Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Grey

Do you remember that show “The Facts of Life”? I had an older sister so I had to watch it growing up. I can’t remember too much of the plot or characters (thankfully) but I do remember the theme song.

Sing it with me folks!
“You take the good. You take the bad. You take them both and there you have the facts of life. The facts of life!”

Nothing like an 80s sitcom to speak truth into your life. There you go; it’s plain and simple. There’s good and there’s bad and that’s about it. Well, maybe not quite.

Any of you that really know me probably know that I grew up in church. Under the pews, finding frogs in the bushes, hitting people’s cars with footballs; just all of that good, old church living. From the time I was born I did most of my thinking about life from the view inside of the walls of a church. Wasn’t really told to do much thinking anywhere else.

Now just to be clear, I could talk for hours and hours about all the good I have seen in the church and in the people involved with it. This is in no way a letter bashing what I was born into; I love the church and I will defend it as long as I have to. But that being said, I think I would be doing a disservice to myself if I didn’t at least bring to light some of the things I am learning and that might not coincide with what I grew up being told was true. I'm finding in my own life that one of the best methods of teaching is not necessarily saying, "This is what I've learned," but rather, "This is how I am learning." Not that I in any way claim to be a teacher, but I do think we can learn from each other.

One of the things that I feel I grew up hearing a lot was basically that there were always only two sides to everything. Just like a coin. The good and the bad. The right and the wrong. The truth and the lie. Life is made up of clear sides and dividing lines. There is no room between the black and the white areas.

For a very long time I was fine with that. I did what I was supposed to do and things pretty much worked out. I had a great faith in a great God and what I knew him to be. My best friends were people who believed basically what I believed, and we all encouraged each other in our own views. We were pretty happy. People are usually happy when things go according to plan.

Then, I went away to college.

College was a bit different. As you probably know, you get people from every walk of life at a university, especially one as diverse as the University of Florida. Even in the Christian circles I was in I realized that not everyone believed the same things about the Bible that I did. Now, I’ve never been one for confrontations or disagreements because I never really had to be in them; I was surrounded by people who agreed with me. But as I interacted with people I grew to love, I found that we could disagree on issues and beliefs but still work together in accomplishing the same common goals. Diversity at its finest.

How can that be possible, though, if there are only two sides? How could there be more than two ways to look at something? May I submit to you an area beyond just black and white? An area I have taken to calling “The Grey.”

All right, get all your 50 Shades of Grey jokes and Liam Neeson references out of your system right now.

You may have heard of “the grey” before, and perhaps you have heard it called by some other name. I heard about it once or twice growing up, but I concluded that if I had any doubts about anything then it belonged on the “wrong” side of the line, because the Bible had clear answers for everything.

Fundamentalists, go ahead and pick up your stones because here goes… the Bible does not answer all of the questions most of us have. It just doesn’t. And I don’t believe it was intended to.

The Bible in itself is made up of ancient texts. Things that people wrote thousands of years ago. Can we really expect those same words to give us answers about practices and decisions that would have never come into play back then? If you read the Bible’s words as only black and white, you can’t. But as you look into the grey, you may come to see that the words are indeed “living and active” and they can remain relevant in an ever-changing world. God could have outlined every single command and every single answer to life in the clearest way possible, but he didn’t. He gave us brains. And more importantly, he gave us his Spirit.

I get frustrated sometimes because I want things to be laid out a little more clearly. I want answers explained better. I want to know if I’m doing things right or wrong. Most of my troubles can be attributed to the fact that I am terrible at waiting and I also have a brain that doesn’t shut off. The combination of these two disorders can make it very difficult to live life when you’re only seeing things in black and white.

I think thoughts like, “Well, a little bit of faith can move mountains, and I have a little bit of faith. So… why is this mountain not moving? I must not have faith. Or maybe I’m screwing something else up and God is upset with me and unwilling to back me up?” When you think black and white you may tend to think thoughts like that.

So, faith can move mountains, but what about when it doesn’t? What about when the sick are not healed and the poor stay poor? Does it mean that there was not enough faith in the prayer? I mean, the Bible clearly says that faith moves mountains. If the mountains aren’t moving then something must be off with us, right?

I think many of us struggle with the idea of prayer being something like water being put into a water balloon. The more we pray, the more water is deposited into our balloon. We keep filling it up and eventually, after we’ve prayed and fasted enough, the balloon will pop and what God really wanted to happen will finally be done. But I am learning that what I want to happen and what God wants to happen can seem to differ quite a bit. Can prayer force God to do something he doesn’t want to do?
Well, yes it can, right? Prayer changes things. That verse 2 Chronicles 7:14 says, “If my people pray…” Look, I believe prayer can change things, but what if the greatest power of prayer is not the power to change our circumstances but the power to change our hearts, our minds, and our motives.

Black and white can only see a mathematical system: Prayer + Faith = God’s will. But the grey throws out the formulas.

So maybe some of you are thinking, “Listen, hippie. I get what you’re trying to sell us. ‘Question everything. The truth is out there, maaaan.’ But what am I supposed to do with that?” That’s not what I’m saying. I’m not saying we cannot ever be certain about anything. I am just trying to say that maybe it’s all right to have a few questions every once in a while. I question things all the time, and it doesn’t mean that God is upset with me. God is bigger than our questions.

I understand about two percent of all of this, but I believe it. Maybe that's all that faith is. Maybe honest faith that God approves of can only at times say, “I don’t understand this, but I trust you.” What if we only have two percent faith, but it’s enough to get us to act as if we had 100 percent faith? Does God accept our decisions even though we don’t have everything figured out and have some doubts? And do we trust God enough to be wrong?

If we believe in Jesus then we believe that God loved us enough to come to us as Emmanuel, “God with us.” We serve a God that wants to be known way more than we even want to know him. If you seek him, he will find you because he's looking for you, too.

If we are called to come to him as children then that is about as ignorant as you can get. A child doesn’t have it all figured out and a child doesn’t know how things work; they just do stuff. They don’t question the laws of gravity; they just go down the slide. They don’t know how mom and dad are going to get them dinner, but they know they are going to get it. Is that really how God wants us to come to him? Isn’t that blind faith?

Yes. It is.

We are so afraid to have blind faith because our society demands proof on all accounts, which is what makes the grey so hard. But blind faith in God is exactly what he calls us to have. To be able to say things like, “I really don’t know the answer to that, but I trust that God is good.” And say things like, “I don’t like going through this, but God knows what he is doing.” I know those are hard words to say in the thick of it, but in essence that is what we must live out. To say, “I don’t really understand this, but I believe it and I trust you.”

The Word of God pulls no punches. It clearly says, “The wisdom of the world is foolishness to God,” (1 Corinthians 3:19) which can only mean the other side of that is true as well—“The wisdom of God is foolishness to the world.”  No wonder we feel so dumb sometimes. We have human brains trying to figure out the far superior mind of the Creator.
Read the Bible and you will find many stories of men and women who experienced the grey.

They wandered in it.

They wrestled with it.

They walked on it.

They endured it.

It seems to me that the grey is an essential part of our faith, and possibly a requirement or right of passage for all true believers. To know God is to know his mystery. To understand that you will never fully understand him and be okay with that. He is a God who is bigger than our doubts and fears. He can handle a humble heart that is searching for truth, because he is the Truth.

I don’t think God is as afraid of the grey as many might think he is. The grey is where we search for him because we don't know the answers to life’s questions. The grey is why we seek him. The grey is why we need him. And the grey is where we discover beauty we never could have seen in the black and white.

Don’t run from the grey, run towards it.