HEADS OR TAILS?
T PIERCE BROWN
In Romans 11:22, we read, “Behold then the goodness and severity of God: toward them that fell, severity; but toward thee God’s goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.” As I contrasted the implications of that statement with the vain philosophy of some who profess to be preachers of the gospel, but who urge the propriety of emphasizing only God’s goodness, love and grace, two significant thoughts came to me. First, it is a fact that almost everything in God’s universe must have a positive and negative side to be worth anything.
Did you ever try to start a car or shine a flashlight with a battery with only a positive side? Did you ever find anything that had a top and no bottom? There are opposites in almost everything. Light and darkness, up and down, long and short, hot and cold, good and bad, husbands and wives, are but a few of the things we might mention, merely listing of which would fill a book. The fact that God loves good implies that He hates evil. Those who would urge that we preach only what they call “positive” sermons are wrong, partly because they are going against the very fundamentals of the universe, and partly because they are not following the inspired examples and instruction of Christ and the Apostles. That may not be as bad as preaching only negative, faultfinding, derogatory ones, but both are wrong.
The second thought is that those of us who realize that we should lovingly do both positive and negative preaching may make another mistake that may be as dangerous, and far more difficult to realize. It is the failure to realize the value of the principle that although coins have what we call heads and tails, it is possible to flip one and have it come to rest on the edge instead of either head or tail. We usually say something like, “A person must either go up or down,” when the truth is that he may do neither, or may go sideways.
Just because there is black and white does not mean that everything must be either black or white. There are some things that may be gray. One may assume that everyone understands that, and acts in accordance with it. Unfortunately, that is not so. Many of us at some time or other act and speak as if since there is right and wrong, all things must always be either right or wrong in all situations. Also, many act as if the words “right” and “wrong” always refer to righteous acts or sinful ones. The truth is that some things may be right at some time or under some circumstances and wrong at another. Some things may be wrong for one person and right for another. A person may be wrong, but not necessarily sinful in that act or thought. This is not the false and dangerous philosophy of “situation ethics.” That philosophy teaches that each person must decide for himself what is right or wrong for him, without regard to God’s standards and will. It teaches that adultery, lying or murder may be right or ethical in some circumstances. We believe God’s word teaches that they are always wrong.
It is true that putting a person to death may be right in some circumstances and wrong in others, but that is not determined by the subjective philosophy of ungodly man. It is to be determined by what God has said.
It is dangerous to operate our lives on a two-valued philosophy, as if everything must always be right or wrong, good or bad, black or white. However, it is perhaps even more dangerous to assume that because everything is not either black or white, there is no black or white. One may lose his soul if he assumes that because everything can not automatically be classified as right or wrong, there is no right or wrong. This two-valued philosophy has led some to say, “Sin is sin, and there are no degrees of sin.” That is contrary to both logic and scripture as Jesus plainly says in John 19:11, “He that delivered me unto thee hath greater sin.” The truth is that any sin of which we do not repent will cause us to be lost, but that does not mean that there are not degrees of sin and degrees of punishment for sin.
It may not really matter when you flip a coin if you say, “Heads or tails?” without realizing those are not the only two alternatives. But it does matter if your language and practice makes you assume a two-valued orientation in almost every aspect of life. A two-valued orientation will cause you to think a thing or person must be good or bad, tall or short, right or wrong. Remember that a coin does not have to come down either heads or tails. It can land on its edge.
T. Pierce Brown
1068 Mitchell Ave.