The Black & White Thinking Christian

Here’s Part 8 of the Black & White Thinking Series.  I would encourage you, at minimum, to read Part 1 (Introduction), Part 2 (Biblical Lens), and Part 3 (Grace) before reading this blog.  Part 4 (Mental Illness), Part 5 (Depression), Part 6 (Anxiety), and Part 7 (Pride) can be read by clicking the appropriate links.

black-and-white-puzzle-profileWhether in the counseling office, at church, or at home, all of us either know a person who thinks more Black & White, or we are one.  Christians are as different from one another as the rest of the world are from each other.  Our shared beliefs in Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection, & our trust in His Word unite us together to live out our faith together at a local church.  Yet, how we live out our faith can be very different than the next person.  How we interpret Scriptures, perceive events, and treat our fellow Christians will partly depend on whether our thinking is more Black & White or Relational.  This particular Blog is more about how the Black & White Thinker lives out their faith.

As stated in previous blogs, Black & White Thinkers focus often focus more on the fruit (the actions & behaviors) than they do the heart (motives, desires), although the heart is certainly acknowledged. Typically, in the heart of the Black & White Thinking Christian, the motives tend to be more focused on the importance of obedience to the Word / Law (you can also exchange “law” for expectation or standard) and living a life that demonstrates this.  If you are not obedient, which is right, you are disobedient, which is wrong.  And if you are wrong, consequences are deserved.  And basically, this would be correct.  The Black & White Thinking Christian emphasizes obedience in his or her Christianity, yet may have more difficulty feeling or understanding the relational component that is also important in the Christian faith.  While some acknowledge that Christianity is not about religion, but a relationship, the relationship is often lived out by works, which may tend to lean toward religion.

“I’m a Christian.  I believe all Jesus did for me.  Now, just tell me what to do and I will do it.”  Devotions and service, for example, stem from the desire to be a good (not bad) Christian. Relational individuals will focus more on God’s love for them and their love for God as motivation for doing something for Him, and may tend to de-emphasize the obedience to God.  Black & White Thinking Christians tend to focus more on obedience to God and have difficulty with less concrete things such as the feelings and emotions of faith.  According to Jesus’ words in John (14:15, 23), “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” or “obey me.”  This verse captures the love of a Black & White Thinking Christian towards God…it is demonstrated mostly through obedience.

One of the main concerns of Black & White Thinking Christians in the church and in family life is that grace becomes a license for people to sin and do what they want (see Romans 6:1-2) . This is one of the reasons grace is a difficult concept for many.  If you give grace (a relational concept) to others, then others will take advantage, they won’t learn, and they will be more disobedient.  If fellow Christians live by grace (as opposed to obedience), they will not act regularly according to His Word.  Since obedience is such an important dimension of faith, grace seems to stand in contradiction to obedience.  What the Black & White Thinking Christian needs to comprehend on a greater level is that while remaining true to being obedient to God, it is God’s grace that empowers such obedience. If you haven’t already, please read the Blog on Grace & the Black & White Thinker for more on this…

While recognizing that overemphasizing grace (some call it cheapening grace) and overemphasizing obedience (religion) is a danger to our faith, Black & White Thinking Christians ought to be cautious of not judging others by the standards of obedience. Obedience is certainly important in the life of a believer, but it is not the standard by which others are measured (as good/real or bad/fake Christians).  Christ’s obedience on the cross is the measure of obedience necessary for us to be considered righteous by faith.

One additional caution for Black & White Thinking Christians is to recognize that relationship is just as necessary as obedience.  This relationship between God and us was made possible only through God’s love and grace (“We love because God first loved us” – 1 Jn 4:19), and was never made possible through our own actions.  We will never be able to earn God’s favor, love, or attention through our works.  Therefore, all of us, Relational and Black & White Thinking Christians alike, need to remember to focus specifically on Him and His love and Grace through the cross, and not focus on our own or other people’s works.  Our treatment of others must reflect our relationship with God through Christ, based on His grace and mercy to us, and not on whether others are obedient or not (good or bad Christians).

Finally, I would also argue that paying attention to the vertical relationship with God through Christ will help us to be able to acknowledge our own blindness.  Often, while focusing on obedience to certain standards, we can be blinded to the relational commands in Scripture.  For example, we may speak truth to those who are disobedient,  but we are often blinded to the fact that in speaking truth, we do not speak it “in love” (Eph 4:15). When speaking the truth overshadows the “in love” part, the truth spoken ceases to carry any weight of the Truth (with a capital “T”).

