It is easy to believe one thing passionately, to fight and die for that one thing, even. History is littered with the corpses of nameless people who believed one thing passionately enough to die for it. But it takes another breed of person entirely to passionately believe opposite things at the same time.That wishy washy person in your life might just be deep.
Is all sin the same?
You know when you’re really getting at the truth, because it often takes you in two completely opposite directions at the same time. Take, for example, the perennial Christian question, “Is all sin the same?” The answer to this is very clear. Yes, all sin is definitely the same. And no, it absolutely is not. It depends on how you think about sin, and — despite what many people will tell you — becoming the kind of person who can passionately believe both of these opposites at the same time is far harder than simply believing deeply in either of them. Sometimes people we call “flip-floppers” or “wishy washy” are just those who have learned to embrace mystery and paradox, which allow us to see the truth in completely opposite beliefs about the same thing.
Are all oak trees the same?
An example I commonly use to explain this is that of two oak trees, planted next to each other, one very large, and one very small. Obviously in the sense of size, they are vastly different. One is much bigger than the other. But what about in terms of “oakiness”? Think of the quality of “oakiness” as being whatever makes an oak tree an oak tree. The type of bark it has. The hardness of the wood. The shape of the leaves. The conditions under which it grows. Both trees share “oakiness” in common to the exact same degree. Using this example we can see that wisdom in this matter is in neither insisting passionately that the trees are different, or in insisting just as passionately they they are the same. Wisdom is found in understanding that they are both very much the same and very different.
Greater knowledge sees deeper truth
Back to the sin question, the problem we have when we talk about whether all sin is the same, or some sins are “worse” than others is precisely this: that all sin is equally “sinny,” and, at the same time, some sins are quite clearly much larger than others. The path of wisdom is to see both of these clearly. The pastor or theologian who is asked whether all sin is the same and answers both yes and no is not wishy-washy — he just sees the truth more clearly. Those with very small knowledge think it is wise and brave to believe one thing with complete passion. Those with greater knowledge have often grown large enough to passionately believe opposite things at the same time, because they know they are both true. Those wishy washy people might know something you don’t know, and even if they told you, you might shout at them, “For God’s sake, which is it?”
Churches fall into these camps
Churches can actually be distinguished by whether or not their leaders/teachers understand these critical nuances of thinking. The ones that don’t are labeled “conservative” or “liberal.” Both conservative and liberal thinking tends to be all-or-nothing, my way or the highway, the same ditch on the other side of the road. The ones that really do understand these nuances are always very small in number, and reject both the narrowness of fundamentalism and the anything-goes-ness of liberalism. Instead they cut a new path, take a road less traveled, and truly help their congregants learn to see in a completely different way. If we learned anything from Einstein, it is that things are usually not as they appear. It often takes great insight to understand what is really going on, and I aspire to be a leader who thinks carefully enough about spiritual and human truths to unwrap the mysteries that are always there, if we can just get past theological grandstanding and making determinations about whose doctrine is pure and whose isn’t.
How Christianity has tended to blow it
It’s a shame Christianity hasn’t been better at this, considering Jesus was a master of insight into the true nature of reality. Instead we have, by and large, and in most Christian traditions, traded in what I like to call “Elmer Fudd” theology, settling for hunting down the “wascally wabbits” who are asking us to think in new ways and getting them into the boiling pot as efficiently as possible, through excommunication, alienation, criticism, even murder if necessary. Remember, it was not atheists who killed Jesus, but well-meaning religious people who simply lacked the patience it would take to learn to see the world of which he spoke.
For more on learning to see in new ways, see my post called Making the Spiritual World Real.