Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Smoking Hookah

Q: This week a young Christian talked with me about the practice of smoking Hookah. They attend a church [which] is reaching out to the many Indian and Muslims in the surrounding areas. Their church also have several ministries that support missions in India and Arab countries. As they spoke with me they said that many of their Christian friends are smoking the Hookah. They said that they have been told that certain types of Hookah smoking involve no tobacco but are simply flavored water, other types of Hookah smoking do include tobacco but in a ‘more pure’ form than that of cigarettes that have additives.

The Christians that they know of who partake in smoking Hookah do not feel that there is anything sinful in this practice and believe that it is just a part of certain cultures as a way to relax and socialize. Apparently during certain celebrations some of these culture groups get together as a family and include smoking the Hookah together as part of the festivities. These Christians who participate feel that it is no different than a Christian who has a beer or a glass of wine socially.

The young person who was talking with me does not participate in smoking Hookah because they have a ‘gut feeling’ that it is not pleasing to God. The thing is they don’t really know scripturally if it is wrong or not and would like to be able to relate scripturally to this subject with their friends. So, my question is; Is smoking the Hookah an acceptable practice for Christians?


A: Great question! As I read through this, there are two distinct issues (at least!) that are presenting themselves: the first, how can and should a Christian make a biblically sound decision on matters that are not directly spoken of in the Bible?; and the second, how can and should a Christian respond to their 'gut feelings'?

As we explore these two facets, we will see that the answer to "Is smoking the Hookah an acceptable practice for Christians?" depends on who is asking the question!

Let's explore each of these separate issues in order. First, the matter of making sound biblical decisions on matters not explicitly discussed in the Scriptures. If we pick up our Bibles and simply read them, we can begin to see certain activities that are inherently sinful (that is, they are sinful in and of themselves, regardless of the context). Some examples of this are lying, stealing and murdering the innocent. The Bible is clear on these issues and many more ... just don't do it!

Other issues are more complicated and are situationally based because the actions themselves are not inherently sinful, but can become sin in certain contexts. An example of this is gluttony. Where is the line drawn? Certainly eating is not sinful in and of itself, but there comes a point where excess in our indulgence of food becomes sin. Is the line in the same place for everyone? This is not as clear, but the Scripture does give good indication on how to be sure we aren't crossing these boundaries into rebellion against God and His principles and commandments.

On other issues the Bible is simply silent. There is no passage that talks about smoking the Hookah! There is similarly no passage that talks about iPhones, travelling in airplanes, watching television or going to the beach. So how can a Christian make biblically sound decisions on matters that the Bible is silent on?

I'm indebted to Jerry Bridges and his book, The Pursuit of Holiness, for first outlining the following principle to me.

In this book, Bridges suggests a series of four questions (all based from Paul's instruction in 1 Corinthians) which can be asked of any situation and circumstance to discern whether this is good or not for us to engage in.

The four questions are as follows:

1) Is it beneficial--physically, spiritually and mentally? (1 Corinthians 6:12)

2) Does it bring me under its power? (1 Corinthians 6:12)

3) Does it harm others? (1 Corinthians 8:13)

4) Does it glorify God? (1 Corinthians 10:31)

As we understand our freedom in Christ, we understand that we have the ability to serve Him and glorify Him in all things. Therefore, each individual Christian who asks these four questions may come to a different conclusion ... and both be right!

As all Christians do, I have certain areas of temptation that are stronger for me than others. Similarly, there are certain things that do not tempt me that do tempt other genuine and mature believers. Since I smoked for 10 years and would struggle with smoking the hookah based on bad decisions in my past, I would have to pass because there remains in my flesh the possibility that participating in this activity would once again bring me under its power ... and since Christ has set me free, I will not submit myself again to bondage.

However, I understand that not everyone struggles in this area. Therefore, if someone can genuinely answer that this does not bring them under its power, then that is between them and their Lord.

In our particular case -- smoking Hookah -- it's probably difficult to make the case that it is physically beneficial. No matter how you look at it, smoking has detrimental health effects. Since this is being used as an outreach to different cultures, the question must be weighed in light of this. Therefore, the question becomes: is the spiritual benefit (building bridges and relationships amongst those we are trying to reach) more than the physical detriment? Again, the answer to this question likely depends on the individual.

I encourage you to read each passage and prayerfully work through these questions -- spending the most time on the fourth -- and allowing the Spirit to lead you as He sees fit (Romans 8:14).

The second issue is a bit more straightforward. How should we react when our 'gut feeling' tells us that something is wrong?

Two verses in Romans 14 are illuminating in this regard (although it is profitable to read through the whole chapter!) and also brings some insight into this situation as a whole.