Black & White Thinking Christians are very important to the Body of Christ.  Although I’ve mentioned some weaknesses and cautions, let me share one significant strength as well. The Black & White Thinking Christian’s passion to stand for the Truth and the Word of God is exemplary, and often guides and challenges others around them (hopefully in a good way). Though personal feelings may heavily influence interpretation of a Relational person, feelings are typically submissive to the Truth with Christian Black & White Thinkers. Any feelings that are present are more of a response to Truth (or of other people’s not believing the Truth) than an actual guide for discovering or learning Truth. Without this anchor to the Truth, the Christian faith can easily become watered down if we gave in to the demands of “feel good” culture or even the fears of our hearts.  If we cannot stand with the Truth, we will fall with this world.

There is so much more that can be said of Black & White Thinking Christians that has not been said in this blog.  Hopefully, in reading the series, additional insights can be gleaned throughout that can bring some clarity to our differences in our world views.  My hope is to one day put all this together into a resource for many…

(Note: The Black & White Series is based on observations and conversations with many individuals in the counseling office and beyond, and includes various insights into the Scriptures as well.  While not stating all that is said in these blogs are Truth, the series is meant to be a starting point for further discussion and perhaps help us to understand, love, and live out our faith and relationships better.  That being said, I would love to dialogue with you and hear your thoughts and add to the discussion and one another’s understanding.  So, in that spirit, let me ask you: What other areas do you see are different for the Black & White Thinking Christian?  What challenges or questions do you have that you can add to the discussion?  I hope to hear from you soon!)

When Black & White Thinking is Ruled by Pride

This is part 7 in the Black & White Thinking Series.  Click on these links for Part 1 (Intro), Part 2 (Biblical Lens), Part 3 (Grace), Part 4 (Mental Illness?), Part 5 (Depression), and Part 6 (Anxiety).

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Let’s be honest, pride is something all of us have.  I’m not talking about pride as in “taking pride in our work” kind of pride.  No, I’m talking about the self-centered, self-aggrandizing, self-focus, all about me kind of pride.  The kind of self-centeredness that all of us have inside of us, thanks to that inherited sinful nature all of us have received from Adam & Eve.

Our pride and self-centeredness manifests itself in different ways.  At times it occurs in subtle ways that nobody really notices, such as in our unspoken thoughts.  At times it can be disguised in our kindness to others, while we are doing the acts for our own benefit. Other times, it is seen and heard by others in comments, conversations, and actions.

While pride is present in everyone, all of us seem to have one or two areas that seem to be displayed more frequently than other areas.  Authors Paul Tripp & Tim Lane, in their book, Relationships: A Mess Worth Making, describe many areas of pride that are present in our lives.  They are self-centeredness (seeks attention & approval), self-rule (seeks to be right, in control), self-sufficiency (seeks independence), self-satisfaction (seeks pleasure), self-righteousness (seeks to be right in eyes of others), & self-taught (seeks to give opinion). Personally, as I look at this list, I see all of them in me, though self-centeredness and self-satisfaction seem to be more prevalent in my life.

As previously mentioned in other blogs, Black & White Thinkers simplify their judgments into whatever is good/bad, black/white, or right/wrong.  When pride is present, admitting wrong is tantamount to being wrong or bad.  And if you “can’t” be wrong, than you must be right and others are wrong.  When pride reigns in the Black & White Thinker, self-righteousness and self-rule are often the two highest heart struggles on the list dealing with pride.  The need to be right and to be right in other’s eyes lends itself to making justifications, excuses, blaming, etc. for personal actions in order to convince themselves and others that they are in the right (and others in the wrong).  Truth be told, all of us do this, Relational and Black & White Thinkers alike.  However, when pride reigns in the Black & White Thinker’s heart, the justifications, blaming, and excuses are regular occurrences.  Additionally, if being “right” is considered “good” and being “wrong” is considered “bad” (heart), then the tendency to look at self as better and others as worse is demonstrated in bragging, insults, and criticisms (fruit).

