Toward a Theology of Hobbies, Part 3

by Lee Anderson Jr.

In my first entry in this series, I presented several questions designed to help illuminate biblical principles that have a direct bearing on our pursuit of hobbies. One of the questions was, “Does our hobby cause us to engage with or otherwise encourage sin?”

That may seem a rather nebulous question, so it can be helpful to break it down further by first asking a slightly different question: In what ways might a hobby cause us to engage with or otherwise encourage sin? I can think of several.

First, a hobby can become a consuming obsession that drives us to use our time unwisely. We talked about this kind of sinful pattern in the last post in this series.

Second, our hobby might lead us to violate our own conscience, that is, our own personal convictions about what is morally right or wrong. If we are “fully convinced” (Romans 14:5) of the need to avoid something as a matter of moral principle, we should not engage in it.1 For instance, one believer takes up ballroom dancing as a hobby, while another believer refrains from dancing, even at weddings, because of personal concerns that dancing—or at least certain forms of dancing—is sinful. Each must act in accordance with his or her own personal convictions on the matter without passing judgment on the other (Romans 14:13). It is important not to violate one’s conscience in matters such as this, where Scripture leaves room for differences of personal conviction because, ultimately, we are told, “whatever is not from faith is [for that person] sin” (Romans 14:23).2 That said, very few, if any, of us would be inclined to make a hobby out of— and thus engage frequently with—something that violates our conscience. Hobbies, by their very nature, are supposed to bring us pleasure. The pangs of guilt brought on by the violation of one’s conscience would almost surely rob a person of whatever enjoyment they found in their hobby, and they would not likely continue in it for long.

Third, a hobby might lead us to excuse doing things that are flagrantly wrong. This may seem an obvious thing to avoid, so I will not spend long addressing it. That said, I suspect this is something that may creep up on some of us because we fail to stop and think about it. Suppose that Jim is a small business owner and that he has a hobby which is peripherally related to some of the things he does professionally. Jim invests a modest sum of money in his hobby, and things have been really tight this last year. “No problem,” thinks Jim, and he looks at how he can write off things that he purchased for his hobby as “business expenses” on his tax report.

Or consider Jill, an amateur photographer. Her spectacular photographs have appeared in special interest magazines accompanying excellent articles. Jill is eager to try taking pictures of an endangered songbird that is going to be featured in a magazine article aimed at raising public awareness about the bird’s vanishing natural habitat. While hiking in the forest with her camera, Jill spots one of the birds. The bird flutters through the trees, and Jill quietly pursues it—until she runs into a wire fence on which hangs a sign: “Private Property—No Trespassing.” “But it’s in the public’s best interest,” Jill thinks, as she looks for a way over the fence.

Of course, we can easily recognize how morally shady these things are. But those deeply invested in their hobbies might be blind to their own sinful failings. They have such an interest in “staying on top” of their hobby that they do not recognize how fatally compromised their moral behavior has become. These examples I have presented are contrived, but they illustrate just how careful we need to be when it comes to moral decision-making regarding our hobbies, since they are things about which we usually are very passionate. Staying self-aware can help us to guard against our hobbies leading us into obvious sin.

Perhaps most challenging, however, is the fact that our hobbies sometimes can cause us to put ourselves in a place of temptation. Consider Peter.3 In his early twenties, Peter was an avid gambler. Living near Reno, Nevada, Peter spent his weekends in the casinos, always seeking to strike it big. Peter was quite the addict, in fact. Gambling excited him. The challenge of beating the house gave him an unparalleled rush, and the glitz and glamour of the casinos helped fuel the exhilaration. He looked the part of a gambler, too, often wearing dark sunglasses and a snazzy red blazer, and driving a fancy sports car. But he never seemed to know when to quit. Peter’s bad habits and foolish decisions eventually drove him into debt and cost him his job. His fair-weather friends abandoned him once they realized how desperate he had become.

Fast-forward fifteen years. After hitting rock bottom, Peter came to know Jesus Christ as his Savior, having been invited to church by one of his few remaining friends. He later received pastoral counseling to help him overcome his addiction to gambling. Now a year shy of forty, Peter has a stable job as a department store manager. At his church’s Sunday school, Peter met a lovely young woman, Rose, whom he dated and eventually married. Together, they have a six-year-old son and enjoy a quiet life in the suburbs. To fill his free time, Peter decided to return to his boyhood hobby of following professional baseball. He began selectively collecting baseball cards and other memorabilia, going to games with friends from his church’s men’s group, and keeping abreast of player statistics. Peter actually was quite a whiz with the statistics, knowing the slash lines for the top batters on every major league team, as well as the ERAs and K/BB ratios for all of the more noteworthy pitchers.

Impressed by Peter’s knowledge of the game, one of Peter’s employees at the department store suggests he try making some “extra cash” by gambling on the sport. At first Peter does not know what to think. He is reticent to do anything that might draw him back into his old addiction. But he decides to look into it anyway. He is surprised by just how many opportunities there are for gambling on professional baseball, and by how his keen knowledge of the game could prove a serious asset in helping him turn a big profit. Enthralled by the excitement of once again taking a chance to strike it big, combined with a realization of the ease of gambling online, Peter begins to give it serious thought. Considerations about his family, career, and faith start to fade slowly into the background of his mind as he thinks about the thrill of gambling on what, until now, had been nothing but a healthy hobby. What should he do?

The Bible teaches that “each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death” (James 1:14–15). The ever-present danger of temptation leading to sin means it is imperative for us, as Christians, to make a concerted effort to avoid temptation in the first place. We should diligently flee from the things that threaten to entice our carnal cravings (cf. 2 Timothy 2:22). Praying for God to “lead us not into temptation” (Luke 11:4) is an exercise in futility (if not downright irreverence) if we deliberately put ourselves in places to be tempted. Some temptations in life are avoidable; but when it comes to hobbies, which we often pursue purely for reasons of personal interest, we have a much greater degree of control.

In Peter’s case, the threat of him torpedoing his life by returning to gambling, forsaking self-control, is an indicator that he needs to be cautious with his hobby. In and of itself, Peter’s hobby of following professional baseball is not sinful. But if it causes him to put himself in a place where he can easily succumb to sin (in this case, compulsive gambling), then it simply is not worth it. It is better for him either to forego his hobby altogether, or to place strict limits on his involvement in his hobby (and, perhaps, to pursue it in a way so as to remain accountable to other trustworthy Christians) so that he does not return to a pattern of destructive sin.

The bottom line is this: no hobby, no matter how enjoyable, is worth living dangerously with temptation to sin. Sin is, plain and simple, far too costly for that. If we truly believe in the Bible’s call to honor God in everything we do (1 Corinthians 10:31), then there is no room for inviting sin into our lives by putting ourselves in a place of temptation for the sake of a hobby.

1All Scripture, unless otherwise noted, is from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

2In fairness, it likewise is important to consider if our hobby risks causing a fellow believer to stumble by encouraging them to violate their convictions (see Romans 14:13–21). We will address this concern in a future post.

3Peter is a fictional character, though his story is a composite of real-life accounts.

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