Monday, May 31, 2010
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
“Sometimes I think we are trying to find the black and white
when all we have is varying degrees of grey.” ~ Kristine Davidson
I’ve noticed a trend in my life. The more I learn and experience, and the older I get, the more I negotiate a tense alliance with shades of grey. This is a difficult thing to explain, as it can prick the sensitivities of peoples’ deeply held beliefs, and on the surface, some might decry, “Moral relativism!” But I object, it’s not that simple.
On a fundamental level, absolutes are simple. Some things are just “right” or “wrong” in the world, whether or not we care to admit that. For those of us who put our faith in God and biblical principles, absolutes are a part of the package of faith. We know that murder is wrong, idolatry is wrong, adultery is wrong, the list goes on. We know that loving our enemies is right, that seeking justice is right, that forgiveness is right, and again, the list goes on. I have less of an issue with professing moral absolutes than I do with declaring the circumstances in which they often unfold “black and white.” Issues of morality do not occur in a vacuum. They are engendered in the messiness and blurred lines that all of us call “life.”
In studying theories of human behavior, I’ve learned one important thing. People don’t fit into theories, not neatly at least. I’ve noticed, as a counselor, that therapy and formulas don’t mix well. On paper, in a case presentation, formulas look good. They seem simple enough. But when a client is sitting before me, a human being in all his or her complexity and unique intricacies, formulas about techniques slip away. Am I saying that the experience or circumstances of each individual dictates what’s defined as right or wrong? No. What I’m saying – really, what I’m posing as a question – is, can we directly transfer black and whites into a shades of grey world? Or is there a meeting point, sometimes, in which the two intersect and are subsequently affected by the other?
This raises the question, for me, what is God most concerned about? Undeniably, He is a holy God. He is a just and true God. There can be no bending of truth in God’s sight. But in a world where things are marred and messy – a world in the process of redemption, groaning for transformation – God is dealing with lives that are not black and white. And I have to wonder, are there times when God is more concerned about the life at hand and with revealing Himself than with the bottom line absolute? That may be heretical, but it’s an honest question to ask, and I’m not afraid to ask it. I’m not afraid to wrestle, because in the world we live in, we cannot afford to get by without wrestling. Indeed, some people have no choice but to wrestle.
In an example from Christ’s life, He encounters a desperate woman, caught in the act of adultery. [On a side note, have you ever wondered how she was caught, the circumstances surrounding the capture of this sin? Surely some people had a close eye on her, plotting her demise. And where, I wonder, was the man? It takes two for “adultery” to occur]. The religious leaders wanted to stone her. Jesus refused to judge her. Instead, He made a statement. God seems like He’s into making statements, the ones that make us stop and scratch our heads. He said, “Woman, where are your accusers?” Stunned, she replied, “They have gone.” And He responded, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and sin no more.” I’ve heard a lot of people refer to this story as a way of pointing out that Jesus neither passed judgment on her nor dismissed her sin. But I’m not convinced that was the only statement He was making. I’m not so much concerned with His words, as with the statement made by His actions toward this woman. There are certainly black and white components to this story. But Jesus encountered this woman in her shades of grey, and He let her go. By law, she should have died. More important than the Jewish law, in this instance, was the encounter and the revelation of Himself to a woman whose life was messy. I wish I could put my finger on it, but it feels like there’s something deeper I’m missing in this story. Something about the character of Jesus that can’t be quantified, formula-ified, or dogma-ified. Something in the way He was with this woman. What was Jesus’ bottom line with this woman and was it really what we assume on the surface when we read this story? To me, Jesus is more mysterious than that. Not in an illusive, out-of-touch way, but in a defying-my-sense-of-logic way.
So how do I live uprightly with a foundation of moral absolutes in a shades of grey world? Perhaps there is no real formula.
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Sunday, May 23, 2010
Monday, May 17, 2010
Monday, May 10, 2010
Saturday, May 8, 2010
Thursday, May 6, 2010
“Through violence you may murder a murderer, but you can’t murder murder. Through violence you may murder a liar, but you can’t establish truth. Through violence you may murder a hater, but you can’t murder hate. Darkness cannot put out darkness. Only light can do that.”
~ Martin Luther King, Jr.
