Gray Areas

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This is for the two different types of people in this world — those who think they know how to figure out what God wants them to do, and those who don’t. I happen to fall into both categories. I mean, I know the Ten Commandments by heart, and I know many of the New Testament “dos and don’ts.” But then there are those other areas — the “gray areas” that I don’t know what to do with. How, I have wondered intently, would Jesus handle certain life situations where He didn’t give enough information? There are many such areas, but let’s look at three for example’s sake.

Living with an abusive spouse. Jesus never said if a person should stay or leave under these circumstances. He did say that if an unbelieving spouse agrees to stay married, then stay with them (1 Corinthians 7:13), but that doesn’t cover the “what ifs.” Some people also say that 1 Peter commends suffering for the sake of Christ and they consider being abused part of that suffering. So, they reason, you should stay. Is that true, I ask? Where is the glory for God in that kind of suffering as women are stripped of identity and purpose, and their children live with lifetime scars (physical and/or emotional) and insecurities?

And what about husbands loving their wives “as Christ loved the church” and giving their lives up for them? Can one side get off the hook and treat their spouse abusively while the other gives up everything — sometimes even their lives — to appease them?

Living with an addicted spouse. The rules are different in this kind of home. The prominent “help” books advise the typical mistreated partner to love their spouse unconditionally and selflessly in order to win them over, don’t pressure or nag them to change but focus on changing yourself, don’t put any expectations on them, and if you pull away from them, they will naturally gravitate back toward you. That might work for your average cold-hearted spouse, but when dealing with an alcoholic spouse, none of those things work. You can drive yourself crazy trying to apply all the methods, read all the books, and go through all the counseling, but in the end, everything you try has the same result: Nothing.

Should you stay in that kind of a household, accepting the addiction — and all the behaviors that go along with it such as lying, spending too much money, emotional, verbal, or physical abuse, sexual misconduct, neglect of the family, blatant disrespect, and even sometimes financial ruin — while choosing a path that is making your whole family sick at heart?

Old Testament Law. In Leviticus 19, you find “Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head,” right near “Do not put tattoo markings on your body,” and “Do not practice sorcery and divination (witchcraft).” You’ve got two that seem like no-brainers (first and third) but number two is a bit controversial (gray) because many people think it is wrong to mark up “the temple of God.” So how do you know for sure which ones to keep and which ones to chuck?

Jesus answered that question for us in Matthew 22:37-40 when He upheld only two commandments for all time. “Jesus replied: “?Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ?Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

When dealing with gray areas, here is the very, very simple solution. In everything you do, ask yourself, “Is this thing I’m doing, or what I want to do, in keeping with loving God with all my heart, or does it compromise my relationship with Him somehow?” On the other extreme, “Is this thing other people want me to do (such as my church or Christian friends) overkill or irrelevant to my relationship with God?” We must not let people put excessive rules on us either, which is what Jesus criticized the Pharisees for.

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Next, “Is it in keeping with loving my neighbor as myself?” Application of scripture should always follow that order — devotion and love to God first, love for people second. For instance, you may think you have to keep a certain person in your life because that would be following the second command of loving your neighbor. BUT, if loving that person is preventing you from obeying the first command of loving God with all your heart, then you must obey the first command by letting go of the second.

Jesus often demonstrated this principle for us of putting love for God and people above the law when He was dealing with the Pharisees. They criticized Him for healing or for letting His disciples pick grain to eat on the Sabbath, but He would point out (Matthew 12: 1-13) that people’s needs were more important than keeping the Sabbath law, and what He was doing didn’t oppose the first command of loving God either, but rather upheld it. For further study on how Jesus dealt with Pharisee-type people who constantly tried to get people to live by “the law” and not by “the love,” read Matthew 23:13-33. Jesus always put love for God and people above the rules, as we should do.

Remember, each situation may have a different application, but the underlying motive (love) is the same. One person living with an addict may be thriving and still able to grow in their love relationship with God in spite of the oppressive situation at home. Another may be so mistreated, controlled, and beaten down; they can only think “survival.” One may be able to stay while the other may need a safe place to become whole and restore God to His rightful place.

About the every day choices we make, apply common sense. Does getting a tattoo or a Mohawk in and of themselves keep someone from loving God or people? I think not. However, the type of people they draw and hang out with may end up pulling them away from love. Does participating in witchcraft affect your love relationship with God? You bet — always!

But again, remember when dealing with gray areas, what may pull one person down may not affect another person the same way, so we must always be careful not to hold our own standard to someone else. We must use caution, grace, and restraint when applying our own convictions on others.

And now, as you begin to apply the “law of love” (whole-hearted love for God first and people second that guides you to follow Biblical principles) and not the “law of rules” (God’s standard for holiness which made us all guilty and in need of a Savior), you will be able to figure out what you need to do in order to move ahead with God’s stamp of approval.

As for me, one gray area is now cleared up, but another one could use some attention. Is coloring my newly emerging glaring gray hair (probably brought on by raising teenagers) a good idea? Fortunately, my hair stylist is going to “feel the love” when I have to pay her for the service!

Copyright © 2006 Julie Ferwerda, Used with permission.

Read more from Julie at julieferwerda.com

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