Following up on the news that Canada would be legalizing recreational marijuana use, I was asked by a friend what I believed the Christian’s stand should be. I didn’t have a ready answer and so ended up immediately going to my safe place ‘position’ by stating that the answer is something we, the church, need to wrestle with.
I believe we need to wrestle with this new reality right now. Especially given that if you’re a Canadian pastor, you’ll now be able to ‘legally’ fire up a reefer at your next staff retreat. Should that be acceptable? Some of you will be celebrating that news, while others will be recoiling in horror.
In the past, the answer to this issue was easy enough by simply pointing to the legality of it. We simply made mention that we must obey the law of the land. After all, whether we like it or not, God calls us to obey the authorities. conversation over – a sweet moral trump card for pastors.
However, in Canada at least, the trump card is gone. That being the case do we accept the ‘law of the land’ as our determining factor? Maybe then accept it and view it as an opportunity to evangelize? Imagine with me the hip pastors, free to spark a bowl with the lost in order to be “incarnational” because after all it is now ‘ok’ to use according to the law of the land.
The problem with that is that we can’t use the law of the land to determine the Christian’s measurement of freedom. I could be an alcoholic, adulterous, deceitful, prescription-abusing, manipulative, hate-filled connoisseur of grotesque pornography and still be OK, legally and socially. The government’s stamp of approval doesn’t mean I should partake.
Since that initial conversation, I have spent considerable time praying, pondering, and discovering what I ultimately feel will allow me to offer a much more intelligent response to the next person who poses that same question to me. Here are four questions to ask ourselves as we step into this new age of legal marijuana.
Does Scripture Give permission?
Pat answers to the question of recreational marijuana use are often unhelpful. Responses without nuance will not best serve the church in the long run. To say that alcohol is permissible, and weed isn’t, because “Christians drink beer and wine for the taste, but people only smoke pot to get stoned,” just won’t do.
Let’s be honest. We don’t drink beer and wine only for the taste. Even moderate drinking, which is biblically permissible, has lubricating psychoactive effects. From a biblical perspective, this lubricating effect can be acceptable. While drunkenness is clearly prohibited throughout scripture, God has given “wine to gladden the heart of man” – Psalm 104:14-15.
However, evangelical churches sometimes have prohibited the use of alcohol among members because the Bible forbids drunkenness. This is a mistake because the Bible warns us against such extra biblical prohibitions, “…Who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.” – 1 Timothy 4:3
Scripture actually permits the moderate use of alcohol, when it can be enjoyed in faith, even though it has psychoactive effects. But is marijuana permitted? I don’t believe it is. I’ll share my reasons as we move on. But I think a good starting point for my hypothesis is because Alcohol and Pot are not the same, much like comparing apples to oranges.
Firstly, unlike alcohol, marijuana has many different effects on an individual due to its complex chemical makeup. There are at least 113 different chemical compounds (cannabinoids) inside the cannabis plant that combine to cause a variety of effects on an individual when smoked or ingested. As well, cannabis has not been a staple in cultures all around the world for use in celebrations and ceremonies, whereas alcohol has been, as seen at the wedding in Cana found in John 2. Further to that, we can easily see in culture as a whole that unlike alcohol, cannabis has been a cultural symbol of rebellion for a large part of the last century.
Keeping with the cultural theme, we see that it wasn’t cannabis used but wine (yes it was fermented) that was used by Jesus in his Last Supper, a Christian cultural event which is to be regularly commemorated by the church.
Some may claim that the only reason we don’t see a prohibition of cannabis in the bible is that the writers of the scriptures, didn’t know about or didn’t see the need, to address it. However, if you hold to the truth that these same writers were inspired through the Holy Spirit and that the Word is meant for all generations and cultures, then we should not take lightly what we see written – and not written. So, the fact that the Bible gives us clear and direct permission for the moderate use of alcohol while never directly referencing other psychoactive compounds such as marijuana should be a strong clue to aid us in reaching our conclusions.
Is It a Healthy Choice?
Paul said, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be dominated by anything. Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food – and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So, glorify God in your body.” – 1 Corinthians 6:12-20
Now before you say it, I already know that the context is not specifically about harming the body, however the clear implication is that we are not to intentionally do things that hurt our bodies (among others, one of the reasons for not getting drunk).
A recent study by the Journal of Neuroscience demonstrates that even casual marijuana use changes the brain and can lead to mental illness (see USA Today and Journal of Neuroscience). While heavy drinking (alcohol abuse) has also been linked to mental health disorders, moderate drinking has not.
