Black and White

Embed from Getty Images

I’ve always considered myself a very “black-and-white” person. I tend to perceive the world around me in a very analytical, highly logical manner. This tendency can best be exemplified by a statement I have made on countless occasions. “The world is black and white; there are no shades of gray. Gray is simply white with black mixed in.” As such, I have often expected “white” from those around me (and even myself) since any “gray” indicates the presence of “black,” as it were.

I’m so glad my Lord doesn’t issue grace in the same manner that I do but instead offers it simply from love. I should strive to be more like Him in this matter. And as I’ve been going through John Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Life, I’ve found myself examining what that would look like. Today, Mr. Piper’s words about extending the gladness of glorifying God through grace spoke to the heart of this issue. And being a nerd, of course, I found my own little context for this quandary.

The Whitelist

Following with the “black and white” motif, I found that I use a “whitelist” approach with extending grace and mercy to the world around me. In the technology industry, a whitelist is a filtering mechanism used in everything from spam filters to firewalls. This basically translates to having a default setting of “deny” but offering an “allow” in specific exceptions. In my life, I tend to react with love, mercy, and kindness to those who meet specific or vague criteria, but everyone else gets the default: suspicion, hesitation, or casual disregard.

For example, someone might cut me off in traffic, leaving me brooding about how careless they are and quietly hoping an officer saw their negligence and tickets them accordingly. Unless, of course, I see it’s someone I know from church or work. In that case, I’d just be sure to give them a lighthearted “hard time” next time I saw them.

So where is the “seventy times seven” forgiveness (Matthew 18:22)? Where is the other cheek (Matthew 5:39)? It’s extended only to those on the whitelist– that is, only to the exceptions. All in the name of tough love, of course. After all, we can’t let people walk all over us. We’re Christians, not doormats.

And I suspect that a great number of Christians extend this very conditional mercy in like manner. And that’s a shame.

The Blacklist

Instead, as Mr. Piper’s words resonated with me this morning, I should default to mercy. That is, I should operate on a blacklist rather than a whitelist. As you might guess, a blacklist is the inverse of a whitelist. All is allowed, with specific exceptional denials. In the context of Christian love, I should extend grace by default to all men. It’s not an unchallenging, spineless “doormat” grace. In the appropriate context, I should still resort to a “tough love” scenario. These are the blacklisted times, but in all other cases, I should act in mercy.

I’ve recently entered into such a period myself. Some of my actions required some direct confrontation and rebuke, and I received (and will continue to receive) tough love as a result. But my actions were exceptional, and the men in my life who challenged me did so on an existing foundation of love and mercy.

I thank God that I’m under spiritual leadership that strives to operate in a godly manner, even when it’s inconvenient and even painful for them to do so.

Why it Matters

I’m still coming to a full understanding of how essential this is. Nevermind that unforgiveness can kill the soul. Nevermind that legalism is lifeless and the law is death. Nevermind that a judgemental person is universally disgusting.
There’s a black-and-white logic at work here. Consider the following seemingly opposed goals:

  • communicating the Gospel message of Christ to the world in love and grace, and
  • preventing outright abuse and enabling challenge and accountability through wisdom and discernment.

Ideally, I and my fellow Christians can operate with a proper, or more precisely, a Godly balance of both. After all, as Paul said, we shouldn’t just revel in sin so we may revel in His grace (Romans 6:1). Instead, Paul urged the church in Ephesus to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15), indicating that both should be present.

So what would happen in each potential approach to this balance?

Applying the whitelist approach, wherein I defaulted to “deny” and applied “allow” in certain exceptional situations, I’m hard and cold. At best I come off as indifferent, and at worst I’m an elitist bigot. Doesn’t exactly communicate love and grace, let alone the Gospel. As I’ve applied this throughout my adult life, I have been a hypocrite, choosing to apply my own stipulations to grace and mercy. God’s definitions do not apply. I choose so-and-so because they are family, and such-and-such because I like their kids. My “tough love” to the rest of the world does not challenge. There is no accountability. Accountability requires relationship, and my default “deny” has precluded that. So I accomplish neither goal.

Applying the blacklist approach, I should default to “allow” and only “deny” in exceptional situations. In all cases, I may communicate the love of Christ. In “tough love” cases, it would be interpreted as just that: tough love. As I said before, my leadership has recently addressed me in such a manner. I was not judged harshly and cruelly from the moment of our meeting. I recognized the tough love as such because I knew (by experience) their love for me during times of mercy and grace. And as a result, I was more receptive to their correction, and it was kept in a proper context.

With God shedding a bit of light on this subject, it’s surprising how black-and-white it all is, even for me.