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My friend shared my blog post on FB, and her friend commented, saying: “It seems like she is trying to add “gray” to the Bible… which is very black and white… right and wrong — don’t know if I am way off but that is what I got.”

Unfortunately, she is way off. The good news is she read me right (although I’m not adding gray areas to the Bible, I’m only pointing them out). The bad news is that most Christians don’t understand just how little is black and white in the Bible. Consequently, I was so happy to read this beautiful post from another non-black & white person, which I have reposted here with his permission.

Guest Post by Jonathan Martin

“(T)here is nothing black and white about me.  Pastor Tracey says I am the king of nuance.  I paint the world in a palette of grays.  I think many of the most virtuous saints have a lot of ambiguity and complexity in and them, and many of the most notorious sinners have their own kinds of virtues.  (This is why Frederick Buechner’s Godric is one of my favorite novels—such a textured, complicated saint, but a saint, no less!)  I tend to think that the truth, when it is at its most beautiful or when it’s hardest to behold, is almost always more complicated than we think, that easy labels for people are generally failed attempts to reduce them until they make sense to us.

There is, of course, a general movement in culture right now to capture the gray and embrace the ambiguity of our stories.  The trend in television in particular toward shows like Breaking Bad, in which it is almost impossible to sum up anyone entirely as a hero or a villain (as the heroes have their own darkness and the villains have their own moments of humanity), is pervasive.  Some would see this as postmodernity fully grown, a deconstruction of any clear ethics.  Perhaps in some cases that is true, and there are times and ways where the embrace of ambiguity seems to follow all the way down the line to an anything-goes nihilism.  But from where I sit, I tend to just think that ambiguity is most often more truthful.

The interesting thing for me is that I didn’t learn to embrace the ambiguity and complexity from television or contemporary storytelling in any form—I honestly believe I got it from reading the Bible since I was very young. Scripture is as undomesticated as the Spirit who breathed it, and thus is full of tensions that will not and should not be prematurely or easily resolved, if resolved at all.  When the story of your faith is mediated through texts that tell of Jacob, Moses, David, and Peter, and yet bears witness to the reality of God, you will either gloss over the texts or learn to live with a certain amount of tension. (Note: You can always recognize good systematic theologians by their stubborn refusal to seriously engage critical texts that do not fit their tradition or system.)

There are times where I, too, may long for the simplicity of white hats and black hats.  But I would never go back.  I’ve seen too much, in myself, in others, in the world.  For whatever I might miss about simplistic systems, what I don’t miss is the cardboard god I created within them.  That god was a glorified Santa Claus, a referee to enforce karma, the product of my own imagination.  He only existed when I felt good about myself; he stopped existing when I felt bad.

The real God revealed to us in Jesus of Nazareth is the God who is real enough to touch us in our own ambiguity.  When I’m clear or when I’m cloudy, He is no less real, because He does not exist simply to prop up my own limited understanding of how the world is ordered.

Here’s an example of that God in action.  I have a dear friend who had an abortion in her 20s.  She is one of the most powerful women of God that I know.  She grew up in a family where she suffered severe sexual and psychological abuse.  After she became a Christian and married a caring Christian man, she began to experience healing, and eventually would even go into ministry.  But a few years into their marriage, she got pregnant and hit a wall.  The old hurts and insecurities began to wreak havoc in her mind.  She decided she didn’t feel like she could be a good wife, and certainly was not in a place to be a mother.  So for a season, she ran away from her new husband, and without his consent, decided to have an abortion.  Weeks later, when she came out of her season of depression, she was overcome with shame.

They stayed together, and ultimately would even have a thriving ministry.  But she has a remarkable testimony about that dark season of her life:  just before she was about to be wheeled back for the procedure, she says she had a visitation of the Lord.  To this day, she claims it was not a dream, but a physical presence—she says she can still feel His right hand over her heart and His left hand holding hers.  Wordlessly, He comforted her.  That was all.  She did not change her mind; she did not run out of the clinic, screaming.

Looking back, she tells me that if she had not had such a tangible manifestation of God’s presence then, she doesn’t feel like she could have survived the guilt and condemnation she felt later.  She didn’t feel like Jesus somehow affirmed her decision.  Only that He held the hand of His daughter, and stayed with her when fear drove her to this decision she would later regret so bitterly.  That experience did not stop her from having the abortion.  But it would ultimately convince her, when the healing began, that she really was seen and known by Jesus, even in her darkest moments, and yet completely loved.

When I told that story in a sermon a few weeks ago, the room fell silent.  I don’t think it was because the congregation didn’t recognize that as something God would do, but because they knew it was exactly like God, which makes it all the more interesting.  He did not come to condone my friend’s choice.  But He did not come to condemn either.  He came to enter the ambiguity and awfulness of that season of her life, and assure her that His love for her was real, no matter what choices she made.  Doesn’t that just sound like Him?

