Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.
- Frederick Buechner
Growing up, I thought that the world fit into nice and neat categories. There were the good guys and bad guys. There were safe places and dangerous places. There was the lovable and the despicable. It was simple, uncomplicated, and the worldview of most children.
Of course, when I grew up the whole thing blew up in my face. People I looked up to growing up let me down. People that I didn’t like turned out to be not that bad. Pat Robertson will say something egregiously horrible one minute and ask for you to help children living in poverty the next.
(Mind you, Pat Robertson wasn’t a critical piece of this realization, but he was the first example that leapt to mind)
I discovered that there are people, organizations, and whatnot that are evil-shaded good and others that are good-shaded evil. I have discovered that some of the safe places of my life are not always so safe and other places that I feared had a piece that felt like home.
I discovered a world in shades of gray. There are some people that would bristle at such a statement. Am I suggesting that there is no truth? That there is no right and wrong? Am I saying we might as well have anarchy where anyone does what they like, worship the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and marry the tree in their backyard? Uh, no.
The world is in shades of gray, not because there is no such thing as good and evil but because there is good and evil colliding on every speck of this earth. That is what of which Incarnation speaks, that is what of which each moment of this grand narrative called humanity shouts. Jesus reminded someone one day that there was no one that there was no one good except God above. Yet he also didn’t think that anyone was beyond redemption because he spent his time with…well all us no good people. And even he found goodness and faith in some unexpected places.
So when I say the world is in shades of gray, I am not advocating any sort of relativism. I am simply telling the truth. There is nothing—no person, no entity, no church—that is purely good. And there is nothing—no matter how dark, twisted, and evil it might be—that is beyond redemption.
Every day, the good and evil are colliding in our neighborhoods, our relationships, and our hearts. God is moving in people and through God’s Spirit in ways we cannot expect. Sometimes the collision is a beautiful story of redemption and resurrection, of God’s peace moving into a place. And sometimes it is full of heart-break, full of hatred and selfishness. There is nothing on earth that is exempt from either.
I used to be worried about the grayness of the world. I admit that it is still sometimes unsettling and I wish that there could be total peace in my life. Yet I am learning that those shades of gray don’t mean that everything is meaningless. It simply means that there is light mixing and mingling with the dark.
The gray has taught me to—as Paul once wrote—test everything and hold to the good. It has forced me to kick the tires of my faith, reexamine what I believe, and has strengthened my relationship with God even when the church isn’t always as safe as I originally thought it to be. It has taught me to be vigilant about the dark corners in my own life and it has taught me to look for shards of light in some unexpected places. It makes things complicated, messy, and frustrating, but it sure does make things full of all kinds of hope.
As the things of God collide with the things of brokenness in this world, it makes for much beauty and much terror. May we be people that walk into that collision with grace, humility, and with the God who wants to walk with us through the gray. This is the world as it is. May we not be afraid.