To bake or not to bake?

To photograph or not to photograph?

These are just two of the questions Christians are debating among themselves in the wake of Obergefell vs. Hodges.  It is no secret that some have lost their business and reputation because of the way they have answered.  It has cost them much to take a stand.  Others wonder, “Are we being unChristlike in our refusal?  Are we holding everyone to the same standard?  Are we unnecessarily torturing ourselves?  Is it really a compromise of our conscience?  Can we perform a service we are not entirely comfortable with for the sake of our reputation….our family…our business?  After all, if we lose our jobs, we can’t provide for our family or give to our local church.”  These questions are now hitting too close to home.

Pastor has been preaching from the book of Daniel and drawing application for our lives today.  Yet how do we know that our individual situations call for a “Daniel” or “Three Friends” type of moment?

To eat or not to eat?

To bow or not to bow?

Our current dilemma is really nothing new and certainly not unique to the United States.  Throughout history, those who desire to serve God have faced difficult decisions. As Ecclesiastes reminds us, there is nothing new under the sun!   This week I picked up a book by Amy Carmichael that I’ve been meaning to read for a while. I decided that I had to read it with a pen in hand, for there is so much in it I want to remember!  It’s especially interesting when things written long ago give insight to a current conundrum. I believe the Lord not only uses personal and group Bible study and the weekly ministry of His Word, He can use godly literature and the testimony of others to answer to our questions.    The following is a section from the book Things As They Are by Amy Carmichael (1867-1951), missionary to India.

Chapter 8 “Roots”

“She was the head of a famous old house; her husband had died many years ago; she had brought up her children successfully, and now they were settled in life.  She had a Christian relation, but she had never seen him; she thought he had a son studying in a large school in England–Cambridge, I knew, when I heard the name; the father is one of our true friends….  We were full of hope about her, and we wrote to her Christian relative, and he wrote back with joy.  It seemed so likely that she would decide for Christ.  [After a few meetings with her,] again the question rose and had to be faced, ‘Can I be a Christian here?’

It was a quiet afternoon; we were alone, only the little grandchildren were with her–innocent, fearless, merry little creatures, running to her with their wants, and pulling at her hands and dress as babies do at home…  We had a good long talk. ‘I want to be a Christian,” she said, and for a moment I hoped great things, for she as mistress of the house was almost free to do as she chose.  I thought of her influence over her sons and their wives, and the little grandchildren; and I think my face showed the hope I had, for she said, looking very direct at me, ‘By a Christian I mean one who worships your God, and ceases to worship all other gods; for He alone is the Living God, the Pervader of all and Provider.  This I fully believe and affirm, but I cannot break my Caste.’ (emphasis added)

‘Would you continue to keep it in all ways?’

‘How could I possibly break my Caste?’

‘And continue to smear Siva’s sign on your forehead?’

‘That is indeed part of my Caste.’

More especially part of it, I knew, since she had received the Initiation.

Then the disappointment got into my voice, and she felt it, and said, ‘Oh, do not be grieved!  These things are external.  How can mere ashes affect the internal, the real essential, the soul?’

It was a plausible argument, and we hear it over and over again; for history repeats itself, there is nothing new under the sun.

I reminded her that ashes were sacred to Siva.

‘I would not serve Siva,’ she answered me, ‘but the smearing of ashes on one’s brow is the custom of my Caste, and I cannot break Caste.’

Then she looked at me very earnestly with her searching, beautiful keen old eyes, and she went over the ground she knew I knew.  She reminded me what the requirements of her Caste had always been, that they must be fulfilled by all who live in the house, and she told me in measured words and slow that I knew she could not live at home if she broke the laws of her Caste.  But why make so much of trifling things?  For matter and spirit are distinct, and when the hands are raised in prayer, when the lamp is lighted and wreathed with flowers, the outward observer may mistake and think the action is pujah to Agni, but God who reads the heart understands, and judges the thought and not the act. ‘Yes, my hand may smear on Siva’s ashes, while at the same moment my soul may commune with God the Eternal, Who only is God.’

I turned to verse after verse to show her this sort of thing could never be, how it would mock at the love of Christ and nullify His sacrifice.  I urged upon her that if she were true, and the central thought of her life were towards God, all the outworkings would correspond, creed fitting deed, and deed fitting creed without the least shade of diversity.  But faith and practice are not to be confused, each one is separate from the other; the two may unite or the one may be divorced from the other without the integrity of either being affected: this is the unwritten Hindu code which she and hers had ever held; and now, after years of belief in it, to face round suddenly to its opposite–this was more than she could do.  She held, as it were, the Truth in her hand, and turned it round and round and round, but she always ended where she began; she would not, could not, see it as Truth, or perhaps more truly, would not accept it. It meant too much.

There she sat, queen of her home.  The sons were expected and she had been making preparations…  Her grandchildren played about her, each one of them dear as the jewel of her eye.  How could she leave it all, how could she leave them all–home, all that it stands for; children, all that they mean?

Then she looked at me again, and I shall never forget the look.  It seemed as if she were looking at me through and through, and forcing the answer to come.  She spoke in little short sentences, instinct with intensity. ‘I cannot live here and break my Caste.  If I break it I must go…. You know all this.  I ask you, then, tell me yes or no.  Can I live here and keep my Caste, and at the same time follow your God?  Tell me yes or no!’

I did not tell her–how could I?  But she read the answer in my eyes and said, as she had before, ‘I cannot follow so far!’ “

Amy finishes the chapter by describing the roots of the banyan tree in India and comparing it to the difficulty missionaries face when trying to win older souls, so steeped and rooted in tradition, to the Lord.  “To tear up a full-grown tree by the roots, and transplant it bodily, is never a simple process….  The banyan tree drops roots from its boughs.  These bough roots in time run as deep underground as the original root.  And the tap root and its runners, and the branch roots and theirs, get knotted and knit into each other, till the whole forms one solid mass of roots, thousands of yards of a tangle of roots, sinuous and strong.  Conceive the uprooting of such a tree like the famous one in North India, for instance, which sheltered an army of seven thousand men.  You cannot conceive it; it could not be done, the earthward hold is so strong.”

How perfectly these roots illustrate our dilemma!  We make the answers we seek seem complicated because we have so deeply entangled and rooted our lives in people…in stuff…in a lifestyle we don’t want to lose.  This is our “caste” and we cannot follow so far!  These things hold us earthward.  Why do they factor so heavily into our decision in the light of eternity?  Do we turn the Truth round and round in our hand attempting to rationalize how we can serve God and still bow to a godless agenda?  It would be so much easier to do what is outwardly required, to perform a service–convincing ourselves the deed is separate from our creed.