We like to put things into nice, neat, clearly defined little boxes.
The Bible is “clear”
People are “saved” or “unsaved”
People are going to Heaven or to Hell
People are sinners, totally depraved unless they are regenerated by Christ.
All sin is equal.
If you believe the way that I do, you are “of God.” If you don’t believe the way I do, you are “under the influence of the enemy.”
Ever heard these before? These are examples of black and white- or dichotomous- thinking that we encounter in evangelical churches every day. It has become a part of the common language of the evangelical church.
Us vs. them. Good vs. evil. Right vs. Wrong. Good and Bad. Sinful or Holy.
Black and white thinking involves viewing the world in extremes- also called splitting. This happens when we “split” the world into extremes- good and bad. While we all do this on occasion, when it becomes a routine way of life it can cause significant disruption in a person’s health, relationships and career. It can affect mental health, and is linked to multiple different mental health challenges. (Healthline: How Black and White Thinking Hurts You (And What You Can Do to Change It)
However when we truly look at the fullness of scripture, is that how we are encouraged to interact with one another? With the world?
The world isn’t dichotomous.
Jesus consistently demonstrated that our interactions with the world should not be “black and white,” reflecting extremes, but rather in the nuanced, messy middle.
His disciples weren’t “good guys.”
He hung out with tax collectors and sinners.
He was willing to drink from an unclean cup in order to fellowship with a Samaritan woman, leading to the evangelizing of an entire community.
He touched the dead, which would have been considered “bad” under Jewish custom, making him ceremonially unclean.
He healed on the sabbath
He called out the religious elite
His teaching and fellowship elevated women, which was counter-cultural and nuanced in that time period
He healed a woman who had been bleeding for years (so she was also unclean,) rather than rushing to the aid of a reputable man whose child was dying.
He brought us peace with God, but did not hesitate when it came to necessary conflict with people, even to the point of division. (Luke 12:51-53)
“The Word” demonstrated as he walked and taught, that the law doesn’t always get it right and that the world is more complicated than black and white thinking treats it.
Jesus embraced the messy nuance, calling us to a new commandment, stating that all of the law and the prophets can be summed up in this: Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself.
There is plenty of nuance in that.