49 Shades of Gray
Whoa. That’s risqué, pastor.
It may be risqué, but it’s not as risky as something that we can find ourselves doing as leaders and followers of Christ: having an answer for everything.
A time for everything
King Solomon records his famous words in his book Ecclesiastes when he says, “there is a time for everything under the Sun” (Ecclesiastes 3). The Bible records Solomon son of David as the wisest and wealthiest man the world had ever known and will ever know…he was a brilliant guy! So brilliant, in fact, that royalty, dignitaries and wise people from all around the world sought him out for his wisdom on biology, psychology, leadership, entrepreneurship and much more (1 Kings 4:29-33; Book of Proverbs, Book of Ecclesiastes). Yet, in spite of his vast, unattainable level of understanding, he did not claim to know everything (Ecclesiastes 1:16-18).
[Solomon] did not claim to know everything.
Our culture pressures us to have a comeback for everything; insults, jokes, questions – all of it! I want to explore the idea of not knowing everything and how beneficial it is to be good with that. I want to show you how that aspect of our society is destructive in the Christian faith.
From B&W to Grayscale
I have always been hungry for understanding. I’ve wanted to know it all. I’ve wanted to have an answer for everything. I used to love getting into philosophical debates with non-Christians, researching evolution to encounter its flaws, researching the Bible to find its inconsistencies and scrutinizing traditions to find ineffective and wrong thinking. Now, I almost try to avoid them at all cost because I have never seen a philosophical debate convince someone else to change their mind. In those past years, I tended to classify everything into one category or the other; black or white; hot or cold; right or wrong.
End of story.
As I’ve gotten older and encountered more of life, I began to notice that sometimes, this fact made sense in this context, but not in a different one. My, how little I actually know! The older I get the surer I am that that I don’t know anything. I’ve observed that things don’t always fit into categories as neatly as they used to in my thinking. I’ve gone from seeing things in terms of black and white to seeing them in grayscale – and there are many shades of gray!
Recently, I was teaching a bible class when a student asked a complex question about hearing God’s voice and submitting to God in the context of a marriage where the spouse doesn’t see eye to eye. I began navigating though different pieces of the answer. I became frustrated when I got cut off at the part I wanted to relay from Ephesians, wives submit to your husbands as to the Lord…so wives should submit in everything to their husbands (Ephesians 5:22-24). I saw horror begin to appear on the faces of young Christians who didn’t know the very next verse and the next point I was trying to get to, husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave up his own life for her…(Ephesians 5:25-26). I wanted to point out the mutual display of submission and love and trust. I wasn’t able to finish up with the second part which still eaves a bitter flavor in my mouth to this day.
I realized more clearly than ever that day, that it’s difficult to answer complex questions in a group setting! Complex issues are just that, complex. They have multiple angles and various pieces and complex applications to their answers. I was reminded that so many people want a quick and easy answer to life’s difficult problems. We do a lot of damage when we reduce complex issues into simple ones and then try to answer them as such!
Over the years, I’ve grown to hate the action of oversimplifying problems and people for the purposes of making them fit into an opinion. When we oversimply people, we make it easy for us to attack them and justify ourselves when realistically, we rarely know the reasons behind someone’s action. When we oversimply issues, we tend to bend the answers to fit our worldviews instead of expanding our worldviews.
When we oversimply issues, we tend to bend the answers to fit our worldviews instead of expanding our worldviews.
Danger, Will Robinson!
I currently sit on a fine line where I know that there are certain things that are completely clear in terms of right and wrong: It’s not God’s intent for us to lie, murder, steal, put other things in front of God. It is God’s intent for us to make disciples, love him, love people, love enemies regardless of their wrongs on our life.
There are other things that aren’t so clear: How do I answer someone questioning God’s goodness in the light of the death of loved one? How do I choose between saving the mother or the baby’s life during a complicated pregnancy? Who was ‘right’ when one believes that God has instructed them to do one thing and the spouse is in opposition?
In the midst of all of this frustration I learned to become okay with telling people that I didn’t know the answer to their questions. I became okay with telling others that their issue was difficult and didn’t have an easy answer. As I did that, I gained a new understanding of my role in the Kingdom of God: Point people to God.
I became okay with telling others that their issue was difficult and didn’t have an easy answer.
The Bottom Line
As leaders and as Christians, our job is to point others to God through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. That’s the bottom line of what we are supposed to do for others. We start by sharing the Gospel message with them. After that, we would do well to remember we are making disciples of Christ and not of ourselves!
When we try to have an answer for it all instead of pointing others to God a few things happen:
We steal the opportunity to personally know God from others.
We promote idolatry (putting something in front of God) because we direct people to continue to depend on people instead of God.
We fail our most basic responsibility: to make disciples of Jesus Christ.
One Last Word
Please understand that I’m not saying that you should never have a response for anyone about anything. That’s very far from the truth! Again, there are some things that are clear and some that are not.
As someone who’s called to make disciples of Christ, it becomes part of your lifelong journey to discern between when to answer and when to point. But truthfully, in every instance, we should redirect the person back to God!
Lord, I ask that you would give us discernment and guidance to answer the questions we can and to humbly admit the times when we can’t. Help us to always point others back to you and represent you well! In the name of Jesus, let it be!