A few years ago, I was having a particularly challenging time navigating my way through doubts around a decision that I had to make. As I sought guidance from friends and loved ones, some were adamant that I was to go in one particular direction, convinced that the Bible was clear on the way forward. Others were sure God wanted me to do the opposite.
A wise friend told me words that I will never forget: “Nothing is black and white. Everything is grey.” For some, these words might sound shocking – a relativism that many of us have been taught to see as dangerous. Some of the phrases we return to include: “The Bible says…” or “God loves X” or “God hates X”. But are we really sure that there is clarity on what our faith tells us, to the point that we can be 100 per cent certain? Is the Bible – all 783,000 words of it – always consistent? Are we certain that its poetry, history, letters and visions all combine to give a clear picture that speaks to life in 2022? The number of different denominations, interpretations and ways of doing Church suggest otherwise. Perhaps everything is grey.
Some years ago, I was struck when reading Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (Crown), in which she argued that some of the most successful leaders are introverts – those who seek answers in solitude; who do not feel pressured to respond immediately and with certainty (as many extroverts do). Christian leadership has not escaped this worldly need to have the right answers always at our fingertips. Sometimes our rigid clinging to black and white makes the world turn away from God, rather than being drawn to him.
I have become increasingly uncomfortable with the tribalism that causes many of us (including me) to think that we are certain about that which we understand to be the right reading of our faith. That’s not to say that everything is permissible in the name of Christ. I, for one, can never sign up to theology that paints a picture of God as exclusive, prejudiced or oppressive. My reading of the salvation story that lies at the heart of Christianity is of an open-armed God whose actions are centred on a love that goes beyond our understanding and does the unexpected. But there is so much of God that we do not understand. So much of God is unknowable.
It takes humility to express uncertainty in a world that constantly pushes us towards picking sides. It takes courage to exist in the grey rather than cling to the black or white. It takes faith to believe in a God who asks us not to lean on our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5), or seek comfort in certainty. It takes boldness to say: “I don’t know.”