Earlier today, I received a couple of e-mail messages from someone who first wished to inquire if I was a Seventh-Day Adventist, and then, after I explained some reasons why I was not, wished to give a quick and perhaps dismissive label to my beliefs about the nature of God, which I replied to briefly but enough to demonstrate that my beliefs could not be boxed in that easily, after which he had little to say in response. There is a subtle balance, I believe, that must exist in our understanding of things that is complex enough that it cannot be put into a box, because it requires nuance to deal with the nuance that exists in any true view of the world. If one’s beliefs can be accurately summed up in short phrases, one’s belief system is too simplistic, because one has failed to take heed of at least one side of a picture that requires addressing.
It must surely be admitted that for intellectuals, nuance may come easier than for others. Still, nuance does not come easily enough for many people, who seek to put themselves and their own thinking into boxes by serving the fashionable nonsense of this or any age. When people are trying to determine whether or not someone’s views are acceptable or not, most of the time they have in mind very brief tests of some sort of orthodoxy, questions that they think to be simple in nature but which often have to be answered in a more precise and more balanced way than is typical. Different people at different times will, based on the pious orthodoxies of their own situations, expect different simple answers, but these answers will inevitably be wrong because they will fail to take into account some aspect that complicates the picture and that forces us to wrestle with not only the right way to think about and feel about things, but also the right way to respond to the ethical dilemmas of our world.
It must also be admitted that there can sometimes be far too much use of nuance by some people–and again here intellectuals are often guilty of this–to try to explain away what are straightforward requirements in order to do what is right, by trying to reason away what is clear in favor of some sort of muddled picture that allows us freedom to act. This is not the sort of nuance that I am celebrating, that sort which allows people to wiggle out of their clear obligations to God and to other people. Rather, the sort of nuance that is to be celebrated is that nuance which allows us to overcome the false dilemmas that we are constantly being subjected to in a world of partial truths and narrow thinking. When people try to pit two virtues or two truths against each other rather than seeing how both of them are required for anyone to be right with God or others, we know that they are engaging in this thinking that seeks to divide and split up what should not be torn asunder, and that there is no truth or wisdom to be found in such sort of ways of thinking.
There is some caution, though, when it comes to being too clear and too open about where we stand in contentious issues about which people fight with more ferocity than wisdom. People constantly want to know what side you are going to be on, whether they will count you as a friend or an enemy, as an ally or as someone to be banished from polite society and consigned to some sort of bitter fate. If someone cannot consider you to be on their side and cannot put you in a box that allows them to easily understand you, they may very well be motivated to be so suspicious towards your thinking and hostile towards the complexity of your ways that they will put you in some other sort of box, a pine box, with six feet of soil over it as the only ground remaining where one is free to practice the truth, while sleeping in the grave and awaiting for a glorious resurrection into eternal life as part of God’s family.