Once again, I found myself being accosted by a well-meaning Christian telling me that smoking cigars is a sin. She is from another culture and country, where smoking is believed to be a sin. I don’t blame her, as she is speaking out of a religious culture that has decreed smoking to be sinful. Yet it makes me ponder the question, “Is sin subjective?”
The answer is not so simple. According to Scripture, where sin is defined, smoking is not a sin. After all, smoking didn’t exist in Biblical times. Christians, to be fair, tried to make application from scripture, and they quote the passages that call our bodies “temples of the Holy Spirit.” The question really comes down to whether or not the application is proper regarding the scripture. I could easily point out that we abuse our bodies with too many carbohydrates and sugars that threaten our bodies far more than smoking does. When I consider the chemicals we put in our bodies, they are as bad or worse than smoking, yet I don’t see people blackballing those things like they do tobacco use. I don’t want to become a tobacco advocate, but I don’t see the fairness in singling out smoking as the sinful thing people make it out to be.
From a Jewish perspective, smoking is not a sin. It is not food, its not drink. It’s smoke. Sin is defined by the Torah. Much of what is spoken against is the wrong way we treat other people. Sinning against another person is far more serious than when a person enjoys a cigar. Other sins which involve things people consume involve foods. Eating forbidden animals like pork, or shellfish are clearly sins in scripture. The things that the Torah forbids are sin. These are the things Sha’ul spoke of in the letter to the Romans as sin. He said that without the Law, we would have no knowledge of sin. One of the functions of the Torah was to define what things are sins. The Psalms and Proverbs make applications from the Torah as to what sin is. Christians who condemn cigars which do not violate scripture think nothing of eating foods forbidden by the Torah. In my opinion, they are misunderstanding scripture when they eat forbidden animals, but that is their business.
The reality is, not everyone likes cigars. At this time in our culture, smoking is politically incorrect. That incorrectness does not make it a sin. I go far out of my way to not offend others. I don’t smoke around non-smokers. I don’t smoke in their homes, and do not smoke in my own home. I find cigars relaxing and soothing, but I don’t inflict my pleasure on others who might not enjoy being around me when I do it. If I did that, I could understand it being a sin.
Another question that needs to be addressed is, “Does culture have the right to define what is a sin?” Yes and no. A culture has the right to decide what is acceptable behavior within its own community. If people in a culture decide smoking is a sin, then for them, it is. They do not have the right to negate the scriptures, and declare the word of God, null and void for the sake of its traditions. Yeshua was clear about that, but they do have the right to declare proper behavior within their own culture as long as it doesn’t violate Scripture. I don’t live in Christian culture, I live in Jewish culture, and cigars may or may not be liked, but in our culture, its not a sin.
I am reminded of well-respected Christian leaders who smoked; like C.H Spurgeon and C. S. Lewis. When I point this out to Christians, they say it was before smoking was known to be harmful. Ironically, these same people will use artificial sweeteners, and consume foods with preservatives and GMO’s. Those things are known to be harmful, yet they continue their consumption. What it really comes down to, is that they don’t like smoking. Calling anything we don’t like, “a sin,” also is a violation of Scripture. A friend of mine defined cult behavior as holding the view that when God hates the same people or behavior that you do, its cultic. We are supposed to accept God’s definition of sin, not ask God to accept ours. Either we are being shaped by the Scripture, or the Scripture is being shaped by our definitions. The concepts of submission and humility demand that we submit to the Word of God and not the other way around. Smoking won’t send someone to hell, and not smoking will not send them to heaven. I’m not claiming to never sin. I do. But when I realize it, I try to make amends and do better. Cigars, be they unacceptable to many, are not sinful, at least not as far as I can see.