The Spirit and the Gray
“I think one of the healthiest signs of growing up is the ability to live in the gray,” she said.
I felt my stomach twist nervously as I listened. Since moving to Jackson, Mississippi, home of RTS’s first counseling program, I’ve met a lot of therapists. So many, in fact, that Phillip teases me about only having friendships with people who are able to psychoanalyze me. While most of the counseling students I’ve met are polite enough not to look into my eyes and ask about my deepest fears, those fears do sometimes come up in the course of friendship.
My friend had pricked one of my deepest, darkest fears: gray areas.
I used to thrive in the black and white, the dos and the don’ts, the lawful and the unlawful. Gray wasn’t holy. Gray was the flesh, a trick of the devil to lull you into a false sense of security. Gray areas were the serpent in the garden asking, “Did God really say?”
And we all know where that leads.
Did God really say?
When it comes to biblical womanhood, there are many potential gray areas. Should a mom work outside of the home? Do couples have a responsibility to bear more than two children? Is long-term singleness an obedient option for a woman? More than once, when I prodded one of these I was reminded to steer clear of the serpent’s question: “Did God really say. . . ?”
Don’t question God, they warned. Eve plunged the whole world into sin when she let a question seep into her mind.
I once was told that questioning God was the first act of feminism. Elizabeth Cady who? Psh. The tree of knowledge is where female rebellion actually began.
A closer examination of Genesis 3 reveals less wayward behavior than innocent questioning that lacked grounding in the truth of God’s law. And where was Adam—the one who received this law—while Eve was negotiating God’s truth with a serpent? But we don’t want closer examination, do we? Blind obedience is how women really show their holiness.
But really . . . did he say?
The scriptures rarely show asking questions as a bad thing. For instance, the oft-referenced Bereans refused to take the gospel at face value. They pored over the scriptures to figure out whether or not it lined up with God’s revealed character and nature. And, “therefore,” the Bible tells us, many of them believed (Acts 17:12).
Along with the Jews in Berea, Luke specificies that “not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men” also believed (17:12).
In stark contrast to the Jews who “received the word with all eagerness, examining the scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (17:11), other Jews gathered, staunch traditionalists, no doubt, less interested in examining Paul’s message than stirring up strife (17:13). They viewed Paul as the rabble-rouser upsetting Jewish tradition by preaching the culture-changing message of the Gospel.
The Gray and the Spirit
The word of God is an incredible tool for discerning his truth. We cannot hope to understand his will for our lives apart from it. It’s supposed to be written on our hearts, proclaimed by our tongues, and evident in our lives.
But the word of God comes alive for us because of the Spirit of God.
One of my favorite passages in the Bible is 1 Corinthians 2, where we learn that the Spirit of God replaces our feeble minds of flesh with the very mind of Christ. As we are conformed to his image, we are guided by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. We are sanctified, becoming more and more like Jesus, and able to discern truth.
We don’t do this lone wolf style, a side apart from the scriptures as our guide. Rather, the truth of the scriptures becomes illuminated by the indwelling power of this member of the godhead.
More Than Mysticism
Sometimes, our questions do arise from our flesh. They spring from an inherent desire that we must put to death daily, a desire that says, “Did God really say? Because I don’t want to obey him even if he did.”
But we cannot let those times overshadow when our questions come from the Spirit. Following the Spirit, we question not to shrug off God but to diligently search his word and hold it up against our culture’s rigid standards. Doing so will even make us willing to question evangelical culture’s standards so as to line them up with biblical truth.
For me, it was something as simple as taking on my teaching job last year. I was the committed stay-at-home mom of an infant and we were deep into our breastfeeding journey when the headmaster of a local classical school emailed me about an opening. I balked at the opportunity, letting the email sit unanswered in my inbox for months. “My primary commitment is to my son” was my wooden mental response.
Turns out, the school only needed me two days a week, and had a daycare on campus. I breastfed my son during my first interview, and he’s been toddling around during meetings since. My black-and-white thinking had to give way to the gray area of how a mom can learn to balance two important commitments. My black-and-white thinking made room for more than one commitment. And it’s been a glorious thing.
How did I know to take the job? Well, I prayed. I searched the scriptures. I discussed it with my husband. And my Spirit-filled self signed a contract, regardless of the (sub)culturally-inflicted mom-guilt of no longer technically being a full-time stay-at-home mom. And my son and I have flourished since then.
When the Spirit guides us through the gray, he shows us that fearing our questions is not the same as fearing a holy God. Sometimes, the gray is where we find God most present to meet us in our need.