Members of a Bible study I belonged to in Eugene often described life as “living in the gray.” (And they weren’t talking about the weather.) Over the course of various Bible studies we had done, we realized there were many instances in this world where things are neither black nor white. There are instances where one set of rules doesn’t always work.

That’s true even with the Ten Commandments. Consider: “Thou shall not bear false witness ...” The classic example is: If you were hiding Jews in World War II in Germany, and Nazis came and asked if you were hiding Jews, would you lie or tell the truth? Some believe one should tell the truth, believing God will take care of the consequences. Others believe one should lie for the greater good: saving the Jews in hiding. I can’t say which of those responses is right or wrong. I think I know what I would do in that instance, but without actually being there, I can’t accurately predict how I would respond.

That’s part of “living in the gray.” Not only are there times when our usual rules don’t work — we also don’t necessarily know how we will respond in a given situation until we’re actually in it.

So, if there’s no set of rules that we can always follow, how then do we live? Fortunately, our usual sets of rules, values, etc., do work much of the time. Most of the time, telling the truth is the best and right thing to do. Yet there are those instances when such absolutes don’t work. There may be times when there are no good options. In that moment, we must mindfully, and prayerfully, consider what is the best course of action in that particular situation.

I’ve found it helpful to consider what Jesus said about the greatest commandment: “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Mark 12:30-31a, NRSV). Considering what would be the most loving response, to God and to others, can be the best, if not always perfect, response, even if it’s not what our usual “rules” would dictate.

The other part of living in the gray is that there’s less room for us to judge how others respond to difficult situations. What’s right for one person may not be for another, and vice versa. What’s best in one time and place may not be in another.

And if, despite our best intentions and efforts, we still fail to do what’s best, we know that we have a God of grace, who will forgive us.

———

The Rev. Roberta Smythe is the pastor at Zion Lutheran and St. Peter’s Episcopal churches in La Grande, where she has served since September 2019. She previously served churches in north-central and northwest Montana. She was raised in the Oregon City area and has degrees from the University of Oregon and Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary.

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