Appearance of Evil

Is it okay for a man and a woman to be roommates in a strictly platonic relationship? Close friends for years and considered “part of the family”.

Hi J!

Good question. Given the context you provided (“close friends for years… part of the family”) I would say–generally–yes, it’s okay.

Some Christians might say it isn’t okay because it opens the door to something illicit occurring. But I would say that perspective over-sexualizes us. We certainly are sexual beings, and I wouldn’t want to diminish that in any way–and we do need to be careful–but we aren’t just sexual beings, we’re much more than that. We aren’t mere animals.

Other Christians might say it isn’t okay because we’re told in Scripture we are to “abstain from every appearance of evil” (1 Thess 5:22 KJV). There are two flaws with this argument. Firstly, the word appearance is not a very good translation. The original says something closer to what you find in the ESV or NRSV, “abstain from every form of evil.” The word appearance is related to the word form, but it’s a distant relative; distant enough that when we read the word appearance, we misunderstand this passage in 1 Thessalonians. (For more on this, check out this rather helpful article, “The ‘Appearance’ of Evil: Mistranslation of 1 Thessalonians 5:22”, by Hans Deventer and Dennis R. Bratcher from CRI.)

So, right off the bat, this argument is null. But there still might be some value in the argument as a principle of wisdom even if it doesn’t come explicitly from this scripture. In which case, we must be careful to use the principle as a proverb and not as a hard and fast rule. Unfortunately, what should be used as a principle is usually used as an absolute. In other words, Christians will use this principle as an across-the-board, you-don’t-have-to-think-about-it, rule. For example, non-spouses can never be roommates because it could appear like something naughty is going on. One problem with this is that it strips the situation of its context (close friends, platonic, like a brother/sister). And context matters. Always.

It’s like if two students get caught with a knife at school, one because she accidentally left it in her backpack from a hiking trip over the weekend, the other because she uses it to cut on her body. The school has a Zero-Tolerance policy about knives in school. If you’re caught with a knife, you will be expelled, no exceptions. So, both girls are expelled. Do you see how this is a problem? The same sort of injustice and legalism happens when people use the appearance of evil principle as a rule. Does that make sense?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this matter and what brought this question on. I hope I’ve been helpful; let me know if something doesn’t make sense.

God bless.

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3 Responses to Appearance of Evil

  1. Mason says:

    Dear Probe,

    I really enjoy your postings because they tackle the hardest questions about domestic spirituality. I like this perspective on platonic etc. because it implies another truth on the matter, that good came before evil and therefore cannot “look like” evil at its core.

    Therefore, maybe it would be good for the roommate to emphasize the situation’s “goodness” from a perspective of contented singleness so that its true joys will be emphasized.

    I forget same sexes live together all the time whom at least I hope are content. If sexuality means anything more than lust, then at least homosexuality is not as prevalent in roommates as such “apparent” viewpoints would suggest (coming from me, and I have a background with many single friends and family members who have had roommates).

    Maybe we are not aware of the joys of being single: perhaps we could decorate our singleness with adventures of our own; maybe unhappy times of lust can be decorated with purer forms of self-intimacy.

    However, I feel this “potential roommate” would need this contentedness to recognize it in his/ her friend.

  2. Mason says:

    I meant in my response to Probe that sharing such joys of singleness may or may not desire clarification to outsiders. As “Probe” implies, it largely depends on presentation/ clarification of roommate details that either continue to open or nail shut buckets of worms. A male mentor of mine has had several females living with him, and thankfully, I have no reasons to suspect him of ever doing anything with any of them. More often than not they find somewhere else to live. In other words, I am not worried about his purity any more or less than mine, but in such situations it would be very easy for someone in his position to invite misunderstanding and embarrass him or her and others for reproaching him or her.

  3. reneamac says:

    I like how you brought out the baseline idea that good precedes evil. It’s something I rely on a lot but it wasn’t a conscience part of my response here. Very cool. Thanks Mason.

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