Similarly, I had mentioned that Black & White Thinkers are likened to the Pharisees in Scripture who obey the “law” or standards.  That is, anyone who falls short of obeying the law deserves punishment.  The Pharisees started with God’s Law, and then added thousands of other laws on top of God’s laws so that the original laws would not be violated.  When Black & White Thinkers make their own laws or standards in their own homes and then require others to follow them, they can become controlling through criticisms and conflicts, and they may look down upon others who don’t meet their standards.  This occurs in emotionally or physically abusive relationships.  Their laws or standards are high for others, and they can’t admit to being wrong, so their actions and beliefs are justified, excused, or blame is placed elsewhere.

Of course, it is important to note that abusive relationships are more likely to occur when pride REIGNS in Black & White Thinkers, not if pride is simply PRESENT.  The presence of pride in our lives means that we are fallen humanity living in a fallen world.   The reign of pride means that we are completely absorbed in ourselves and we are moving towards what psychologists would call narcissistic.  In order to keep pride from reigning in our hearts, it is essential to recognize that we are indeed wrong (sinful) and that it is OK to be wrong. That doesn’t mean that we are to pursue wrong-doing, of course, but simply to expect it as fallen human beings.  Our wrongness, per se, does not impact our value or worth as humans, but it does help us recognize the great love Christ has for us which is not based on our wrong-doing, but on his love.  This is the path to humility.  As we recognize and believe these things, and we seek Christ, he begins to change us inwardly so that pride does not reign in our hearts.

“God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6, Prov 29:23)

Black & White Thinking in Anxiety

The following is Part 6 in the Black & White Thinker Series.  Click on these links for Part 1 (Intro), Part 2 (Biblical Lens), Part 3 (Grace), Part 4 (Mental Illness?), and Part 5 (Depression).

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Anxiousness is something we have all experienced.  We worry about our children, our jobs, or our schooling.  We feel anxious when we have an interview, speak or sing in public, or have some event or activity we are not used to (& sometimes which we do all the time).

I remember the time when I asked my wife to marry me.  I had told her I would propose to her after she received the twelfth rose from me.  So, throughout perhaps two months, I had given her one rose, maybe two at a time until it came to the last few roses. We were at a restaurant in Connecticut and I left her at the table to “go to the restroom.”  I then went to my car’s trunk where I had the final roses and walked back into the restaurant and proceeded on bended knee to ask for her hand.  Why I was so anxious then, I have no idea. I knew she would accept my proposal, yet the anxiety I felt was pretty high, probably because this was the biggest decision of my life (and one of the best!).

High amounts of anxiety that disrupt everyday life are considered anxiety disorders. Often, these high levels of anxieties lead to compulsions to ease the anxieties.  This is where Obsessive Compulsive Disorders (OCD) come in.  Certain fears reign in the heart and ruminate in the mind and the only way to quell the fear is to obey the compulsion.  The fear is an itch that MUST be scratched, and the compulsion is the scratch.

Anxiety occurs because we are fearful.  The greater the fear, the greater the anxiety.  If we are only slightly afraid of spiders, we will avoid them or get others to kill them. If we are deathly afraid of them, we will probably freak out.

Black & White Thinking shows up in several ways with anxiety.  First, Black & White Thinking occurs when the level of fear goes quickly past “slightly afraid” to “Mostly/all afraid” (all or nothing).  The fear becomes so intense that there is only one way that can end it (the compulsion).  It has to be all afraid or not afraid.  The compulsion is completed either right or wrong.  It is either handled perfectly, or it is unacceptable.  An OCD individual who is fearful of germs is compelled to wash in a way that they KNOW will quell the fear (the right way), at least temporarily.  If they do it wrong (the wrong way), the fear intensifies.  There is no settling or “good enough” mentality when dealing with fear.  One cannot simply wash their hands once, it has to be ___ times to be right and to work.

A second way Black & White Thinking is involved in anxieties is with those who struggle with perfectionism (something, I believe, is found more in Black & White thinkers). Perfectionists often struggle with anxiety or depression because their standards are so high (that’s the “all” in “all or nothing”).  They MUST achieve a certain standard and to do less or perform poorly is to fail.  Many Black & White Thinkers will work extremely hard to measure up to their (ALL) standards.  The standards are so high that it produces anxieties trying to meet them, as if these standards were given by a ruthless dictator threatening their lives.  Panic, fear, and stress reign trying to please an insatiable tyrant.  If these high standards have been set for other people, it is very likely they will experience anxieties while they are trying to make the Black & White Perfectionist happy.  This has been known to cause many problems in relationships.

