Is the World Black and White or is it Gray?

Reviewing the book by William Willimon, Fear of the Other, a timely choice for my spirituality book club as fear seems to be coming out of the closet in a way it never has. There are so many points Willimon makes but I will focus on only one now, perhaps get to others in later blogs:

Willimon quotes Solzhenitsyn: “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties…but right through every human heart.” (The Gulag Archipelago)

I have been critical of black and white thinkers but this passage clarifies one thing. The contrasts are real between good and evil, right and wrong, even left and right. Gray is attacked by some as wishy-washy and confusing to those trying to live well or to teach their children the proper way to behave. I get that. But Willimon makes me think that problem is not gray vs. black and white thinking, but the fact that the contrasts live within each of us. We are all somewhat good and somewhat evil.

Consider the image of a cup half empty, often used to describe one’s spiritual state of being. Instead of a cup that is not quite full and needing to be filled, perhaps I am a cup full of water and oil. The two don’t mix well unless the cup is shook up and that is the state of most people…shook up. It isn’t until one settles down that one can see there are actually two elements. And consider the possibility that one’s goal in life is to separate out the oil, evil, so that only water, good, remains.

I don’t know where else to go with the metaphor. I just know that what Willimon is teaching with his use of Solzhenitsyn’s words, is that we are wrong to keep seeing the world as parts that are either black kind or white. All parts are both, in different measure for sure. One may be mostly water with just a few drops of oil, another mostly oil with just a smidgen of water. Only God knows the proportion. But we aren’t getting anywhere as a race if we don’t face up to the fact that we, each of us, you and I, and all the other people, bear within us both good and evil.

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