A few times lately, I have had to coach my oldest son, Aden, through the challenge of making a decision that he's not comfortable making. He's seemingly had multiple occasions as of late where he was faced with a "this or that, but it can't be both" decision, a good old-fashioned dilemma. "My son," I would say, "get used to it; life is full of gray areas, dilemmas and tough decisions that you aren't 100% comfortable with, and you are only going to find more of them as you get older."
It's true, isn't it? I think one of the signs of maturity in life is the ability to see and understand complexity. Maturity is the ability to realize that everything isn't black and white; it's not so simple. As we mature, we come to realize that to navigate this life well, it's going to require, at very least, some nuance. Maturity is seeing the big picture. It's seeing the truth or value in a different perspective or having an expanded scope of understanding
(Interestingly enough, if my descriptions of maturity are true, then we live in one of the most immature, fragile, and emotionally adolescent times in recent history, don't we? Cancel culture, anyone?)
Maturity, at the very least, realizes that life is complex, answers aren't always so simple, and sometimes we are forced to pick the lesser of two evils or, the greater of two goods.
I bring this up today because, if you're like me, then you likely have been faced with more uncertainty, grey areas, complexity, and dilemmas than ever before. The global pandemic has brought with it unprecedented uncertainty, hasn't it? Poll a family unit, and you will likely find the gamut of perspectives, disagreement and agreement both, and a whole lot of unknown.
It would be nice to think that these dilemmas, conundrums and gray areas only face "the pagans" who don't have the clear hope, authority or value system that we followers of Jesus have, but that's just not the case, is it? Christians aren't exempt from navigating dualities, dilemmas, paradoxes and complex, no easy answer decisions, are we? In fact, you could argue that things get more complicated following Jesus, not less.
You can find in the earliest records of the Church (in the letters of Paul), Christians having to navigate through the nuance of life as believers. Having to answer questions and make decisions on things like, "is this a time to expel the immoral brother" or a time we "ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow?" Do we fight for unity, which requires much grace, mercy, and making room for one another's faults, or do we fight for holiness, which requires rigid surrender, regardless of your feelings? Do we practice the Sabbath on Saturday like the Jews always have, or do we establish Sunday as the Lord's day? Do we carry on the practice of circumcision or cut it out? (Pun intended?) Do we defy the ordinances of the rulers and authorities, or do we render to Caesar what is Caesar's? Complex, tough decisions are all through the Bible.
I say all of this to make the point that for a lot of the Christian life, there aren't easy answers. Following Jesus, being the Church, navigating this life as disciples requires us to traverse down "the narrow path," often in the fog.
So what do we do? How do we deal with the dilemmas and complexity in life in a way that honours God and brings us the reward of true life in the end?
Here is what we do... ready?
The key to navigating the gray areas, complexities and dualistic realities of life ultimately comes down to listening, and by listening, I mean, hear, and then do what you hear. It's as simple as that.
Listen. Trust. Obey. Repeat.
God's desire is to be with us. He wants to illuminate the dark by His presence. He wants to show us the unique way to go when we come to a fork in the road. His heart is to reveal the truth when we aren't sure what to believe. It's who He is. After all, He is the light, He is the way, He is the Truth, He is the life.
So if you find yourself in a dilemma, which no doubt you will, rest assured, God has not abandoned you, and there is an invitation before you to come closer to Him as He guides you forward through the murky unknown.
How do we draw close to him in these times? Here are two tips:
1. Listen to His word.
David told us that "God's word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path." There are a couple of implications in this verse that are important for us. First, when David uses the word "word," He's not referring to the law (or the Torah); he's referring to God's voice. Think not what He has said, but what He is saying. (pro tip, God will never contradict His Word, so never think the Spirit told you something that goes against what is in the scripture) David is saying, "it's your voice that guides me down the path of life, illuminating the way." Or, at least, part of the way. Notice he says "a lamp to my feet," which implies He can't see everything, but he can see enough, and that "the voice" of God has specifically spoken to him were to take his next step. If we listen, actually listen, God will whisper to us our specific next step. (Don't expect him to illuminate the whole road of life, He's a step-by-step, day-by-day kind of leader). He wants to be with you every step of the way.
2. Listen to His heart.
Sometimes, we ask God for counsel and guidance for our next step, and we hear nothing but crickets. Then what? In those cases, I believe, God like a good father, is letting us decide, allowing us to do what we think pleases Him. In the gray areas of life, we need to ask what would grieve the Father vs what would please the Father. If you, in your heart, make a decision that you believe will please Him, you have passed the test (even if, in hindsight, you made the wrong decision). The point is, you are growing in His likeness by asking, "what would Jesus do" and then doing it.
(For a fun study on navigating complexity, look at the story of Namaan in 2 Kings 5, where the Syrian commander becomes a new believer and realizes his life is now full of problems because of the God of Israel. See how Elisha coaches him to go back into his pagan life in peace which is to say, go with God; He will help you sort it out).
Remember, maturity is the ability to navigate through complexity. Don't be surprised if God has you in moments in your life where He allows you to make a tough decision; he wants you to grow up in Christlikeness.
So if you find yourself in a gray area, don't be dismayed; listen, and embrace the opportunity to be close to His presence and to grow in His likeness. He will lead you into all truth.
Grace, peace, and the Presence of the Spirit be with you.