4 Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. 5 One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. (Romans 14:4-5, NASB)

When making these types of decisions for ourselves (as individuals) we are instructed to be fully convinced in our own minds of the justification for our stance. For me, I am fully convinced that smoking the hookah would be a bad idea because of the potential it has to bring me under its power ... therefore, I would have to abstain from such activity to best glorify God in my life and actions. However, I should not stand in judgment over my brother (or sister) who does not struggle in this area and judge them in this. It's very possible that these young Christians whom the questioner is referring to should not participate in this activity. However, this does not mean that the attempt to reach out in this way is sin for those who do participate!

The most direct Scripture for this question comes at the end of Romans 14:

23 But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin. (Romans 14:23, NASB, underline added for emphasis)

If our gut tells us that something is wrong, then we are not acting in faith if we do it anyway! In fact, this passage helps us to understand that we sin much more than we realize.

Do you believe that reading your Bible can be sin? It is if it's not from faith!

If you were praying, and the Lord impressed upon you that you should stand up and go talk to your neighbor about the good news of Jesus Christ, do you understand that if you continue to sit and pray (ignoring where your faith is leading you) that your prayer becomes sinful?

...whatever is not from faith is sin.

If smoking the Hookah is not from faith ... it's sin.

We should be careful, however, that since the Bible doesn't say, "Thou shalt not smoketh the hookah" that it is possible that someone else can participate in this behavior through faith to the glory of God and not sin, even if your freedom in Christ doesn't make this possible for you. Be careful not to judge your brothers and sisters on areas where the Bible is not explicit. Of course, this doesn't mean that we can't stand with Scripture in declaring that some things are inherently sinful! It's not "judgmental" for you to believe that adultery is a sin, because the Bible (in this case) is explicit. That's God's judgment, not mine or yours. When we agree with God, we are on a firm foundation!

One final note -- the Bible doesn't seem to indicate that the best means of reaching our culture is to fit into their context, but instead to stand out as different. If we understand that apart from Christ there is only death, and with Christ we have life and that more abundantly ... why are we trying to look like our culture (i.e. look like death) in order to bring them life in Christ? We are not to be conformed to the ways of this world, but instead to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2).

While it may be acceptable for some to participate in this way, I find it hard to believe that God desires His ambassadors to look like the world in order to reach the world. While Jesus would certainly create opportunities to bridge the gaps between his culture and others (see John 4), I doubt we'd see Jesus smoking the Hookah in order to reach those whom He came to save from their sins. I must admit, the last part is merely my opinion ... but you asked me! :)

9 comments:

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You can find a number of healthcare professionals discouraging sheesha and hookah unlike the way they do the cigarettes. Though comparing the two you may find hookah as a better option, but if you want to lead a healthy and peaceful life, it is recommended not to try them too often.

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Vince Reed said...

Trying hookah is far better than the cigarettes in many ways. They do not have much health hazards as compared to the cigarettes, while these remain the best option for people who do not want to be an addictive fellow. So no harm in trying it!

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Anonymous said...

Electronic cigarette smoking is on the rise and one day might grow hugely in Canada.

The data was reflected in a U.S. report on Friday and backed up by anecdotal evidence in Vancouver, where a woman was spotted at a Canucks game last season “lighting up” in the stands.

“My son pointed her out to me,” said Dr. Milan Khara, medical lead at Vancouver General Hospital’s stop smoking clinic.

“She was producing profuse amounts of ‘smoke.’ It looked much like a regular cigarette but was an e-cigarette. Security told her to stop,” he said.

Khara said e-cigs are a “huge, growing story in Canada.”

“It will potentially become a massive issue here,” he said.

Two substances are located within the e-cig’s tube: heat-producing batteries and a chamber holding liquid.

When combined, the liquid is turned into a cool vapour which is drawn into the lungs.

The liquids can be vegetable, fruit-flavoured and nicotine-based, but the latter is not legally available in Canada. However, it can be purchased in the U.S. or obtained via Internet sources.

The e-cigs are created to appear like traditional smokes with ‘brown filters’ at one end and a red glow at the other.

When loaded with liquid nicotine, they produce many of the same effects as tobacco combustion.

The difference, said Khara, is that users avoid the “thousands” of unhealthy chemicals contained in traditional cigarette smoke.

“E-cigarettes are certainly not as harmful as traditional cigarettes, but we believe they are not without any harm,” he said.

West Vancouver e-smoker Gary Adelson has lit up in the men’s washroom at work and puffed quietly on airlines without being told to stop.

“I don’t have to finish the cigarette. I can take one puff and then stop,” he said. “I’m not going to start a fire.