Black & White Thinking may also occur with everyday worries and anxieties.  When we worry, we often think about worst case scenarios.  “Something bad happened to them!” “They could be laying on the side of the road, dead!”  “I’m going to look like a fool!”  “I’m going to fail!” “I’ll be rejected!” Dwelling on worst case scenarios is in itself Black & White Thinking. Worriers reason that if they think of the worst case scenario, at least they will be prepared for the worst.  But they’ve also lost time, energy, and or rest in the present while predicting an unlikely future outcome.

Recognizing that Black & White Thinking is present in anxiety is important so that we see our active involvement in our anxiety.  Anxiety is not simply something that happens to you, but something you can address.  If we know we are actively involved in our worries, we can also be actively involved in our healing as well.  When we feel anxious, we can note (write down) our thoughts and begin to exchange them with the Truth.  Yet our thoughts are not simply the only thing that ought to change, but our hearts as well.  As we experience anxious thoughts, it’s important to recognize that anxiety is fear, and God speaks to our fears.  Replacing our Black & White Thoughts with the truths of God as mentioned in Scripture, and believing them, will be important for change.

If you did a search throughout Scripture, each time the words “fear not” or “Don’t be afraid” are spoken, there is a promise either before or after most of them.  “Fear not, for I am with you” (Isa 41:10).  “Fear not.  I have redeemed you.  I have called you by name” (Is 43:1). “Do not be afraid….for the Lord your God will be with you” (Josh 1:9).  “The Lord Himself will go before you and will be with you.  Do not be afraid” (Deut 31:8).  It is in these promises of his presence and faithfulness to us that we are to take comfort, because they come from a God who is Love and who speaks to us when we are anxious.  They come from a God who will never leave us nor forsake us.  They come from a God who promises that ALL THINGS work together for the good of those who love Him (Rom 8:28).

As we continue the Black & White Thinker Series, we will be moving on to Black & White Thinking in Relationships, such as in marriage and in parenting.  Then we will be concluding the series with a “How to Change if you are a Black & White Thinker” and a “How to Counsel” Black & White Thinkers.

 

 

 

Black & White Thinking in Depression

The following blog is Part 5 in the Black & White Thinking Series.  Click on the links for Part 1 (Introduction), Part 2 (Biblical Lens), Part 3 (Grace), and Part 4 (Mental Illness?).

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According to the Mayo Clinic, depression is “a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest.”  It is characterized by low energy or fatigue, change in appetite and sleep, low self-esteem, poor concentration or inability to make decisions, and feelings of hopelessness.  Feelings of guilt, shame, being unloved, and numb feelings can be oppressive and lead to inactivity and loneliness.  The more severe the depression is, the more likely the oppression seems to control you (thoughts, actions, mood, etc.), which means the more you feel powerless to control yourself.

Some of the writings about depression state that the depression itself causes thought patterns.  Though I am unsure as to whether depression itself causes negative thought patterns, I can certainly say that they are present in depression.  One of the common thought patterns found in depression is Black & White Thinking.

b_w-diagram-1If we take a look at the diagram on the left, we see the green ball which represents the actions or words of another, or events that take place.  The Black & White Thinker hears the words (green ball) and they are interpreted (fall all the way down the triangle) as either “all or nothing” or “black & white.”  There is no stopping the interpretation until it reaches the bottom. For example, a student who is depressed will tell herself after receiving a “B” on a test: “I failed it.  I’m stupid.”  A father who did not handle a situation well will tell himself, “I’m a lousy father.  I’m a failure.”  The event happened and the interpretation of themselves goes to one side or the other.  But a “B” certainly is not failing, but far from it! The father may not have handled a situation well, but that does not mean that he is a horrible father as he has probably done many things well!  In Black & White Thinking, the simple conclusion is that it has to be one or the other.  To conclude that a “B” is not stupid or that a good father can make poor decisions is difficult to comprehend, let alone believe.

People struggling with depression make similar conclusions about themselves.  “I am unloved.”  “No one really cares.” “I am a failure.”  “All is hopeless.” “Nothing will help me.”  When Black & White Thinking is present and its conclusions are believed, the depression gets worse.

We not only feel oppressed by our depression, but we also participate in our depression.  In other words, we not only feel it, but we do it.  We actively (or passively) engage in our depression.  We may wear dark clothes, think depressive thoughts, remain in bed, and basically obey our feelings.  At times, we may not feel as though we have a choice, even though we do.

