Who’s to determine the difference between right and wrong? For many different issues we’re very much a product of our culture and upbringing when it comes to deciding what’s right and what’s wrong. When you grow up in church culture you expectantly develop a particular perspective that seems well defined.
But what happens when what seems clear as day becomes shades of grey? How would you handle a shift in you paradigm of right vs. wrong?
There’s a story in the Old Testament (2 Kings 5:1-19) about a man named Naaman. Kids who ever spent time in Sunday School would remember this particular story–he took a dip 7 times in the Jordan river only to emerge healed from leprosy.
That’s not what’s interesting about this story. At the end there’s an ambiguous exchange between Naaman and the prophet named Elisha who was the one who told him to dip in the river. The dialogue clouds traditional views of how we perceive right and wrong in our worldview.
The context of the story: Naaman is a general in the Aramean army. Elisha is a prophet of Israel so long story short they worship different God’s. Here’s where it gets complicated. Naaman is miraculously cured and as normal practice at that time period he wanted a ‘sacred’ momento to bring home. Here’s the catch, Naaman and Elisha used to worship different gods, to further complicate matters he leaves off with this proclamation,
“…please let me, your servant, be given as much earth as a pair of mules can carry, for your servant will never again make burnt offerings and sacrifices to any other god but the Lord. But may the Lord forgive your servant for this one thing: When my master enters the temple of Rimmon to bow down and he is leaning on my arm and I have to bow there also—when I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, may the Lord forgive your servant for this.”
Here’s what’s happening. Naaman commits apostasy when he aligns with the God of Israel (rejecting his Aramean gods). He does this while almost simultaneously asking for forgiveness when he intends to in fact worship the Aramean gods of his faith. Naaman wants the best of both worlds in a time when it was either or (or none). It was never both/and.
Think about the context of someone who claims to be a Christian yet also claims to be a Muslim and practices both. That’s what Naaman is suggesting.
Now that you know the context, how do you suppose Elisha responded? “What on earth Naaman!? You can’t worship both, it’s the Lord all the way. You were miraculously healed for pete sake.” Or at least something akin to that.
Of course, that’s not what Elisha said. Surprisingly he simply says, “Go in peace.”
Is this condoning Naaman’s intentions? Perhaps not, but it does highlight the shades of grey we encounter all the time in our journey of faith. Think of all the times we opt for standalone rules and moralistic hobby horses over relationships with people, even if it means entering a supposed ‘grey area’.
What would you do if a neighbour invited you to play poker when you don’t believe in ‘gambling’?
Do you celebrate Halloween?
Or to put the shoe on the other foot, do you thumb your nose at Christians who opt out of Halloween citing religious grounds?
Do you hang out at the bar with the regulars?
What would you do if a girl needed a lift to the abortion clinic?
Our stories continually include engagement into the ‘grey’ where the unexpected happens. Let your unexpected be one that opts for beauty over opinion.
There’s beauty in discord, beauty in chaos, and beauty in the mess. If there wasn’t then the incarnation makes little sense.
Where are your shades of grey?