Long, long ago, in college classrooms far, far away there were no personal computers. In fact, there was simply one little basement room in the entire campus of my college that had two or three computer monitors and a computer system that ran paper cards. Really. This was the era in which I took my first computer programming class. (Truth be told, I despised that class. Attention to detail is not my strength, so every time I had an extra space or a mis-placed keystroke in the code I wrote, the program would not run. Then I would spend hours trying to find and fix my error. But I digress…) My biggest takeaway from BASIC programming was that computer programs run on a binary system of rapidly processed continuous choices between “1” and “0.” That’s it. (Remember that next time you spend $1000 on a laptop!)
A Binary Culture
Do you ever feel like our culture is operating inside of a computer? Have you noticed that so much that poses as discussion is couched in binary ways?
If you spend any time on social media, or on cable news, or in political theater, you are likely to find yourself regularly bombarded with either-or propositions. This or that. Them or us. Rich or poor. Rural or urban. Black or white. Is this really the nature of God’s universe? Do we live in a static computer program or in a dynamic universe held together by God’s power? Does God reveal himself through a set of binary propositions or does he reveal himself through his Word and his world? So much of what the Scripture teaches us is that life is lived in tension. There is not only conflict between good and evil—which I am not discounting—but also a literal tension between two right things. Christ was described by John as “full of grace and truth.” That is noteworthy because it requires so much godly tension. Grace AND truth. Fallen human beings are prone to one or the other. Jesus as the only perfect human being flawlessly exhibited both. While none of us can possibly perfectly emulate Christ, by the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit we are called to be conformed more and more to his image.
What I am asking each of us to reflect on is this: “Where am I presenting or embracing a binary stance where there is a biblical call to embrace the tension between two good things?” Authentic discipleship often requires us to hold good things together in a way that actually requires energy from us. Not the kind of energy we inflict on others when we view them as enemy combatants, but the type of emotional energy of listening to what is good and right and true in another person’s statement and then lovingly and courageously dialoguing about where the tension of another good thing may be necessary. We need to be prayerfully reflective about where we might need to lose the word “or” and instead seek where we can add the word “and.”
The Already-Not-Yet Tension
In the great meta-narrative of Scripture, the overarching story starts with Creation, is quickly interrupted by the Fall of humanity, God responds immediately with the beginning of a long period of the pathway of Redemption, and one day all will be made right and regenerated upon the Consummation of all things. Creation. Fall. Redemption. Consummation. In any story it is really important to know “where you are.” We live in the long period of Redemption. That redemption was promised in the Garden; procured by Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection; and is proclaimed—in word and deed—by the Church as the agents of Christ’s kingdom.
The kingdom of God in which we live is in a state of “already-not-yet.” It is here in part, but it will not be here in all its fullness until Christ returns. That means, as Christians, we live with a lot of tension in this lifetime. The very nature of already-not-yet is full of tension. I once heard Tim Keller speak about the aspects of the kingdom of God this way: upside-down, inside-out, and forwards-backwards. Gospel values are upside-down to cultural values, gospel transformation happens inside-out, and gospel hope reaches forward and brings that eternal hope, incompletely, into the present. Tension, tension, tension. Not binary, binary, binary.
Next time we read, or hear, or begin to espouse a binary position—can we each please stop and prayerfully consider if we need to replace an “or” with an “and.” Truth AND grace. Justice AND mercy. Freedom AND responsibility. Love AND limits. Already AND not yet.
About the Author:
Steph served as Director of Mission to North America’s (MNA) Special Needs Ministries from 2007 to 2016. She currently works as a Research Fellow in Disability Ministry in partnership with Covenant Theological Seminary. She also serves on the Lancaster Christian Council on Disability (LCCD). Steph is the author of Same Lake, Different Boat: Coming Alongside People Touched by Disability and All Things Possible: Calling Your Church Leadership to Disability Ministry. She has been published in ByFaith magazine, Focus on the Family magazine, and Breakpoint online magazine and has produced a Christian Education DVD series based on Same Lake, Different Boat. Steph and her husband, Fred, have been married for 34 years. They have two deeply loved adult sons: Fred and Tim, the younger of whom has Down syndrome.