In order to combat the Black & White Thinking in Depression (or in general), new conclusions based on a different Truth needs to be introduced.  This new Truth is not based on one’s own flawed interpretation, but it is a Truth based on God’s Word.

Take a look at the second Diagram to the right.  Here, wb_w-diagram-2e see that with the intervention of God’s Truth, the green ball does not fall to the previous Black & White conclusion, but instead falls a shorter distance.  And what are these new conclusions based on God’s Truth? Let’s go back to the examples.  In both cases, the Truth of God’s Word (based on Rom 2:8, 3:23, 8:1; Jn 3:16) is the following, “I may not have done as well as I would have liked, or maybe even failed, yet I can expect to do poorly at times as ‘All have sinned and fall short.’ But who I am is based on Christ’s actions for me, not on my own actions (grace).  Therefore,  I may have failed, but I am not a failure.  I am loved, worthwhile, blessed, cherished, and adored by Him…not because of what I have or have not done, but because of who He is.”  Or perhaps these Truths may be better for others: “I know I failed or did poorly.  My failures were taken to the cross by Jesus.  Therefore, I do not need to punish myself any further, as my punishment fell on Christ.”  When these Truths become more important than personal truths and conclusions, and when they are trusted and believed more than one’s own truths, there is progress made for those who struggle with Depression.

It sounds simple enough, yet it is difficult for someone who is depressed to think differently as they have been thinking this way for a long period of time.  At times, medication may be necessary to lift the person up to be able to challenge their own thinking successfully.  Other times, medication is not necessary at all.  It may be necessary only having accountability and a list of God’s truths available to rehearse, repeat, and challenge the Black  & White Thinking.

What are some other examples of Black & White Thinking found in Depression?  How about truths that have helped?

Black & White Thinking is not only found in Depression, but it is also found in Anxiety as well.  Next week, we will take a look at Black & White Thinking found in Anxiety Disorders and God’s Truths that will help!

Black & White Thinking – A Mental Illness?

This is Part 4 in the Black & White Series.  Click here for Part 1, Part 2, & Part 3.

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So far, I have been viewing Black & White Thinking as a type of thinking that, like Relational Thinking, and in its purest form, reflects God the Father.  Meaning that God the Father, as our creator and creator of this world, defines right and wrong, good and bad, light and darkness, etc.  He is the One who defines what is Holy and what is not.  He is able to judge the actions and motives of humanity justly and right. And God is the one who stands on truth because He is the Truth.  Yet, God is also Relational, as we see throughout His constant interactions with us and His Son being sent to reconcile us to Himself.

I have also stated that there are weaknesses in Black & White Thinking inside of us, that it is often legalistic (Pharisaical) and that faith in Christ and an understanding of grace can help move someone from being Black & White to being more Relational.  Yet we have only touched the surface of Black & White Thinking.  If you were to google Black & White Thinking, most of the articles will show the worst parts of this “cognitive disorder” and will take you on a journey thinking that maybe you, too (if you’re a Black & White Thinker), have Borderline Personality Disorder,  or Dissociative Identity Disorder, or are narcissistic.  So perhaps now is a good time to differentiate between Black & White Thinking vs a “Mental Illness.”

Black & White Thinking is present in many (if not all) of us in different areas and different times in our lives.  Most of us have areas in our lives which we see as right or wrong, good or bad, either – or, etc. These are moral judgments we make about actions, people (including ourselves), and things that are important to us.  One such area that we have seen recently is in the polarizing of politics.  If you’re not a Conservative Republican, you must be a Liberal Democrat.  Isn’t there any other option or only the two?  Yet, the Black & White Thinking may not apply to all areas in our lives.  Often, as people mature and are involved in relationships, some of the black & white thinking begins to erode and relationships are able to function better.

According to NAMI (National Institute for Mental Illness), a mental illness/disorder is defined as “a condition that affects a person’s thinking, feeling or mood.”  Black & White Thinking would be considered a mental disorder if it is a pattern that causes suffering or a poor ability to function in life.  Meaning that if the Black & White Thinking negatively effects success in relationships, jobs, or other activities, most Psychiatrists or Psychologists would consider this extremely harmful (and I would agree).  Black & White Thinking is not listed as a Mental Disorder or Illness, yet this type of thinking is found in Mental Illnesses such as narcissism, depression, anxiety, etc (more on these in a  later blog).  It is also found in those struggling with disabilities such as Autism Spectrum Disorders.  I think it is fair to conclude that Black & White Thinking is not a Mental Illness in itself, but it is a common trait found in mental illnesses.  I believe we can also conclude that not all people who think in Black & White have a Mental Illness. The differentiating aspect is whether it effects and to what extent it effects everyday relationships and employment.  This is one of the reasons it is so important to tackle this type of thinking, and for Christians, to tackle it Biblically.

