Picture with me the reddest red. Picture the greenest green. Picture the orangest orange and the yellowest yellow.
I imagine that the colors you pictured were almost exactly the colors I had in mind. I pictured red like a stop sign. Green like the rolling hills of Northern Ireland. Hermes orange. Lemon yellow. The most vivid examples of each of these colors. Red. Green. Orange. Yellow.
Now picture the grayest gray.
What do you see? Gray like the sky over my part of the world today? Gray like the sky over yours? Gray like the walls where I work? Gray like the sidewalks you traverse when you jog? Concrete may be gray, but gray is not concrete. There is no quintessential gray.
Years ago, I worked in a research lab where I used MRI scans to determine the total volumes of squirrel monkey anal sphincters. Yes, you read that correctly. My job was to trace the shade of gray belonging to the anal sphincter in each slice of the scan, determine its total area using a software program, and find the volume by adding all of the calculated areas for the entire depth of the muscle. So many shades of gray—they told me in the lab that there were 250, but I’ve heard some scanners boast of over a thousand shades of the color. It was several days before I could reliably recognize the shade I was looking for and differentiate the sphincter [I totally hate that word] from the surrounding pelvic floor muscles of varying other shades of gray. I had to watch the principal investigator trace many times before I began to see it myself. He had to watch me and guide me many times before he trusted my eye enough to let me trace alone.
Last week, I saw another MRI—an image of my friend’s brain. It contained a few shades of gray that were lighter than the gray making up the rest of the structures. Glioblastoma. She has only months to live. A devastating story told in different shades of gray.
So much of my life right now is interpreting shades of gray. What is truth? Is there such a thing? Is there one foundation that I must build my life upon—or will any worldview do? What is right? What is wrong? Why is my God more worthy than another? Why would my gray be any more perfectly gray than someone else’s? Does any of this even matter? It’s all gray, right?
But sometimes shades of gray do matter. Sometimes they are the difference between life and death—ask my friend with Glioblastoma. What if I pick out the wrong shade of gray? Outside of the lab, I don’t have an expert to observe and learn from. I don’t have someone guiding my hand as I select a shade to work with and carefully exclude all others. A shade of gray could be the difference between eternal paradise and eternal despair.
Loving Jesus wasn’t always gray. In the words of the great philosopher Taylor Swift, “loving him was red.” I worshiped him passionately. My memories of his faithfulness are vivid. He seduced me with scripture. Now I’m colorblind—but that’s okay. I’m getting used to gray. If there is a God who is all-knowing, he sees my desire to believe and the reasons I struggle to do so. If he is all good, he won’t base my eternal destiny on my ability to interpret shades of gray. If he is all powerful, a crimson flow of blood can cover anything—even my doubt, and even the scarlet letter that my color-blindness keeps me from seeing.
Picture the reddest red.