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The world of black and white

by Jaynan Clark, (WordAlone President)

August 31, 2008

photo of Pastor JaynanThis summer I heard a judge in family court say that children raised in a religious home are not your typical children. He added that sometimes you see in kids raised to be believers a more black and white view of the world and life. This is difficult for children of any age today because we know the world is more gray. There is uncertainty and change and one needs to be able to adapt to that.

I am quite certain that my paraphrase of the judge's comments is very close to what was being communicated. Absolutes, certainty, distinctions and clarity of right and wrong are no longer considered healthy or preferable. One could go further to say that what the judge was communicating was that we in some way handicap our children in today's world if we teach them such beliefs and convictions, and life will be more difficult for those who are raised in such a manner. (I would have to agree with his prediction, yet difficulty for faithful followers should never be a surprise.)

Who knows all the factors that have played into the re-creation of the world into the gray one in which we all now find ourselves? This groaning, changing world and reconfigured society with revised values, ethics, families, education and order is "progressing" to such a degree, and with such an alarming pace, that it seems to be meandering and spinning out of control. (See for example the Barna report, Young Adults and Liberals Struggle with Morality." More and more people are heard murmuring utterances that are nearing despair as the economy falters and the high of their day is the price at the pump.

What is going on? Is it all a result of the Enlightenment and people getting so enamored with themselves they outgrew God? Or perhaps the seeds of the 1960's truly took root and the harvest is coming in? Maybe all the efforts directed toward the pursuit of equality and justice with the added benefit of life, liberty and happiness has functioned to set us all in a tailspin that now resembles the circling, spiraling flow of an unholy flush of our basic values and beliefs. Perhaps we have in effect--with all our good intentions of honoring the individual, upholding personal rights above community, teaching self-actualization, building up false self-esteem and advocating for everyone's voice to have equal weight and a fair hearing--"paved the road to hell." The old adage did point out the inevitable destination in spite of all our individual good intentions. The road to hell is apparently not a yellow brick road but paved in gray.

We, as Christians, and particularly as Lutherans, should be able to recognize the grayness of the world in which we live and specifically in the institutional churches we find ourselves a part of. There is very little that any longer can be categorized as black and white inside and outside of the church. This is curious when one considers that what the Bible teaches us about justice, rights, community and the self is radically juxtaposed with that which society and even the declining mainline denominations' social statements advocate. Is it the fact that they are in opposition to one another that gives birth to the emerging gray?

The world was ordered by God and has groaned in travail as a result of sin. This is a basic Christian doctrine. Believers in Jesus Christ as the one true Lord and Savior of us all confess to be sinners in need of being forgiven and saved. This is a basic Christian doctrine. The Bible is the inspired Word of God that reveals to us, by its own authority over us and its self-interpretation, that Jesus Christ is God incarnate, crucified and risen to save us from our sin. This is a basic Christian doctrine. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life and no one comes to the Father except through him. This is a basic Christian doctrine. Once not very long ago these were regarded to be clear statements of faith. Quite black and white as it seemed, but no longer. Ambiguity is preferred to absolute and gray is in vogue.

It is interesting that for years now those involved in child development have promoted the placement of infant mobiles over their first cribs at the very earliest days of their lives for mental stimulation and development. The hanging geometric designs that are so helpful to the newborns are--can you guess it? Black and white. The books go on to point out that if you don't use the black and white ones at least use bright, bold colors never dull pastels or bland gray. How interesting that we encourage the distinctions and clarity at birth and then spend the rest of their lives trying to make these bright creations of God conform and adapt to a gray world.

True enough, some black and white thinkers and believers are pure legalists with an abundance of issues and a lack of love, however, is that any reason to erase from the world black and white values and certainty? Is it not only possible but also preferable that we raise our children with a strong, centered, core sense of values and discernment that knows that Truth is a person and in Him there is clarity and certainty. Should not our children and all the rest of us come to terms with the real world of God's making that does not have a gray center with black and white representing the extremes but rather the black and white, the ebony and ivory, the complementary opposites that define the very center of God's handiwork. There in the center is the cross of Christ and the Crucified and Risen One himself who holds in his scarred hands the dichotomy of good and evil, life and death, law and gospel, judgment and grace, black and white and all that is gray.

The farther individuals venture away from Him and from our basic Christian teachings the less clarity one has; the gray, dense fog descends upon church, society and young and old alike.