When I was 22 years old, I worked at a small company where an older salesman bragged to me about how he defrauded customers. I raised serious concerns with him, and it got back to the company owner, who one day decided to give me some fatherly, sage advice. He said, “You know, when I was your age, I also saw things in black and white. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned that things are mainly shades of grey.”
It was true that I was young, inexperienced, and naive in many things. I’m now close to the age that company owner was back then. I better understand the layered complexities, ambiguities, and difficulties of life. I can think of a number of things that I’m not nearly as dogmatic about as I was back then.
But fraud isn’t one of them.
The Danger of Dimmed Vision
At age fifty, it’s as clear to me as it was at 22 that the owner’s “shades of grey” spiel wasn’t sagacity; it was self-justifying, compromise-covering baloney. The fraud wasn’t grey; it was straight-up stealing and lying. If the defrauded customer had been in on our chat, the “grey” would have looked quite black to him, as it would have to a judge had legal action been pursued.
So what had happened to this man over time that greyed-out his moral vision? It is no mystery; we all know. It was one compromise, and then another, and then another until the incremental, cumulative effects of selfishness and greed had corrupted his integrity. A self-induced osteoporosis of compromise had weakened his moral backbone. His was not wisdom gained by age; his was moral conviction lost by atrophy.
To my knowledge, this owner was not a Christian, so the blinding of 2 Corinthians 4:4 was likely in play. But Christians are not immune from this sort of atrophy. Jesus rebuked the church in Laodicea for it (Revelation 3:14–22). Something like it must have happened to Demas (2 Timothy 4:10). We all know people we love whose once-clear vision has faded to grey. We have seen the effects in ourselves. It is an ever-present danger.
Jesus’s Prescription for Spiritual Cataracts
What do we do if we see the corrupting effect of compromise at work in ourselves or those we know? Jesus’s prescription is painfully, mercifully brief: “be zealous and repent” (Revelation 3:19). At a moment like this, we cannot trust how we feel. The Laodicean Christians, to whom Jesus addressed this exhortation, didn’t feel zealous. They were “lukewarm” (Revelation 3:15–16). They were worldly and self-satisfied and didn’t feel the urgency of their condition. Solution? Get urgent and repent.
The severe simplicity of this prescription is hopeful. Spiritual osteoporosis can be reversed, greyed vision can be healed, and much more quickly than we might think. The anesthetizing effects of compromise can dissipate quickly, like a man waking from a nap with the smelling salt of repentance.
As we mature and become more aware of the complexities of life, the effect this exhortation should have on us is a diminishing of immature self-righteousness and misplaced self-confidence, not the diminishing of our conviction about fundamental truths. The slow fires of aging should produce the tempering effect of a patient, gentle relentlessness, not the melting away of our moral muscle. We must lose our pride, not our nerve or our will.
Truth doesn’t grow grey with time. But our moral eyes can be dimmed by the cataracts of compromise. If we find that this darkening has happened, Jesus has good news for us: He has salve for our eyes that will help us see again (Revelation 3:18). And he will give it to the one who is zealous and repents.