Everything is Black and White

Everything is Black and White

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During a discussion about difficult moral questions, a co-worker once caught me off-guard with the statement: "Everything is black and white." 

Wait a minute. I thought that one of the hallmarks of growing mature in faith was the ability to think critically and live well in the "gray areas" of life. How could my friend suggest that those areas didn't exist? 

Further conversation and reflection brought out this point: There aren't many things that are truly morally ambiguous. God's Word speaks clearly of things that He forbids and illustrates over and over how seriously He takes it when we flout His Law on those matters. The Bible also celebrates many, many things that He permits, invites or commands. And really, that's all. The black and the white, so to speak. There's not much middle ground in Scripture. 

What really bowled me over about that thought is that the church has spent an awful lot of time and energy throughout history calling things wrong that God calls right. Or drawing a hard line where God hasn't spoken at all. When we take the whole counsel of Scripture seriously, the message that emerges is this: If God hasn't specifically prohibited something, we have freedom. Likely much more freedom than we admit to ourselves or to each other. There is so much that God affirms through the Bible. 

But most of us know that daily life doesn't feel black and white. Moral decisions aren't always easy. The right thing to do isn't always clear. And freedom isn't commonly associated with following God's Law. Why is that? 

The confusion comes when the freedom areas bump into the forbidden areas. Or even when two good things bump into one another. This is the trap the Pharisees are always trying to catch Jesus in. You can't heal a person if it's the Sabbath, they say. You can't pick grain if it's the Sabbath, they say. Two good things — healing and Sabbath keeping, or Sabbath keeping and eating when you're hungry — seem to be at odds with each other. Jesus masterfully helps sort out the dilemma by reminding the law-keepers of the spirit behind each of those laws. In both cases, Jesus' interpretation of the Law is freeing, life-giving and people-affirming.

Here's the thing about taking a view of Scripture that emphasizes our freedom, though: If we're going to read it that way, we really have to read it and know what it says. Otherwise we're always just steps away from being enslaved by our freedoms.

Beside the example that Jesus repeatedly sets, Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 and 10:14-33 are masterful counsel — brilliant social science, really — about how to sort out these "disputable matters." Just like Jesus, Paul reminds us of what our priorities should be in applying the Law. If you haven't studied these passages in depth, I challenge you to do so and see how it transforms the difficult spots in relationships and moral decision-making. And when you're done with those passages, keep reading until you've read the whole Bible. And then do it again. Don't ever stop. Drink deeply of your freedom in Christ. Take to heart the things God hates and learn why He hates them. When you do, you'll find yourself growing in freedom and in your delight in God's Law. 

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  • -- The problem with the Pharisees was that they had a proud heart and weren't willing to admit their sinfulness.  They followed some of God's laws zealously while ignoring others (like the command not to commit murder). A right heart before God would have let them to properly obey God's laws.

    Absolute truth exists but we has humans have a hard time discovering that truth in some situations.  We are all affected by our culture, our gender, our race, and our upbringing.  The best way to overcome this problem is for all of us to read the Bible more often.

  • -- One of the biggest things that I had to learn is that Biblical principles are universal, but you don't necessarily have the specific application of those principles spelled out for every single situation.

  • -- While I think "everything is black and white" is a tad simplistic, I will agree on being knowledgeable about scripture.  You have to be able to discern what things are extra-Biblical, meaning modern traditions vs what is (and isn't) Biblical...not to mention blatant false teaching. (end times theology, etc)  And certainly, if you're working for a Church which has "above and beyond" rules (no alcohol, not being alone with a member of the opposite sex, etc)... you should follow them as an employee respecting authority, while understanding it isn't a Biblical requirement.

  • --Well yes, murder is evil, that's a black and white matter. But what counts as murder is somewhat grey. Abortion? Perhaps, but the Biblical support for that is iffy at best. Capitol punishment? Since we worship a victim of capitol punishment a lot of Christians would say that's murder. War? The early Christians were pacifists. Self defense? Jesus' example on the cross was one of ultimate self sacrifice.

  • --The Bible gives us principles that are black and white, but applying they to individuals and specific situations can get gray.    For example, we should be good stewards of our money. Now take that into a situation where two people each want to buy an expensive car.  For one, the answer may be that they shouldn't  and for the other it may be okay.

    I feel like making everything black and white actually causes a lot of fighting among Christians.  

  • --So, was it a sin for Rahab to lie about the spies hiding on the roof?  

  • --"What really bowled me over about that thought is that the church has spent an awful lot of time and energy throughout history calling things wrong that God calls right. Or drawing a hard line where God hasn't spoken at all."

    I don't see much of the former, but the latter is far too prevalent. Everybody is quick to judge, sooner or later. Personally, I find it more important to focus less on the activity or object in question and focus on what are the intentions of the heart. A large portion of Leviticus seems ridiculous, but the book of Judges should shed some light on the matter.

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