The Dissolution of the Sacred / Secular Divide, Part 1: Either / Or

Republican or Democrat?

Wal-Mart or Target?

Ford or Chevy?

Coke or Pepsi?

Mac or PC?

Lowe’s or Home Depot?

John, Paul, George or Ringo?

We live in an either / or world. Our answers to these stereotypical questions say something about who we are, or at least that’s what we’re told. It seems as if we’re constantly creating new ways to define ourselves, new categories to help us explain our life and ascribe meaning to our existence. (Just for the record, I’m a Ford / Mac / Lowe’s guy myself.)

Personally, I don’t think there’s anything necessarily harmful with these categories (although I’m afraid sometimes I derive too much of my identity from them). But I believe the real danger comes when an either / or mentality begins to creep in to my spiritual life.

Sometimes I have the tendency to view my life as divided into two major categories: sacred and secular. The sacred activity of my life is the “spiritual” arena where I do “spiritual things” like read my Bible, go to church and pray. I keep God and my spiritual life neatly compartmentalized here — as if I could bind God when the heavens can’t even contain Him! — and I even choose to dwell in this spiritual sphere a couple hours a week (usually on Sundays and Wednesdays).

But the rest of my life is just that — my life. My time, my money, my decisions. After checking the spiritual box on my weekly checklist, I’m free to live the rest of my week in the larger arena of my life, the secular sphere. This is where I live Monday through Saturday as I go to work, raise my kids and earn a living. And this life is distinct and separate from my “spiritual life”.

Clearly, this is a gross generalization. But you can see the danger in an either / or mentality with regard to your spiritual life. Even our terminology — “Spiritual life”. What is a “spiritual life”? Do I have a “spiritual life” and a “secular life”? — is flawed. All of this runs counter to the biblical witness. Scripture says our God is a jealous, consuming God. He is not content with our categories and our compartmentalizations. He longs for us to be holy in the truest sense of the term: to be “set apart” for God. Jesus doesn’t speak of a “spiritual life”; he speaks of loving the Lord your God with all your strength, all your soul, all of your being.

Following Jesus is a lifestyle, an experience that transforms our worldview and transcends our categories. Following Jesus means the line between sacred and secular dissipates and my entire existence becomes a holy offering devoted to the Lord.

This entry was posted in Church, Devotional, Sacred / Secular Divide, Theology. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The Dissolution of the Sacred / Secular Divide, Part 1: Either / Or

  1. jon says:

    We talked about this this morning at a bible study. We segregate our lives into compartments and work on each one individually. It doesn’t work and scripture tells us that…we will eventually love one of them and despise the other. It is easy to describe it this way but much harder to live it but this a black and white issue. Either your life is spiritual or it is secular. It can’t be both.

  2. alice says:

    Great essay. This is one of the biggest struggles of my life. Satan uses this segregation mentality, with great success, to keep us distant from God. I usually don’t even realize I’ve fallen into this mode again until I’ve drifted away.

  3. Jason says:

    Jon,Our compartmentalization of our lives seems to be a pretty modern phenomenon. I think some of our ancestors had a better, more holistic understanding of what it means to be human. Indeed, living as a disciple means abandoning this either / or mentality, I believe. Alice,I’m right there with you. Sadly, even those of us who are on staff at our churches can slip into this kind of mentality. That can really dangerous territory.

  4. Stacy says:

    The more I have thought about it the more it makes the following makes sense. When immigrants came across the Atlantic they left their old lives behind. Many left family members for the promise of a better life. They had to do away with their old language and learn to speak English so that they could communicate and earn a living. They adopted the ‘American’ way of life. You can clearly see the Hispanic way of life slowly creeping into every facet of our lives…Compare this with the Cannanite culture slowly infiltrating every facet of the Israelites until there was no clear division among the two. God called the Israelites to wipe out the Cannanite culture and not take any part of it as theirs…we can read what happened. Look at our society today; we have mingles the sacred and the secular and the very few times has the sacred out influenced the secular. Just like the immigrants of the early 20th century so Christians should be. Paul tells us that we are a new creation. The old has gone. Yet we don’t completely let go of it. This is Jon posting as Stacy.

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