Even without studies, there is a reason that marijuana has long been associated with the couch, a bag of chips, and a television remote, and has never been associated with engaged parenting. It’s because we all know that regular marijuana use causes disengagement, dulling individuals into a long-term, slow, and subtle numbness. Studies have actually shown a high correlation between regular cannabis use and the clinical diagnosis of Amotivational Syndrome.
Recreational marijuana use is not consistent with anything the Word of God tells us about the Christian life. We are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, not by the deadening of our minds. We are to be sober-minded about the devil’s schemes, not so stoned that we don’t even care. We are to be filled with the Holy Spirit, not baked/blasted/wasted by what is undeniably a harmful drug.
The health implications are by no means a secret. And the detailed scientific study demonstrating the effects of marijuana use on the brain was probably unneeded. Even simple observation demonstrates that marijuana deadens the brain, resulting in laziness and an inability to concentrate or think clearly. So, very similar to using tobacco and abusing alcohol, the recreational use of marijuana should be avoided due to its adverse effect on health especially given that marijuana is addictive (see Psychology Today).
Does It Help Us See Clearly?
Our trajectory as Christians, our aim is to seek the reality of God’s glory. But sin has distorted our vision and corrupted our world. Ever since sin first entered the world, all of us have been born spiritually dead, unable to discern the true glory of God. When we experience the redemptive work of Christ through the Holy Spirit, we are awakened to the reality and beauty of God. But until we see him face to face, we still see his glory as through a glass dimly.
As redeemed believers, we are on a journey to knowing him without obstruction. Therefore, we do not want to distort reality; rather, we aim to know him as he really is. We want to see things as they really are. With that understanding, the Christian use of any kind of psychoactive substance should always align with this gospel goal of looking to see things clearer. We do not want our vision of reality distorted.
Inevitably the coffee and alcohol arguments are used in this discussion. So, I’ll bite. First of all, why do people drink coffee in the morning? To help them to see things as they really are, rather than through the fog of grogginess. The right and proper use of this God-given substance helps us see things as they really are.
But how does this principle apply to alcohol? At times, moderate lubrication in Godward celebrations can be in keeping with the reality. People don’t drink wine at funerals, which are a reminder of the curse and consequences of sin. If someone drank wine at a funeral, I would wonder whether they have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol.
But people do drink wine at weddings, in which we celebrate the profound parable being played out before our eyes: the great Bridegroom coming for his bride, the church! And wine (clearly) will have a God-given role at the final consummating celebration (Mark 14:23-25). In this way, the proper and moderate use of alcohol used in the way God intended, can be a clarifier, not a distorter as it points us to the joy, fellowship, and celebration of the great coming feast.
The question though is whether or not there is a proper and moderate use of marijuana that can actually serve to clarify and point to biblical realities like coffee does and alcohol may in certain circumstances? Or does the recreational use of marijuana always distort?
Research concludes overwhelmingly that recreational cannabis distorts reality and numbs people to the ability to experience life as it truly is. Even a relatively small amount puts the infrequent user into a fog. A larger amount can potentially cause paranoia.
As Christians, our goal is knowing and experiencing the full and undistorted reality of the glory of God in our resurrected physical bodies. “For now, we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” – 1 Corinthians 13:12
What Should Be Our Response?
Now I know that there is a difference for smoking marijuana for health reasons and smoking for recreational reasons. Most of us understand the difference. We’ve all been given prescriptions by our doctors for certain purposes, but then don’t turn around and use the fact that we have been given the prescription for our cure as an excuse to use recreationally – that’d be lunacy.
However, it’s the recreational use of cannabis that seems to violate the Christian value of sobriety. As our culture celebrates the casual use of cannabis today, and does so increasingly in the coming days, we should be vigilant not to be deceived as a church. We should not idly stand by as we watch brothers and sisters who profess faith in Christ enter into a mind-numbing, reality-distorting cloud.
We should encourage one another to peer through the dim glass and discern the glory of God with all our might as the Day draws near, “Not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” – Hebrews 10:25
Having said that, it is worth saying that we should also be careful not to make the same mistakes that churches have made in the past with regard to alcohol (some churches even with coffee), adding extra prohibitions to God’s revealed word. Instead we should be quick to engage with individual members who we may discover are using marijuana, asking them questions while seeking to understand, being ready to exhort and rebuke in love if it becomes apparent that they are violating the biblical standards of sobriety and integrity.
The details and nuances we’ll encounter will be complex, but Jesus’s church, holding fast to his word, led by a team of wise pastors, will be up for the challenge. God will have new opportunities for us to be salt and light as we walk together by faith in this age of legal marijuana.