16 years ago today, I wrote this in my journal:
After reading Ablaze With His Glory by Del Fehsenfeld, I was convicted about something. When I filled out the paperwork to get my driver’s license, I lied and said that I had never used drugs. I’m thinking I should go confess. I’m a little afraid to, though, because the paperwork said that if you’re not truthful you could get a fine or prison time. I seriously doubt that would happen, but I don’t know. If it had asked, “Have you used any drugs within the past six months?” I could have said no without lying. But I can’t remember exactly what it said. I guess I better do it. I told God I would, and last night I ran across Ecclesiastes 5:4 which says, “When you make a vow to God, do not delay in fulfilling it.” It’s the right thing to do, and I want a clear conscience.
On another note, I was finally baptized nine days ago. Now what’s the next step of obedience? I believe it’s to share the gospel with a dying world and give to the poor. Two problems: I want to share the gospel more, but I’m still struggling with my shy personality. I just need to remember 2nd Timothy 1:7: “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” As for the poor, who do I give to? The homeless? I don’t know. I’m gonna start double-tithing at church to help the building program, but that’s nothing. What else can I do?
— January 19th, 1999
Dear Former Self,
I’m going to describe you with a quote from Gandalf the White: “A fool… but an honest fool, he remains.” I commend you for your honesty and willingness to do the right thing even at personal cost, but you’re not being reasonable. What good would it do to risk getting yourself in trouble? It would be one thing if you were trying to make reparations, but who would benefit from you telling a government agency that you lied on a form (especially when you’re not even doing the thing you lied about anymore)? Perhaps you think you are making reparations with God, but don’t you believe Jesus already did that? I think even most Christians would agree with me.
The problem is that you have a very narrow, black-and-white view of morality. You think it’s nothing more than a list of things you should and shouldn’t do according to God, but that’s not how it works. Morality is relative; it depends on what your goals are. Because of that, right and wrong can change as quickly as the circumstances.
This goes back to the old dilemma of whether you would lie if you were harboring Jews in your attic and the Gestapo came to your door and asked if you had seen any Jews recently. Some Christians (yourself included) actually believe you should tell the truth because that is “the right thing to do.” Right for who? The people in your attic certainly wouldn’t think it right. Would you feel any consolation if, as your friends were arrested and taken away, one of the Nazi soldiers said, “You did the right thing”? Would your conscience be clear?
Whether lying is right or wrong depends on the situation. If your goal is human happiness and freedom, then lying is moral if it helps people, it is amoral if it makes no difference, and it is immoral if it hurts people (physically, financially, or emotionally). And this is a fairly simple example. Most situations are far more complicated. That means you will have to think hard every time you are faced with a moral dilemma. It’s not as easy as following a strict moral code, but it gets better results.
I see there’s still a struggle between your desire to proselytize and your fear of social situations. You often think about 2nd Timothy 1:7, but it doesn’t seem to be working. You’re convinced the Holy Spirit will make you bold, yet the idea of sharing the gospel with strangers still makes you panic. Now obviously you won’t blame the Holy Spirit, so you probably think it’s your fault. But what exactly could you do differently? You pray all the time, and you have an incredible amount of faith. What specifically could you change so that it’s no longer your fault? The answer is nothing. Some people are just shy. And even if you do overcome your shyness, you won’t give yourself any credit; you’ll give the credit to the Holy Spirit. Heads, God wins. Tails, you lose.
And finally… double tithing? Really? You’re a pastor’s dream come true. You should be putting that money into savings. But if you would rather help others than save for the future, give it to the poor, not the church. There are so many organizations that help people who are hungry or don’t have a place to live. As a Christian, don’t you think that’s more important than the church adding yet another building it doesn’t really need?
— Matt, January 19th, 2015
This is part of an ongoing series called Letters to My Former Self.