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Gray, tension, contentment, creativity/progress, and the image of God

My good friend Stephanie has spurred me into thinking about a lot of things over the past couple of days, including what it means for Christians to live in a world full of "gray." Many of us respond just by fighting it (or denying it) with "black and white"; others decide that our uncertainties define reality regardless of God's assurances. I think the gospel calls us a different way, so I've compiled some of my thoughts from our discussion in the comments section of a prior entry:

Yielding to Someone other than myself to be the author and final arbiter of truth makes some things that would otherwise be black and white become gray, and vice versa.


In his letters, Paul repeatedly talks about the importance of discipline and perseverance, yet he also says he's learned the secret of being content in all circumstances. How can both be true, from the same author? How can he be content and press on toward a goal at the same time? And yet, there it is, in not-so-black-and-white. So I also see this tension as part of living in the gray—not just living in it, but going so far as to navigate in it and actually express God's image as a creative, alive, and engaged being.

Genesis 1 informs my view of progress: I don't think "formless and void" is as good as full-blown creation. I don't think a bunch of paints and a canvas are as beautiful as a Van Gogh (though they are almost certainly better than a Thomas Kinkade). Whether we call it progress (scary word) or creativity (fuzzy word), it's part of God's image to call forth good from chaos. I think His work in my life will involve that, even when it's also painful and messy.

If Paul's knowledge of contentment is simply a gift from God (and it may be—knowing that is learning the secret), it doesn't make the tension go away. If anything, it makes it greater: we still find a man who has contentment, yet also writes about the importance of discipline, self-control, perseverance, and pressing onward.

Either idea by itself is very "black/white." Together, however, we have gray. Paul didn't say, "Hey, now that I have this contentment thing, remember all that discipline stuff? Well, forget it, because you don't need it. Sorry about that." Nor did he say, "Sure, that contentment was nice and all, but it's unrealistic, so everyone get back to work, because God's not happy." We may simply want one idea to eliminate or override the other (it's easier that way), but Scripture only gives us the tension.

That's the gray I'm living in, so I don't believe that discipline, etc. are evidence of "black/white thinking." Without contentment and security in Christ's love, they would be. But since I'm embracing the tension rather than running from it, I'd further suggest that rejecting notions of discipline and progress so that one can have contentment is "black/white thinking." It trusts something much less than the gospel, which tells us that, despite the apparent paradox, they can and do exist together.

And that's a gray we can only live in by faith, which we know is a gift—but we still have to "pick up" what's been given to us. At staff this week, Phil talked about faith and longing and gave an awesome illustration. He said that when we cry out for God to give us faith, it doesn't make any sense for us to toss it away when He does: "It's like a child asking daddy for a glass of water, then just pouring it out on the ground." That's stuck with me. Paul's tension—indeed, all of Scripture's—includes waiting on that glass to be filled, as well as receiving it well when it is. There's no absence of longing; rather, there's instruction and example on how to keep living with it. We aren't the first to live in the gray, and we aren't alone or directionless in it.

Comments

Great thoughts.

(Anonymous)

I gots to make sure this is clear: you say others decide that their uncertainties define reality regardless of God's assurances. But uncertainties are part of our reality whether we like it or not, and they help define our faith (faith needs a doubt), so living in the gray is acknowledging our uncertainties *in spite* of God's assurances, and conversely, living in the gray is taking hold of God's promises *in spite* of our uncertainties. Both of these are the black/white (not sure which is black and which is white :). We have to acknowledge them both in order to live in the gray and pay respect to our humanity... stephy
This is very interesting, and I struggle with the same apparent contradiction.

However, I am not sure I can hold that much cognitive dissonance at one time.

Let alone that much grinding uncertainty, emptiness and disappointment.

(Anonymous)

SERIOUSLY. Living in the gray is harrrrrrd.