“If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.”
– Matthew 5:29-30
The bible verse in Matthew 5:29-30 is probably most used as an example of an instance in which we should not take the Bible literally, the reasoning being that we are not expected to dismember ourselves in order to follow Jesus. I suspect that the frequency of its use for this occasionally overshadows the verse’s real message and discourages us from pondering its meaning. After all, it would sound kind of strange if we told somebody we were reflecting on the virtues and vices of self-mutilation.
But it is a good verse on which to reflect. If you intentionally ignore the common logic, that this verse is figurative and not to be taken literally, and ask yourself what part of it really is meant to be taken literally, you might get a surprising answer. We instinctively recoil from the directions Jesus gives us here, but I daresay there is not a person alive in this world who, knowing they were bound to end up in eternal hell and suffering, would not cut off their own hand or eye to avoid going to hell.
Luckily, though, I doubt any of us will ever have to make that choice. That is because while we would cut off our hand if it were dragging us to hell, I do not think anyone, dead or alive, has actually had their hand drag them to hell. There are, however, many other things that can.
Many things in this world are pretty much harmless in and of themselves, such as television and video games, or alcohol and cigarettes. These things by themselves are not inherently bad. However, most of us know from some level of personal experience that these, and many other things, can become sinful either by becoming addictions which cause us to obsess and neglect our responsibilities, or by leading to other things which are inherently evil.
It’s easy to say to yourself, “Well I won’t let it go that far or get that out of hand.” Then, after it has already gotten out of hand, it’s very easy to tell yourself you have learned your lesson and you will exercise better discipline next time.
But sooner or later you have to face the facts: there are some things you have to cut out of your life for the most part, if not entirely, because they cause you to sin. Sometimes this can be painful because it forces us to give up things we enjoy and like, and other times it can cause some embarrassment when we have to excuse ourselves from a certain activity or event while others try to ask us why we can’t handle ourselves with whatever it is. Even harder, sometimes this means we have to limit or completely stop contact with certain people who enable or encourage us to do wrong. But in order to stay morally sound, and many times in order to stay mentally and physically safe, we have no other recourse as responsible Christian adults.
When you look at it like this, you can see that this particular verse is meant to be taken literally: if your hand was causing sin and dragging you into hell, you would cut it off. It just so happens that our hands and eyes do not inherently cause us to sin. The things we have to cut off or cut out are the things in our life that truly cause us to sin, such as certain habits and activities, certain people’s companionship, or any of the number of other things I am sure have escaped my imagination. In some ways it can be more painful to cut these things out, and we find ourselves trying to find ways around the problem. However, as Jesus said in this verse, “It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” So take some time and think to yourself about what you might need to cut out: your TV shows, video games, gambling, drinking, smoking, texting, Facebooking, Twittering (I still do not know what that one is), perhaps even cutting out a girlfriend or some friends of yours who are a bad influence. When it comes down to it, I think we would all agree, it is far preferable to suffer a little bit now, rather than suffer greatly later.Tags » call to holiness, sacrifice, scripture, sin