I was smoking a cigarette tonight—not the prettiest thing, I realize. I’m not a smoker, other than the occasional cigar with friends. I was feeling emotionally torn up by some recent events in my life, and it kinda took the edge off. But as I was smoking it, God opened my eyes to the absurd futility of seeking any kind of relief, comfort or whatever other momentary escape I thought this cigarette might conceivably provide.
I was watching the ashes collecting toward the top, the faint hint of red as it burned and the smoke rising off of it. And then I just started laughing. The God who created tobacco itself with a word is available to me, but rather than crying out to Him for peace and restoration, I was inhaling a manufactured stick that couldn’t possibly help me—or do anything for that matter, except make it more likely for me to get cancer or feel winded after walking up a flight of stairs.
That oft-quoted passage from Romans 1 made more sense to me than it ever had before:
For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for … cigarettes, alcohol, cheap thrills, sex, video games, worthless “good” deeds—fig leaves.
Well, the original Greek doesn’t bring up those things exactly. Instead, it speaks of a people who turn from God to worship idols made by human hands, statues of men and women, birds and lizards, etc. It could just as easily have said cigarettes, though—mere man-made substitutes for actually getting honest with the Creator about how prone we are to wander, how often we sin, how incapable we are at fixing the lives we can so often make a mess out of. As John Calvin rightly said, “The human heart is a factory of idols.”
And so, just as this verse says, I encountered the living God because I was staring at His creation—tobacco—and I could no longer sit there and pretend that I had any excuse.
So, as you look into that shot glass, that bong, that checklist of deeds that might help you feel “holier than thou,” the eyes of that boy or girl lying on your bed (or the computer screen) or whatever other “substance” you have chosen to take the edge off and numb the pain, doubt, confusion or inadequacy, don’t forget that it is exactly these things that will stand before you when you see Him face to face on that day. And it is to these things that He will point and say, “You knew I was there the entire time because I showed you through all these things I created … You chose them when You could have had me.”
To you, Mr. Cigarette, I would like to say thank you. You provided a fairly timely rebuke for me. As your poisonous smoke rose to the sky and out of my lungs, I remembered the one who “breathed on them and said: ’Receive the Holy Spirit’” (John 20:22). And as I looked at your filter that pretends to protect me from the toxins I was inviting into my body, I could see that it had turned brown—tarnished, just like I know you are.
God can speak through everything around us. I never thought a cigarette would be a prophet of God, calling me to remember and return to the One who truly deserves my dedication and focus. But that’s the God we worship—the God who gave Himself up for us on the Cross to reconcile us to Himself, who created you and me, our souls and spirits … and, well, tobacco.
David Bibee is a student at Santa Clara University and a member of Garden City Church in San Jose, Calif. He also blogs at www.thebereanway.wordpress.com.