There was a time when I used to wince if a new acquaintance asked me what my zodiac sign was. Or if someone raved about the spiritual epiphany they experienced during yogic meditation.
These innocent remarks sparked an inner conflict for me. Should I go along with the conversation, smile and nod for the sake of politeness? Or should I be true to my own theology and explain that astrology and yoga were not biblical practices and that they went against my faith (shattering all social niceties and probably opening up a chasm of awkward silence)?
The dilemma was valid. I genuinely wanted to reconcile two factors that felt like polar opposites: the desire to convey warmth and friendship, and the need to be true to myself and to my understanding of God’s Word.
My heart was in the right place as I wrestled to find the narrow path between these two noble goals. But it took me a long time to realize that there didn’t need to be a conflict at all.
When Jesus met people caught up in all sorts of lifestyles and spiritual practices, and when He was asked all manner of misguided questions, He took everything in His stride. He was gracious, unshockable, and comfortable enough in His relationship with His Father God that He never got stuck in the mire of theological awkwardness that I know too well!
Look at Jesus and Zacchaeus. When Jesus looked up and saw this short little man peering down at Him from the top of a tree, He knew that Zacchaeus was a corrupt tax collector and the most hated man in town. But, when He spoke to him, He didn’t allude to Zacchaeus’ many moral failings. Instead, He invited Himself round for dinner! All the religious leaders of the day were horrified! But this simple act of kindness melted the thief’s heart and he repented of his sins there and then. This is the power of grace, where theological fault-finding is doomed to fail.
In all His encounters, Jesus discerned the heart of the other person and responded to these unworded thoughts, attitudes, and motivations rather than the content of the speech itself.
I once heard a story about a godly and much-loved Christian pastor. He lived a life of moral integrity and great humility. On one occasion, this pastor attended a youth outreach, and an unsaved young man came over and offered him a cigarette. Much to the shock of everyone who knew the pastor, he accepted the cigarette, and put it to his lips. The first and only time in his life that he ever smoked.
Later, after the outreach was over and he was alone with his own church youth, the pastor explained why he had acted as he did. He said that the young man who offered him a cigarette came from a broken background and had no experience of Christianity or Christian behavior. By offering the pastor a cigarette, he was trying to reach out and make a connection in the only way he knew how. If the pastor had refused the cigarette, the young man would have felt humiliated and rejected. The pastor understood that it was more important in that moment to preserve the young man’s dignity and show him acceptance than it was to uphold the Christian teaching on smoking cigarettes.
So, what would Jesus say to my horoscope reading, yoga practicing friends? Well, of course, we can never really know. But I have a feeling that His response wouldn’t have anything to do with either astrology or yoga. Whatever words Jesus chose to speak, there’s one thing I’m quite sure about. Both these people would come away from their encounter with Jesus feeling more accepted, understood, seen, heard and loved than ever in their lives before.