Wouldn’t it be nice if every issue were black and white—crystal clear? Every single issue. Every subject. Every day. It would certainly simplify decision-making, conscience issues, controversies, and might even prevent a few church splits. But the reality is, everything is not black and white—even in issues pertaining to God and the Bible.
It’s Not All Black and White
We do not, of course, live in a world where everything is a morass of ambiguity. There are some things that are pretty clear. The gospel of Jesus Christ is pretty clear. The claims that God made about Himself are pretty clear. Thankfully, we have some solid truth of unquestionable veracity that we can bank on.
Then again, if we are honest we must admit that not every issue that we face has the same degree of clarity. I used to think that there was a clear and obvious solution to every single conundrum. As I learned and matured, however, it began to dawn on me that maybe—just maybe—everything isn’t as black-and-white as I had hoped.
The Danger of Seeing Everything in Black-and-White
What are some problems with the black-and-white view of the world?
- Arrogance. As you encounter others who do not take your exact position, you consider yourself to be superior to them, rather than esteeming others better than yourself (Philippians 2:3). You don’t know everything, and that’s by design (Deuteronomy 29:29).
- Blindness. When you only look at two sides of an issues—the right one and the wrong one—you miss the nuanced beauty of a multifaceted and complex consideration of the whole picture. This blindness can prevent you from seeing yet another, maybe even a better, way.
- Intellectual dishonesty. In the field of logic, there is a fallacy called the “false dilemma” or “false dichotomy” in which only two options are considered, when in reality there are several more available options. Black-and-white thinking is guilty of this fallacy, contributing to a dishonest approach to life. It may even cause you to deceive others. Watch for this fallacy in yourself and in others.
- Persistence in error. As long as a person considers only two sides to an issue, he or she can never see a via media—a middle way, an appropriate compromise, the balance of truths. When this happens, it is easy to plod continually in the rut of error, under the delusion that it’s the only right thing to do.
If black-and-white thinking is a dangerous way of viewing the world, than where does this lead us? Are we left to stumble aimlessly in a postmodern fog? Is everything just relative? Is each individual entitlted to a personal philosophy of right and wrong, a customized theology, or a self-made religion?
No and no and no.
Saying that “everything isn’t black and white” does, admittedly, leave us with a need to discern the big issues (the black-and-white ones) from the less-than-clear issues.
Living in a Non-Black-and-White World
If there are some things that aren’t black-and-white then, what should our response be?
- Develop your biblical knowledge. The best way to gain clarity in a confused world is to build your knowledge of God’s Word, and act in accordance with it. Submit to God’s authority in your life.
- Be confident, but humble about your positions. It’s not wrong to take a stand, and to know what you believe. It is wrong, however, to get arrogant about what you believe. As you think, read, learn, and study, come to some conclusions! Then, hold these conclusions and positions with a kind and gentle confidence. Be humble.
- Be understanding toward others. One of the byproducts of seeing the world as not black and white is that you begin to see and understand where someone else is coming from. Take time to listen to and even to learn from people who don’t think about issues in the same way as you. As you gain understanding, you may even learn something new. Graciousness does not mean gullibility.
- Appreciate the diversity of the world that God has created. When you stop seeing things in black and white, you start seeing things in color—beautiful, vivid color. Obviously, I’m not just talking about the colors of nature: the mountains, oceans, trees, and flowers. I’m talking about the color of the immaterial—the intellectual diversity and complexity of this world. God is a thinking Being, and this beautiful cognitive masterpiece is reflected, albeit in a fallen state, in the world in which we live, think, and learn. Enjoy the color of it all.