I would eliminate ambiguity if I could, if not for the fact that I usually find God at work in it.”

Click here to read “Why We Are All Asking The Wrong Question”

Is the Bible Black & White? Part III: The Bible has a LOT of Gray

10 thoughts on “Is the Bible Black & White? Part III: The Bible has a LOT of Gray

  1. A beautiful and applicable quote from Charles Spurgeon……

    “In the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world.” — Philippians 2:15

    We use lights to make manifest. A Christian man should so shine in his life, that a person could not live with him a week without knowing the gospel. His conversation should be such that all who are about him should clearly perceive whose he is, and whom he serves; and should see the image of Jesus reflected in his daily actions. Lights are intended for guidance. We are to help those around us who are in the dark. We are to hold forth to them the Word of life. We are to point sinners to the Saviour, and the weary to a divine resting-place. Men sometimes read their Bibles, and fail to understand them; we should be ready, like Philip, to instruct the inquirer in the meaning of God’s Word, the way of salvation, and the life of godliness. Lights are also used for warning. On our rocks and shoals a light-house is sure to be erected. Christian men should know that there are many false lights shown everywhere in the world, and therefore the right light is needed. The wreckers of Satan are always abroad, tempting the ungodly to sin under the name of pleasure; they hoist the wrong light, be it ours to put up the true light upon every dangerous rock, to point out every sin, and tell what it leads to, that so we may be clear of the blood of all men, shining as lights in the world. Lights also have a very cheering influence, and so have Christians. A Christian ought to be a comforter, with kind words on his lips, and sympathy in his heart; he should carry sunshine wherever he goes, and diffuse happiness around him.

    • And that is EXACTLY where we’ve missed it Shannon. Christians have NOT been a light shining so people will come to the gospel; we are a stench to them, flinging our opinions at them, cursing and condemning them. Christians have earned the reputation, Shannon, of turning people out, running people away, making them not want one single thing to do with Christ. We are called to be a light in the world and instead we’ve become a noxious gas. Solution? Focus on our relationship with Christ and let that speak for itself. Shut up about who’s doing what sin that offends us, er, God. Love Christ ourselves and let Him speak for Himself. It would be nice if we’d shut up on our opinions about various issues, and let Him get a word in edgewise! Thank you.

      • All this talk about light has me thinking…
        Lets say I walk into a warehouse… 10,000 sq. ft. There are antiques everywhere…floor to rafter, layer upon layer. There is no way to see everything from the doorway. Even though I brought a high-powered flashlight, turn it on and can clearly see every detail in the few things closest to me, there is absolutely no way to observe every part of every object!

        I know! Ill walk through the entire warehouse with my light and look at each object! Hmmm, even then, it appears that no matter where I walk the very light I am using to illuminate is casting shadows with the objects in the forefront– and furthermore there is not a way at all to see the back side or underneath of any piece!

        So it is with the Bible. When one thing is illuminated, it can change the way we see other things… The things we have seemingly seen so clearly are revealed to have shadows from other new teachings– not new in Scripture, but new to us because of revealed meaning or clearer understanding.

        To leave analogy and speak personally, many of the things I learned as a new believer changed and evolved as I learned other things. This is still happening. And as I understand it, will happen until I see Him face to face.

        I think I’ll hang on to my flashlight. I have so much more to see.

  2. There was a short story I read in high school, which I have desperately tried to find again and cannot. It was about a man’s final judgment, and in the story the judges were those who had been judges on earth, and God was the witness for the defense. As the “prosecution” trotted out all of the evil things the man had done in his life, it was God who fought back with every moment of good the man had had, every good thought or deed, it was only God who knew the circumstances that had driven him through his life. Talk about shades of gray.
    It really influenced how I view God, and how I view other people. No matter what I think I know of someone’s story, I do not know it all…but God does, and offers redemption.
    The other reading that influenced me so much was Genesis and how the characters argued back with God, or tried to avoid his will, or are just flawed and human, and yet they are met again and again with understanding and forgiveness and a way forward.
    Anyone who doesn’t see shades of gray in the Bible is not reading the full story.

  3. I am so thankful for your posts on this…perhaps it’s because God wants us to think for ourselves that He included so much gray in His word.

  4. Love. This. Isn’t there always going to be some tension in the Biblical narrative? Isn’t that what keeps us all in a dialogue with one another? Otherwise, it’d be pretty dull if we mined all the gems and there was nothing left to dig up. (Just an English major’s thoughts). 🙂

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