The term Mental Illness or Mental Disorder is not used in Scripture, but that does not mean that the Scriptures are silent or cannot speak to those diagnosed with Mental Illnesses. And it certainly doesn’t mean that only Psychotherapy can speak into Mental Health issues.  No, the Bible is relevant for all of our struggles and suffering and for those who think Relationally or Black & White.  In the next few blogs, we will be looking at Black & White Thinking in Depression, Anxiety, and in relationships.  In addition, we’ll take a closer look at how Black & White Thinking combined with pride can even lead to Narcissism and abuse.

 

 

 

 

 

Grace & the Black & White Thinker

gracechangeseverythingThis is part three of the Black & White Thinker Series.  Click for The Introduction (Part 1) or Black & White Thinking Through a Biblical Lens (Part 2).

Today, I wanted to look at the most important truth that all Black & White Thinkers ought to consider, and that is the necessity for Grace.  Grace is a difficult truth to comprehend for anyone, let alone the Black & White Thinker.  Due to the intangibleness of grace, meaning that it is not in itself observable or measurable (though the effects in a person’s life are more so), it remains elusive to many who have been enslaved to the Black and White Thinking.

As I read Paul’s letters in the New Testament, I would label him as the most Influential Black & White Thinker of the Bible.  Since we see Black & White Thinking amidst the Pharisees (based on the strict adherence to the Law) and Paul labelled himself as “pharisee” (Php 3:5, Acts 23:6), it would seem that he leaned towards this type of thinking. Also, we are told of his actions (prior to conversion – as Saul) and his zealousness for the law, how he was trained in the law and supported himself by giving “consequences” for those who disobeyed the law (persecuting Christians), so we can probably conclude that he was a Black & White Thinker, but with the added passion for justice (as defined by the Pharisees).

As Saul was living by the law and persecuting the Christians, he had a life-changing experience on the Road to Damascus.  He was stopped and approached in a miraculous way by a Relational Jesus.  Jesus simply asked him this, “Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4).  This question has profound implications for Saul.  Though he was blinded by the light, he began to see for the first time that his understanding and actions, ones that he thought were right, were actually wrong.  Not only wrong, but his thinking and subsequent actions had personally impacted Jesus Christ.  Now, Saul wasn’t a believer at this point, but after such a supernatural experience with Jesus, he certainly became one.

After considering his horrible actions and the Lord’s call for him to be an instrument for Christ, and after receiving gospel training, Saul (now named Paul) became aware of  a different law at work.  He moved from living by the law of works, to living by the law of grace.  Grace became a topic he wrote about frequently and included in his letters to the churches.  Most of Paul’s letters started with the following exhortation: “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”  Paul spoke about grace regularly so that the people of God would know that “it is by grace you are saved, not by works.”  Paul’s recognition of the grace of God would move him from being a person who thinks in black and white to one who thinks more relationally through grace.  That is, our relationship with God is not one that is earned by us, but one that occurs only by the grace and mercy of God through Christ.

Now, does this mean that Paul ceased all black and white thinking?  I don’t think so entirely, but I do think the Black and White Thinking decreased significantly with the inclusion of Grace in his life.  Paul still called for strict consequences for those who sinned, but he also was willing to show grace and mercy to those who asked for forgiveness (see 1 Cor 5:11-12, Titus 3:9-11, 2 Cor 2:5-11).

If you are a Black & White Thinker longing to grow in your faith and relationships with those around you, I would strongly recommend growing in your understanding and application of grace.  One great book on Grace is called Transforming Grace by Jerry Bridges. This resource will help you to see how we set up laws in our hearts for ourselves and people and how we can live by grace.  (For another blog on this, click here.)  Don’t simply read a book on grace and be done, but surround yourself with godly men or women to comprehend grace and apply it to your lives and relationships.  It was meeting Jesus and his grace that transformed Saul and set him on a new course for his life and relationships with God and others, and it is the understanding and application of grace that will transform our lives, too.

