When I was a kid, my family would occasionally go out to eat at Britling’s in Birmingham. It was a cafeteria—old style— and the array seemed infinite to my child’s-eye wonderment. But there was also a substantial problem, in my childish perception: the adults could choose anything they wanted from the cucumber salad at the very beginning right down to the peach cobbler a-la-mode at the end. The kids on the other hand had three choices of meats for their “child’s plates”: a chicken leg, a small hamburger patty, or a little bowl of spaghetti. That’s all. We could not pick the trout almandine, the meatloaf or the shrimp. And, perhaps worst of all, we could not pick the chocolate pie, the peach cobbler or the banana pudding. If we were going to eat any of those things, we had to take what our parents picked off of their own plates and mercifully placed on our own.
Thus, the now legendary question I asked in my nasally, fresh-from the-tonsillectomy voice when I was a mere four years old: “We’re going to Britling’s? Is that the place where the grown-ups get whatever they want to eat and the kids get whatever they want you to have?”
The cafeteria line has never been my favorite. Still isn’t. The thing is, when I was a kid I wanted to be able to pick; I mean from the whole, entire spread. As an adult, it’s the picking that is the problem. Too many choices and certainly too much stress figuring out how much I’m paying for my choices when I’m adding things to my tray one casserole and cobbler at the time. But it’s also the thing about balance. It’s really a cafeteria style temptation to skip the salad, greens and Brussel sprouts and pick the fried fish, the candied yams, the fried okra and the lemon chiffon pie. They even tempt you to get some kind of dessert for your bread…like orange crescents or carrot muffins. (“Muffin” because they don’t want you to think you’ve already picked up a piece of carrot cake when you’re deciding whether or not to take the fudge pie at the end.)
There are drawbacks to the cafeteria system that can make us unhealthy and all-spent out. But the application of the cafeteria-style mentality to our spiritual choices is eternally tragic. Think about it with me.
As I look on the Facebook walls of friends who are LGBT advocates on this week that’s been heartbreaking for me (and actually at any given time), I notice many comments about the Golden Rule, about loving one another and about treating each other fairly. Of course, all of these concepts are straight from the book. They are Biblical concepts that are repeated over and over in scripture. They are truth and we cannot bypass them on the way to the end of the line.
But in our zeal to talk about the God of love and the love of God, we cannot silence the God of law and the law of God. The condemnation of sin—the part of the Book that holds us accountable for the moral, sexual, and religious choices that we make—is too obtrusive in the Word of God, for us to pretend He accepts us all even as we rebel against His expressed commands. Approaching the Word is not standing in a cafeteria line in view of an array of choices. He is God. He is holy. Reverend is His name. He is the supreme authority in the lives of those who will live with Him forever in eternity. He gets to choose—terms of admittance, lifestyles, modes of worship. He gets to dictate life to me.
I understand and am saddened that there are many in our country today who do not believe the Word…at all. They are not even “in line” before the Book. I get how they can get their heart’s permission to fornicate, to be adulterers, drunkards, licentious, swindlers, homosexuals and to participate in all sorts of sin. With no objective standard of conduct, what, except personal preference and fear of unwanted short-term consequences, is to stop unbelievers from any kind of riotous behavior? The answer is—nothing. At least those people are honest in their rejection of the standard.
I also understand that group of people who have faith in the Word, but sometimes falter in keeping its precepts. I am one of those people. We are saddened by and ashamed of sin.
It’s the third group of people that are perplexing to me. They are the ones who are claiming an allegiance to the Bible, wearing the name of Christ and even engaging in lots of good works in the name of the Lord and, all the while, defending and/or participating in the very actions that are expressly condemned in Scripture. It’s the “Christians” who, on Facebook, talk about how proud they are of someone’s “coming out of the closet” or post pictures of themselves in extremely immodest attire or use profanity (or post someone else’s use of it) or invite friends to the bar. It’s the sisters and brothers among us who exalt what the Word condemns, endorse what the Bible disapproves, and proudly display what the Bible calls shameful. These are the cafeteria-line Christians. They’ve chosen the parts of Christianity that they find appealing and rejected the rest.
In Matthew 7:21-23, Jesus referred to a group of people who did lots of good things and even did them in His name, but yet were lost. Why? Because they did not comply with the full will of the Father in Heaven. They chose to do some good works, while at the same time, rejecting commands of the One Who has all authority over all of the lives of all people in all generations.
May I always remember that The Word is not a cafeteria line. It is sustenance for my soul, as the Psalmist said:
I opened wide my mouth, and panted; For I longed for thy commandments (Psalm 119:131).
And finally, this wonderful paragraph from Psalm 119 is a divine mantra for those of us today who are finding it hard to digest all the “love talk” from those who are blatantly disobedient to His clearly expressed will for human sexuality:
Many are my persecutors and my adversaries,
but I do not swerve from your testimonies.
I look at the faithless with disgust,
because they do not keep your commands.
Consider how I love your precepts!
Give me life according to your steadfast love.
The sum of your word is truth,
and every one of your righteous rules endures forever (vs.157-161).