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Living with Grey

Every Wednesday morning I stumble out of bed much earlier than usual to meet a group of guys for coffee, conversation, Scripture, and prayer in the basement of a local church.  We’re ostensibly making our way through the book of 1 Corinthians but more often than not we wander off into discussions about about work, marriage, parenting, and the nature of faith.  There are a number of streams of Christianity loosely represented in our morning get-togethers—Christian Reformed, Baptist, Presbyterian, Catholic, United, and even Mennonite!  It’s a great bunch of guys, and I look forward to Wednesday mornings.

This morning’s conversation was a bit of a rambling affair, but one of the interesting themes to emerge was that of coming to terms with the “greyness” of life.  Many of us grow up with a fairly black and white approach to life and faith but over time this becomes increasingly difficult to maintain when faced with the complexity of life.  Learning to live with grey was a pretty consistent theme around the circle.

One of the guys in our group is a lawyer who got into law because it was black and white: you just  find the appropriate law and apply it to the situation.  Only it isn’t always that neat and tidy.  Today he shared a story of a case where the law was applied pretty straightforwardly to a hit and run.  The guy could have received a conditional sentence, but the prosecutor pushed for—and got—a year in jail.  When the guy got out of jail his business was bankrupt, his family had disintegrated, and he hit the bottle hard.  Was the law effective?  Was its application in this instance the wisest course of action?  My friend wasn’t sure… It wasn’t as simple as black and white.

The same is true when it comes to faith.  It’s easy to apply the “clear teachings” of the bible to issues and behaviours that don’t directly affect us, but when it hits closer to home?  When we come across a different perspective that seems plausible but doesn’t fit well with our own?  Then what?  What about when we learn about different approaches to Scripture?  Or about theological conundrums that seem inherently insoluble?  What about when both mercy and justice seem necessary and appropriate for this or that situation?  So many people come to faith looking for answers but questions seem to be an unavoidable part of the package as well.

I was thinking about the greyness of life and faith as I looked ahead to the lectionary readings for this Sunday.  This week’s Psalm is Psalm 131 which begins thus:

O LORD, my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.

The reading from the Epistles is from 1 Corinthians 4 and contains these words:

Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive commendation from God.

I am, for the most part, pretty comfortable with grey, but I have my moments where I wouldn’t mind a little more black and white from God and from the world.  I would like to see more clearly, think more accurately, understand more fully, and respond more truly.  But grey is a part of the furniture here.  We all have to come to terms with it.

Perhaps, unremarkably, part of what it means to learn how to live well with grey is to adopt an appropriately low gaze and to trust that the things now hidden to us, the things shrouded by darkness and mystery will one day be clear.  And that we have been given enough light to think and live as we ought to.

7 Comments Post a comment
  1. Paul Johnston #

    Grey is faith. Humility and interdependence are it’s by products. Mercy and love it’s outcomes.

    To perpetually pursue certainty is to pursue judgment.

    February 24, 2011
  2. Ken #

    The grey of the law represents a creative opportunity to a lawyer, a very lucrative and psychologically rewarding creative opportunity. The same is true in many professions: grey represents opportunity and the potential for good fortune in life.

    At the same time, it is unusual for humanity to not seek certainty or order. Genesis describes a chaos in the beginning, one replaced by order. The same is true of the creation stories in many religions. The “trust that the things now hidden to us, the things shrouded by darkness and mystery will one day be clear” represents a desire for certainty. If Eliade is right, all religion quests for certainty.

    It is common in liberal protestantism to put down the quest for certainty, to attribute it to fundamentalists and evangelicals and other primitives. But the quest for certainty is universal.

    I think the most interesting modern approach to the quest for certainty or order is found among pragmatists. They do not believe certainty is possible, that any moral standards or truths are fixed, and yet they quest for order just the same, for an order that minimizes oppression.

    February 24, 2011
    • I’m not sure if all religion quests for certainty. We may certainly be inclined that way, but I wonder if the kind certainty we (think we) want would even be good for us. Perhaps there are qualities that God wants to cultivate in us that are incompatible with certainty.

      In my better moments, my quest is not for certainty but redemption.

      February 24, 2011
  3. Ken #

    Eliade is not alive to defend his argument. It stands or falls as it is.

    He might say that your idea of a quality that God wants to cultivate in us that is incompatible with certainty is an example of an exception. Eliade argued that humanity prefers certainty to chaos, or order to chaos. Your emphasis on what is good for us would be considered a moral emphasis in his analysis. In Eliade’s analysis, where morality is emphasized in religion it has the same aim: order. The idea is that we lead moral lives to line ourselves up with the great cosmic order.

    Personally, I hear theodicy in your idea of a quality that God wants to cultivate in us that is incompatible with certainty.

    February 24, 2011
    • I’m certainly not opposed to order. In fact, I think we are creatures who desperately need it. But I also think there is a plenty of room for meaningful order between chaos and certainty.

      I suspect you’re right about the role of theodicy in how I think about this, although I’d certainly be curious to hear you elaborate :).

      February 24, 2011
      • Ken #

        I hear it in two phrases:

        1. “trust that the things now hidden to us, the things shrouded by darkness and mystery will one day be clear”

        2. “qualities that God wants to cultivate in us that are incompatible with certainty”

        #1 resembles theodicy that says if we could see what God sees, some things that seem evil to us are actually good or for the sake of good.

        #2 resembles freewill theodicy.

        February 24, 2011
      • Thanks, Ken.

        Perhaps #1 is something like what has been referred to as an Irenaean or “Soul Making” theodicy—the idea that evil is instrumental in producing a certain kind of creature.

        Personally, I don’t like the idea of any evil being purely instrumental, but I suppose this is one of those rooms where the furniture is destined to remain grey…

        February 24, 2011

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