Black and White and Gray All Over!


I’ve been having a conversation with one of my brothers about paradoxes in Scripture. I really liked what he had to say although he didn’t have anything conclusive. He more so just pointed out examples and discussed the counters to the Seven Deadly Sins. This got me thinking for the umpteenth time this week about how I tend to think theologically in the gray. At the same time I admire others for having such strong “black and white” convictions about theology, I also appreciate the universality of Scripture to all people, time, and situations that gives me the more “gray” perspective. There are different shades of gray though, of course, and in general I tend to hold more to the darker hued end, similar to a political centrist with a right lean.

In a documentary I watched called Amish: People of Preservation I respected their discipline and consideration of everything. I mean, some Amish communities don’t even allow pockets to be sewn on the front of men’s vests because it would permit them to put their possessions in there which could be an act of showing off their nice things and lead to pride and cause jealousy. That sort of thought and discipline is impressive. Yet I couldn’t help but think that now matter how much you strive to put these restrictions on your community and preserve a certain lifestyle, there’s bound to be change. It’s completely inevitable. There is always going to be the desire and quest for more information, for more pleasures, and more liberties. Although the Amish may think those things are wrong, we in the “outside” world know that it can also be good. We also know that sin will still exist, even if you lived the most strict Amish life there ever could be, you would still sin. From the testimonies of the former Amish folks on the web, I found that contrary to popular belief, the Amish are really not “peace-loving gentle” people that we think they are and have actually major issues in their communities.

While I respect black-and-white thinking, I don’t think it’s always good. As a “gray” thinker, you can never get me to say that black-and-white thinking is all bad, either. Like I said, I have respect for those who can uphold their typically more rigid opinions. I think that shows strength in character.

So, back to paradoxes. My brother made the point with all his examples of paradoxes in Scripture that God’s law is much more flexible than we think they are. I think it’s wise to see that and to understand that there are exceptions, a little bending of the rules, and a bit more freedom in our religious practices. For some reason, whenever I think about “grayness” in the Bible, I think about that wedding scene from “Fiddler on the Roof” when Perchik asks who will dance with him. Everyone starts to argue: it’s a sin to dance! Not a sin! Then they ask the rabbi who says “well….it’s not exactly forbidden..” and then Perchik quickly exclaims “Well there you see! Not forbidden! And it’s no sin! Now, who will dance with me?”

I guess I often feel like both the rabbi and Perchik when it comes to justifying things in my life according to Biblical standards. I ask myself, “is this Biblically wrong?” and respond “well…not exactly..” then I jump to my feet and go “aha! You see–not wrong, so it’s OK!”

And what is my point with this posting, anyway? I guess to say that both black-and-white and gray opinions have their good and bad aspects. The problem with gray opinions is that it’s not always easy to discern when it’s good, bad, or just whatever. It can also make it really easy to justify something that is actually wrong. And the problem with black-and-white thinking is that you may be restricting yourself more than is good.

(Can I also make one tiny cultural note that black-and-white thinking [aka objective, linear] is typically a Western trait? My cross cultural studies in college will never leave me, for better or worse!)

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