“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.