There’s no denying it, violence is a daily celebrated and lamented reality in our world. It gets confusing real quick, which “side” to be on. For most people with a moral conscience (not even speaking spiritually), there are “just” types of violence and “unjust” acts of violence. Genocide is evil and must be stopped, therefore, we may believe the use of violence is necessary to overcome violence, and we call this just. We imagine scenarios where we might be called upon to use violence to protect loved ones, or innocents, or ourselves - scenarios where, though not our preference, we wouldn’t question the justification of violence. We have many young men and women courageously and sacrificially fighting wars in other parts of the world, on our behalf, for the causes of peace and freedom and democracy and justice, and we would never want to dishonor them. So we draw a line down the center of a page and place these acts on one side, under the column “Just war” or “Redemptive violence.” And on the other side, under the heading of “Unjust war” or “Unlawful violence” or whatever we deem it, we place the murder of innocents, sexual violence, genocide, violent dictatorships, and torture (though not always in this column), to name a few. We live in complicated times, we say, so we cannot afford to be idealistic.
Though I understand this line of thinking, and indeed, have adopted this line of thinking for many years, my adherence to it the past several years has been tenuous. There is a tense line between idealism and reality. And I wonder if, in getting caught in the crossfires of that line, we lose sight of the third way. The way of the gospel, the good news, that Jesus announced through his entrance, life and death in this world, and then in his resurrection. The way of the gospel that proclaims, not idealistically, but through unleashing a new reality, that “another world is possible.” What is impossible for humankind to accomplish on our own is possible with God. In fact, Jesus assures us (one of his often used phrases, “Most assuredly, I say to you...”), another world exists, even now, and we are invited into it not only in the afterlife, but here and now. His way is not the way of redemptive violence, and I think there is much to support this - much more than I’ll touch on here.
With Jesus’ arrival on the scene of humanity (though he was always present, just not in the flesh), he lays the groundwork for a new kind of kingdom, different than any kingdom humanity has ever known. Jesus plainly stated shortly before his death, “My kingdom is not of this world”, and then went on to say that if it were, his followers would be fighting to protect him from arrest (see John 18:36). Instead, his way of fighting is to go to the cross. In this kingdom, Jesus is the King (not some other god, or all gods sharing the same throne), and all are invited to enter into this realm, leaving behind all other kingdoms, including the culture of whatever empire we came from (e.g., consumerism, imperialism, legalism, materialism, racism, idolatry, etc.), and fully embracing the culture of the new kingdom. When we enter this new kingdom, we receive a new identity: “You should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, beacuse of the blindness of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. But you have not so learned Christ ” (Eph. 4:17-20). In this kingdom, Christ alone is our model of perfection, and we learn the ways to walk by entering into intimate, dynamic relationship with him and allowing him to transform our mindsets and our lives.
In this kindgom, Jesus warns that “those who live by the sword will die by the sword” (Matt. 26:52). Jesus irrationally instructs his followers to love their enemies, instead of hating them (see Matt. 5:44), and I don’t know that anyone can make a solid argument for killing enemies in the name of loving them. In this kingdom, we are told that our enemies are not of this world, and therefore, neither are our weapons of war (see Eph. 6: 12; 2 Cor. 10:3-5). In this kingdom, the ways of humility, gentleness, and love are demonstrated in power through the King himself establishing his kingdom through voluntarily shedding his own blood, instead of shedding the blood of others or dominating through force. This is scandalous and foreign to us. And taking it a step further, those in his kingdom are called upon to have the same mindset as the King (see Phil. 2:5-8).
Instead of using force and violence to protect the innocent (or our ideals, freedoms, lives, etc.) and fight evil in the world, we are called upon to choose another way, a higher way. Again and again, in the teachings of Jesus and the early church leaders, we are called upon to live peacefully with others, to “turn the other cheek” when someone strikes us, to not defend ourselves when someone speaks wrongfully against us, to bless those who curse us. We are encouraged not just to endure suffering and trials patiently, but to expect them. A close reading of the teachings of the New Testament show us that it is radical love, not violence, that quietly, progressively takes the world by force and overthrows the strongholds of evil. This way of love is often not the quickest, most expedient, most practical way; but in the long run, it is the only effective way. After all, Jesus is not building a quick-fix kingdom; He’s building a kingdom that will last. When everything else has been destroyed, it will be the only thing still standing (see Heb. 12:28).