How can anyone explain the popularity of the recent bestseller book series, Fifty Shades of Grey, and the subsequent movie? Though the books and movie portray a value system that would seem alien to any sincerely practicing Christian, polls show that the book has been read by as many as nine percent of American women who call themselves Christian. What is the appeal? Could it be, at least in part, that the very premise of the title—"shades of grey"—captures the worldly human desire to see right and wrong not as absolute, but as situational and relative?
Indeed, even among many professing Christians, modern morality has been reduced to "shades of grey" as long-held absolutes are discarded as obsolete. This even applies to something as fundamental as the male-female relationship.
For example, is it wrong for a man and woman to have sexual relations before marriage? Some say that living together is a good "trial run" for marriage—to see if there is compatibility. Other couples might not go that far, but would have no problem sleeping together from time to time before marriage. For others, sleeping together would be taboo, but foreplay would be okay, since they might see kissing and petting as just part of getting to know someone they are falling in love with. So is this another grey area? Is extramarital sexual activity just a matter of personal choice?
What about pornography? Is it okay to view erotic, pornographic images as long as there is no physical contact? Is pornography just a "victimless crime"? A "grey area"? How about sexually promiscuous lyrics in music? Is it OK to listen to music that glorifies fornication? Or is it only wrong if you sing along? Is this just a grey area that is up to personal choice, with no real right and no real wrong?
What about the roles and responsibilities of men and women within families? Is there a difference between how a man should fulfill his role of father and husband, and how a wife should fulfill her role as wife and mother? Or is it all just a "grey area"?
We need not look far to find other "grey areas" in our culture.
In any civilized nation, murder is recognized as a crime. Yet, on January 22, 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that a woman can murder another human being if it is in her womb. Over the past forty years, debate has raged over the issue of when the baby is actually a human being. Is abortion murder after conception? Or is the fetus not really a person until weeks and even months have passed? For many in our culture, this is a "grey" area.
And what about violent video games? Is it OK to pretend-murder someone, as long as it is "just a game"? What is the line between "harmless fun" and "de-sensitizing ourselves to violence"? One of the challenges of growing up in a culture that does not recognize God's authority is the challenge of seeing through the fog of "grey areas."
How can we see past the grey? How can we see the full spectrum of what God intends for us?
What is "grey" anyway? According to Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language, the color grey is "a neutral or achromatic color, meaning literally that it is a color 'without color.'" Applied to ethics, grey describes situations with no clear moral value. In a world without God's revelation, everything is painted with a grey moral brush. None can say whether any decision, any action, or any thought is completely good or bad!
But, here is where mankind is missing out.
In the Bible, we read that God planted a garden full of trees. We're told that these trees were "pleasant to the sight and good for food" (Genesis 2:9). What kind of trees do you imagine were there? Think of the colorful array of trees in our beautiful world. Apple trees, pear trees, peach trees, apricot trees, plum trees, bananas, mangos… The list goes on and on!
And God said that Adam (and Eve) could eat all of them! God said, "Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat…" (v. 16). In other words, He gave Adam and Eve a colorful, beautiful, delicious world of wonderful trees to enjoy. They could touch them, study them, plant more of them, and eat from their delectable fruit.
In a sense, they had the "full spectrum" of trees, just as we can visually see a full spectrum of beautiful colors. Why do we see color and not just grey? The reason has to do with how our eyes are made. The "rods" in our eyes enable us to distinguish shades of grey—all the way from white to black. But, with addition of "cones," our vision comes alive with color. They enable our brain to recognize blue and green, red and yellow, orange and indigo. In fact, some scientists say that we, as humans, can distinguish ten million different colors! (Wyszecki, Color, p. 824).
There may not have been ten million, but a lot of different trees were available for Adam and Eve. There was only one exception—one tree was "off limits" (v. 17). That tree represented rebelliousness toward God and deciding for themselves what was good and evil. Yet they gave up all the trees of the garden—including the most precious, the tree of life—for the one tree they could not have.
The notion of "shades of grey" conjures up a sense of a mixture of good and bad. A "grey area" is an area that might be right and might be wrong. We, as humans, have a penchant for dabbling in the moral middle ground. But God did not create life to be an endless series of compromises between right and wrong. God gives us a colorful spectrum of millions of right, positive, productive, energizing, success-creating things to do, think and say. These are all facets of loving God and our fellow man, and we fall into trouble when we turn away from them.
In Genesis 2:24, God told Adam that a man should leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife. In other words, it is appropriate and good to leave the family of our birth and begin a new family, sexually and emotionally joined to a mate. We can choose our mate, marry and create a life with an endless number of biblically appropriate choices as to how we can live a happy and productive life together (Proverbs 5:18). God gives us shades of beautiful living colors when He guides us into the roles He intended for husband and wife (Ephesians 5:22–33). These beautiful "colors" of biblical marriage are so much better than the "grey areas" of male-female physical attraction mixed with lust, fornication and adultery.
How about the second example from above? Why wade into the murky "greyness" of vicarious murder in a video game? Why rationalize the murder of a baby in the womb by counting the number of days since conception?
Our God and Creator of the universe proclaimed that He came to this earth that we might have life in abundance! (John 10:10). We need not live in the "greyness" of man's moral confusion. Instead, we can learn to see the bright colors of righteous, uplifting actions and be blessed!