In the past couple months, three random strangers have initiated deep theological discussions with me, centered on the topic of smoking. The funny thing is, they don’t realize that’s what they’re doing.
It all started at the neighborhood shopping complex, and interestingly enough, it ended there too. A middle aged woman was standing outside the drugstore, when I exited into her plume of smoke. She blocked the sidewalk a bit, and as I passed her, she stopped me, asking if I smoked. Taken aback, I mean, this is Seattle after all, where people aren’t supposed to randomly talk to each other in public (see my post on this topic), I told her “nope,” and headed off on my merry way. Behind me, I heard her say, “Good. It’ll kill you.” I’m sure my steps faltered a bit, but I kept going.
At my apartment complex, I was returning from a run, doused in sweat and anxious to hit the showers. A neighbor was out facilitating her dog’s bathroom break, and she stopped me to see if I smoked. I think she was looking to bum one off of me. When I politely told her, “no,” she gave me the same line: “Good, it’ll kill you.” I chuckled, took a gulp from my water bottle, and wished her a good day. My response was an improvement from running away, but it could still use some work.
Back at the shopping center, I was leaving my car and heading to the grocery store when a voice called out to me from the parking lot. I looked back to see an elderly black woman leaning against her car, inhaling deeply on a cigarette. “Do ya smoke?” she drawled, out of a smoke plume. I looked around to see if she was talking to me. “Nope,” I said, grimacing a little as I tried not to cough from her smoke fumes drifting my way. Without missing a beat, she threw back at me, “Good. It’ll kill ya.”
There it was again. That same line. Here I was, once again, without a decent response.
As I sat there, sheepishly smiling and trying to think of something witty to say, I heard a small voice speak up from the other side of her car. A whiney little 4-year-old girl in pigtails piped up and said to the woman, “So why you do it?”
I suppressed a laugh, thinking how that little girl had the best possible response. It wasn’t an accusation. It was a simple question. If something is going to kill you, and you know it, why do you do it?
When I told my husband about this strange occurrence, he simply responded, “Out of the mouths of babes…”
I promised a theological connection here. I didn’t realize the theological nature of these women’s questions until this little girl responded. This is the problem we all cope with, every day of our lives. We know what we shouldn’t do, but we keep doing it anyway. It’s called sin, and we love it, and we hate it.
Paul, the pillar of faith and apostle extraordinaire struggled with this same issue. If he lived today, maybe the thorn in his side would be a pack of Marlboros. He also had this desire to do what kills us: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (Romans 7:15).
Having this conversation three times is enough to give me incentive to prepare an adequate response. I at least know what I’d have said to the little girl.
“We do what we don’t want to do, kid. And it kills us.”
“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).