circumstance, but to propose a wise way of living. Sometimes the wise thing to do is A and sometimes it’s B. It’s not like the wisest king ever was on a bender and didn’t notice that these two things are opposite of each other. He didn’t explain it because he expected his readers to understand that the advice he was giving would help one person make the decision to do A but another person – as the circumstances and/or the Spirit prompt him – to do B. You can’t do A and B at the same time, but sometimes it most advisable to answer a fool and other times it’s not so advisable.

By the way, I refer neither to the florist nor to the gay guy as a “fool.” That’s the furthest thing from my mind in using this passage to make my point. I’m merely saying that I can’t know – and I don’t think you can either – what she or he should’ve done in their circumstances, because wisdom doesn’t provide a bullet point list of certainties about what to do in every life situation. When faced with a quandary; in light of the Word of God, under the advisement of the Spirit of God, and for the glory of God; we should weigh the wisdom of choosing one path over another.

Solomon was saying, “Sometimes do and sometimes don’t.” Sometimes it’s a good idea, even a “God idea” to proffer a reply, yet at other times it’s not advisable. Is the wise man being a “wise guy” or talking out of both sides of his mouth? Or is he trying to transfer some of his wisdom about life, which would make sense since this is widely known as one of the “Wisdom Books” of the Bible?

In spite of my disapproval, life doesn’t tend to color inside the lines. It’s not as tidy as all that. I can’t seem to get God, my circumstances, and the universe to submit to a more predictable trajectory. If you think about it, if life were symmetrical, we wouldn’t need wisdom, whose job description is to help us proceed through such an asymmetrical world. That’s the point of wisdom, yes? Sometimes answer the fool and sometimes don’t. How will I know the difference? Maybe wisdom will whisper, shout, or point to the answer.

It’s not that the Bible teaches “Situational Ethics,” but it sure enough doesn’t recommend that we ignore the eccentricities of each situation when we’re trying to figure out how to proceed. Wisdom recommends that we ask operative questions like: What’s going on in him (the foolish one) with whom I’m interacting? How well do I know her and what kind of relationship do we have? How may I best represent Jesus in this unique circumstance? What do I think the Holy Spirit wants me to say this time to this person on this day?

A lot of Christians seem uncomfortable with the insinuation that the Bible acts more like a map than a GPS. It shows us where we are and what is our ultimate destination, but it doesn’t usually tell us the exact route to follow to get there. That’s when we consult the “only wise God,” who loves to nudge us in the right direction if we’ll slow down long enough to be nudged.

I realize that a pre-scripted spiel would be more welcomed advice. “Just tell me which is the right way, and I’ll do that.” But that’s not always the way of wisdom or the leading of the wise Spirit. Rather than spoiling the intrigue, he often lets the plot unfold, and retains the adventure till the end of the story.

How can I know if this foolish person is one who should or should not be engaged in debate? There’s no shortcut Google answer to that. Discernment (one of wisdom’s children) and humility (a first cousin) are important qualities that remind me that I can only do the best I can at the moment and will probably mistakes along the way. One of my most frequent prayers is: “I know I’ll make mistakes, but may they be small and seldom!”

OK, so back to the florist and the people who have pledged their allegiance for-or-against the decision she made have hunkered into their contrasting fixed positions. The issue isn’t whether or not it’s OK to be gay, or even if gay marriage is right or wrong. And I’m certainly not saying that it’s sometimes wrong to sin and sometimes right. This is about whether she did the right thing to refuse to provide flowers for their nuptials.

And, of course, there are Christians on both sides of that controversy. Some say that, in the name of taking a righteous stand, she did the only righteous thing she could do; while others claim that she obviously missed the Spirit’s tolerance memo.

I neither pose a hard and fast rule or proof text that solves the debate nor offer a personal opinion on it. My point is that there might very well exist no such a text or biblical principle that would demand the only righteous course of action for her to have taken.

I think we tend to want the Bible to tell us what to do in each circumstance that we face in our secular and sinful culture so that we won’t need God’s wisdom to sort it all out. We want verses to solve every dispute so that we can claim that every good Christian would insist on doing A and refuse to do B.

The reality is that when God gave us his peerless Word he didn’t expect us to treat it like a math book where all the answers to life’s problems could be found in the back. First of all, a book like that, even in ebook form, wouldn’t fit in the Library of Congress. Secondly, in that case we’d never need to consult the Author. It would just be a matter of finding the right place in the Book to settle every controversy. Thirdly, the Book was meant to make us wiser, not just more literate.

In the case of the florist, it would be easy to say, “Good on her! She’s right, and all good Christians should agree!” On the other hand, it’s just as easy to say, “No way! She’s wrong and if she were really following Jesus she would’ve gone ahead and done the flowers for the gay wedding.” What would Jesus do? We’re familiar with the question. Bracelets with this question still exist. It’s a good question, but one that doesn’t always have a razor edge solution to every dilemma.

One camp says that Jesus, were he a florist, would have abstained from attendance at the wedding, and another says that he would’ve shown up with a truck load of flowers and a bottle of wine for the reception. Would he or wouldn’t he have? I propose that, depending on the circumstances and how the Spirit led him in that instance, sometimes he would’ve and sometimes he wouldn’t have!

To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? 32 They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other: “We played the pipe for you, and you did not dance, we sang a dirge, and you did not cry.”  

33 For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ 34 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ 35 But wisdom is proved right by all her children. Luke 7:31-35

Hmm – sounds like “Sometimes do and sometimes don’t.”

Who’s right – the florist or the ACLU? I don’t know. I wasn’t there and it wasn’t my decision to make. I know what I think I think, but I’m not sure if what I think is what he thinks is right.

What do you think?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: