I can be such an indecisive person. I struggle with choosing the best dish detergent, buying the most reliable tile saw, selecting the perfect song for a workout, even ordering the right tacos. Actually, no taco order is ever wrong. But seriously, making decisions can be hard for me. Because saying yes to one thing feels like I have to say no to everything else.
But this need not be the case. I think my indecisiveness is due in part to a false dichotomy regarding choices. It is actually not necessary to hold this either/or mindset that says choosing option A means that you are opposed to options B-Z. I believe we have settled for this reductionistic binary as our modus operandi for so much of life. And it contributes greatly to the polarizing and divisive state of our culture today.
Here is a very real and relevant example of how this plays out regularly in the current environment. If you hear someone say that “black lives matter” then you might be tempted to think that they hate police officers. Or conversely, if you hear someone say that we should be praying for our law enforcement then you might think that they are not concerned about the cries for justice among the black community. If you hear someone speak out against the violent riots then you might conclude that they are dismissive of matters of racism. Or if you see someone participating in a peaceful protest you might be led to believe that they condone looting. This is lazy or ignorant at best, and divisive or demonizing at worst.
When we settle for an either/or approach to complex issues, we are showing how very little we have humbly sought to view these issues. The either/or arguments in our culture need both/and responses.
In Joshua 5 there is this moment where the people of Israel are about to enter the land of Canaan under the leadership of Joshua. As they near the land they are confronted by the angel of the Lord. Joshua responds to this unfamiliar figure by asking an either/or question.
“Are you for us, or for our adversaries?”
We see Joshua falling into the trap of the either/or binary. There is no middle ground, no third option, no imaginative nuance within Joshua’s mental framework that would enable him to view this character as anything other than an ally or an enemy. Those are the only two categories he possesses.
So how does the angel of the Lord respond?
“No…but I am the commander of the army of the LORD.”
Isn’t that great? Joshua enters into the proverbial ring of simplistic either/or reasoning and the angel of the Lord refuses to follow after him. Joshua is operating under the assumption that what is most important is if God is on his side. He has failed to see that the paramount matter is if he is on God’s side.
Our job is not to get our opponents to align with us. And it is definitely not our job to get God to align with us. Our job is to make sure we are aligned with God and invite others to do the same.
When we fail to align our wills, desires, perspectives, and solutions with God’s agenda then we will easily find ourselves holding a myopic view that places people in one of two categories. For or Against. This is what Joshua did and this is what we are seeing played out in our culture, churches, and communities on a large scale today.
“Are you for my political party or are you for my political adversaries?”
“Are you for divine justice or are you for social justice?”
“Are you against the evils of racism or are you against the violence of rioting?”
“Are you for law enforcement or are you for the black community?”
“Are you for the rights of the unborn or are you for the rights of the underserved?”
“Are you for personal responsibility or are you against systemic oppression?”
Statements like these are being hoisted upon many people that we have unnecessarily made out to be our opponents, when in reality these things need not be mutually exclusive. We lack nuance in our ability to converse and thoughtfully consider how to respond to matters that are ripping our nation apart. And I am the first to admit my own failings in contributing to this divide.
Christian hip-hop artist, author, and pastor Shai Linne wrote a powerful article that in part speaks to the need for the church to offer both/and solutions to our culture’s either/or arguments. He pens these much-needed words:
“Just because I’ve made an intentional decision to focus on that which is ‘of first importance’ (1 Corinthians 15:3) doesn’t mean there aren’t other important things that need to be addressed in the church. It also doesn’t mean that being a Christian has exempted me from the reality of being a black man in America and all the stigma that comes with it.”
He goes on to share the tension he feels in having “genuine fellowship with my white brothers and sisters who share the same Reformed theology—until I mention racism, injustice, or police brutality, at which point I’m looked at skeptically as if I embrace a ‘social gospel’ or am some kind of ‘liberal’ or ‘social justice warrior.’”
Friends, we will not make progress nor will we establish any kind of meaningful unity around matters of justice and reconciliation in the church, in our community, in our homes, in our city, and in our country until we see the futility of either/or arguments and the need for both/and solutions.
For our hope is in a both/and King who is fully divine AND fully human. This both/and King proclaimed a both/and message about spiritual AND material restoration (Matthew 4:23, Romans 8:18-23, Colossians 1:15-20), word AND deed (1 John 3:16-18, Titus 2:11-14, James 2:14-26), divine justice AND social justice (John 3:16-18, Luke 4:16-21, Psalm 146:5-10), personal repentance AND corporate repentance (Matthew 4:17, Daniel 9).
May we be a both/and people who embrace the both/and mission of God by declaring and displaying the both/and message of the gospel.
ARTICLE: Biblical Righteousness Is a Four-Paned Window by Carl Ellis
BOOK: Generous Justice by Tim Keller
VIDEO: Justice by The Bible Project