“I believe they have a life-altering potential by being able to reduce numbers of fatalities,” he said.

Staff at the Cigar Store Emporium on West 6th in Vancouver said business has grown steadily since e-products went on sale six months ago.

“We’ve seen quite a rise in peoples’ interest,” said staffer Bill Newton.

“They usually want to quit traditional smoking and are quite surprised to find out the nicotine juice is not available in Canada,” he said.

E-cigs with rechargeable batteries cost $65. The liquid chambers are refillable and equivalent to about two packs of cigarettes.

“People see these things as a cheaper option,” said Newton.

Khara said more study needs to be done on health-related questions. His dilemma is whether to advise tobacco-smoking patients to switch to e-products.

He said definitive answers are hard to come by because clearcut evidence has not yet been found about the medical effects which e-products produce.

“The principle for looking at e-cigarettes with interest will be because they don’t have thousands of (harmful) chemicals,” he said.

Khara said big changes in the field are likely in the future.

“The big tobacco companies are on record as saying they believe there will be huge growth,” he said.

Anonymous said...

E-cigarettes allow people to 'pretend-smoke' by inhaling an electronically produced vapour. Proponents say it's a great way to quit tobacco. But an editorial just published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal says it may do the opposite.

If you're addicted to tobacco, it means you're addicted to nicotine. Smoking an e-cigarette that produces a vapour that contains nicotine allows the user to get their fix with an e-cigarette but without inhaling the tobacco smoke that leads to emphysema, lung cancer and heart disease. The concept is exactly the same as chewing nicotine gum or patch but with some important differences. Unlike patches and gums, e-cigarettes provide the user with the experience of holding and inhaling from what feels like a real cigarette. As well, inhaled nicotine undoubtedly gets absorbed faster and reaches the pleasure centres of the brain faster than other kinds of nicotine replacements, producing a rush that's a lot closer to cigarettes.

The other advantage to e-cigarettes is that they permit the user to adjust the dosage of nicotine: a higher dose in the early stages of quitting followed by a slow taper.

The editorial in CMAJ is calling for the government to regulate e-cigarettes that contain nicotine because they see nicotine as a drug and e-cigarettes that contain nicotine as drug delivery devices. More than that, they believe there's a growing controversy over the use of nicotine e-cigarettes as devices that promote smoke cessation - which is ostensibly the reason why they exist. The editorial suggests that the opposite may happen: in other words, instead of helping smokers get off tobacco, they might turn non-smokers onto the effects of nicotine and encourage people in the process of quitting to relapse.

Let's look at the scientific evidence. In July of this year, the World Health Organization concluded that there's little compelling evidence that e-cigarettes are effective at getting people to quit. CMAJ cited two recent clinical trials failed to show that e-cigarettes are any better than nicotine patches at getting people to quit and to stay off tobacco for 6 months. Worse still, despite having a free supply of e-cigarettes, most of the study participants continued to smoke tobacco. That goes with some anecdotal evidence that instead of using e-cigarettes to quit, they use the devices to supplement their nicotine habit.

And, there are other safety concerns. In 2009, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) questioned the safety of these products. When the FDA analyzed samples of two popular brands, they found variable amounts of nicotine and traces of toxic chemicals, including known cancer-causing substances (carcinogens). This prompted the FDA to issue a warning about potential health risks associated with electronic cigarettes. Currently, the regulatory agency is considering an outright ban.

E-cigarettes are an issue now for two reasons. First, famous people like actor Angelina Jolie have been touting the benefits. Second, tobacco companies are emerging major players in a growing e-cigarette industry. Think about it. The tobacco industry makes cigarettes, not nicotine delivery systems, right? It's occurring at a time when Big Tobacco has not reduced production of its tobacco products. That suggests that the tobacco industry sees e-cigarettes not as a way of helping smokers quit tobacco but as a way to maintain or even boost their market share and their profits.

What should Canada do about it? Right now, Health Canada has designated e-cigarettes as drug delivery devices. The implication is that Canada has among the most restrictive laws in the world regulating these devices. Canada prohibits the sale, import, or advertising of nicotine e-cigarettes.
Just asking.

www.Canadaecigs.ca

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Shawn Thomas said...

Excellent article... my son who is a teen wanted $$$ to purchase one and I chastised him as I am a believer and have never smoked a joint, cigar, or cigarette and NOT a hookah. I wanted scripture reference to support my DISAPPROVAL for evening thinking that I would be OK with him being like 'the world.' This can open up more avenues for the enemy to form STRONGHOLDs in our life.

Joe K said...

Shawn Thomas,

Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I'm glad you found this helpful and edifying.

Take care,

JRK