Black & White Thinking Through a Biblical Lens

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As we continue to explore Black & White Thinking through the lens of Scripture (see 1st post here), we want to acknowledge a couple of things:

1) Black & White Thinking is a type of lens or filter a person naturally uses to interpret the world and make decisions (right or wrong, good or bad, etc).

2) It is a definitive moral characteristic of God (defining right & wrong) and as image-bearers, is possessed by many as a type of interpretive moral lens.

3) It is also tainted or stained by our inherent and personal sin/pride and is prone to lead to self-righteousness (Pharisaical), conflict and broken relationships (the more black & white thinking there is, the more difficult for relationships to be successful).

4) We are not solely Black & White Thinkers or Relational Thinkers.  It is not an either/or type of thinking (it would be Black & White for me to say so).  Yet the more Black & White Thinking we have, the more likely we are to live by the Law (standards & expectations, etc.).

In Luke 15, Luke shares a parable of Jesus that attempts to reach the heart of the black and white thinker (or the Pharisee).  In this Parable (Prodigal Son), Jesus speaks of the one son who did everything wrong.  He essentially told his father he wished he were dead, took his inheritance before the father passed, was greedy, selfish, and lived his life for himself.  Meanwhile, this whole time, the older brother chose to honor his father, remained with the father, worked for his father, etc.  He basically did everything right.  But when the younger brother returned and saw his father’s mercy and reinstatement into the family, the older brother was incensed and refused to come to the party to celebrate his return.

The older Brother mentality is the same as the Black & White Thinker, which is the same as the Pharisees.  Here is the thought process:  The older brother saw the actions of the younger brother and his father’s hurt, all while he himself is doing the good and right thing.  The interpretation is that the younger brother sinned by doing wrong, while the older brother did not.  What is concluded, therefore, is that the younger brother does not deserve what a good person (himself) deserves.  The Black & White Thinker’s abiding law is “If you serve well, you deserve well.  If you serve poorly, you deserve nothing.”  Tangible rewards and consequences are to be earned solely on merit, nothing more and nothing less.  The merit system has worked well for places of employment for bosses and employees, but falls short in deeper, personal relationships.

What the older brother needed to know, was that even though there is right and wrong, the relationship with the offending party is significant when considering one’s response to actions.  In other words, actions alone do not dictate rewards and consequences, but rewards & consequences are dictated by relationship, too.  The older brother did not consider the relationship as an important factor when considering a reward or consequence.  Anything given more or less than what was deserved, especially if compared to what he received (Lk 15:29), was seen as unfair.

What the older brother did not realize was that he himself had developed a self-righteous attitude.   He thought that he was better than the younger brother because of his loyal and dedicated works.  Yet he failed to see that he needed the father’s mercy and grace as much as the younger brother.

Even the younger brother had thoughts similar to the older brother (although we can’t say if he was a Relational or a Black & White Thinker, only a self-centered son who later repented).  As the younger brother returned, he thought he should be treated like one of his father’s servants.  He thought he did not deserve to be given anything more considering all he had done, yet he was most likely surprised by his father’s loving response that was not deserved.

At the end of the parable, the audience (Pharisees, Black & White Thinkers) are left with an invitation from the father (God) to celebrate that a broken relationship was restored (Lk 15:31-32).  The older son was invited to recognize and celebrate the importance of a person who comes to repent and to put aside resentments, self-righteousness, and slander towards an undeserving person.  Jesus was inviting all of his listeners to see our relationship with him and others as one not built on actions and rewards, but on forgiveness, love, mercy, and grace.  These are the essential ingredients of what close relationships are built upon.

The Black & White Thinker typically has an older brother mentality.  He will look at actions and rewards, he will probably compare himself and his actions to others and will probably have the tendency to see himself as better than others and even more deserving.  He may see things as fair or unfair and may even become angry when others get what they don’t deserve or when he doesn’t get what he thinks he deserves.

Jesus’ message to the Pharisees in this passage is for them to recognize that the Father’s response to sinners is not simply about actions and the law of works (you get what you deserve).   No, Jesus’ message is for them to recognize that when a sinner repents from their ways, the Father is ready and willing to accept them and give what they don’t deserve…a full relationship with the Father that is not built upon works, but upon the Father’s grace.  Without grace, relationships often fail or are shallow, at best.

Grace is a difficult concept to accept for hard-core Black & White Thinkers (it is even for Relational Thinkers!), yet it is essential for us to understand and believe.  This will be the topic for the next blog: Grace and the Black & White Thinker.