President’s Note: Looking at Both/And

We cannot live without either/ors and both/ands.  We like and require alternatives and combinations.  Our lives are an endless churn around such dynamics, and they characterize some of the greatest distinctions and delights we could want or imagine, as well as some of what is most creative and harrowing about being human.  Of course, our age, gender, race, economic circumstances, social context, and health conditions will affect the possibilities and choices we may consider.  We have good reasons to be thankful for either/or and both/and.

The problem, however, is that ours is an era that demands the primacy of either/or.  “You are either this or you are that.”  “You are either inside or you are outside.”  “You are left or you are right.”  The threat of a highly polarized era is that it demands either/or categorization, scoffing at or rejecting both/ands.  This approach has its attraction and its necessities, not least in a finite universe, or in a world of emergencies and dangers.  It can push for definitiveness rather than lingering in ambiguity, and sometimes that may be nothing less than life-saving.

Many aspects of Jesus’ ministry fit an either/or script.  The words of Jesus, “Let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no,’” lays that out plainly enough.  The Sermon on the Mount overall makes it clear—sometimes too clear for comfort—that kingdom life is not like going through a buffet line but involves a focused commitment as a disciple who actually follows.  Jesus’ concluding parable in the sermon offers us a definitive and evident choice that is meant to be visible and measurable by how we actually live.

At the same time, God has made a world of both light and dark, of both infinity and finitude, of both freedoms and boundaries, of both human dignity and human depravity.  Most profoundly, the Incarnation is God as both/and, both human and divine.  As expressed in the beautiful poignancy of John 1:1–18, or in the poetry of Philippians 2:1–11 or Colossians 1:15–22, the heart of our faith beats because “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself.”

The God who “holds all things together” is the one who therefore holds the either/or and the both/and qualities and experiences of our lives.  The pages of Scripture are filled with the evidences of the God who relentlessly pursues us in our both/and qualities (“a little lower than the angels” and “sinners.”)

One of the most profound examples of our vocation to live both/and lives is our call to be forgiving.  The conditionality of either/or life restrains forgiveness, but both/and allows us to practice both naming the truth, the wrong, the offense, and to extending mercy and grace.  As Paul declares, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” 

If we only had the possibilities of an either/or world, we would lose the possibilities of forgiveness, love, and justice.  This issue of FULLER magazine invites us all to ponder just how essential the both/ands of life really are.

Mark Labberton thumbnail

Mark Labberton, President

We cannot live without either/ors and both/ands.  We like and require alternatives and combinations.  Our lives are an endless churn around such dynamics, and they characterize some of the greatest distinctions and delights we could want or imagine, as well as some of what is most creative and harrowing about being human.  Of course, our age, gender, race, economic circumstances, social context, and health conditions will affect the possibilities and choices we may consider.  We have good reasons to be thankful for either/or and both/and.

The problem, however, is that ours is an era that demands the primacy of either/or.  “You are either this or you are that.”  “You are either inside or you are outside.”  “You are left or you are right.”  The threat of a highly polarized era is that it demands either/or categorization, scoffing at or rejecting both/ands.  This approach has its attraction and its necessities, not least in a finite universe, or in a world of emergencies and dangers.  It can push for definitiveness rather than lingering in ambiguity, and sometimes that may be nothing less than life-saving.

Many aspects of Jesus’ ministry fit an either/or script.  The words of Jesus, “Let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no,’” lays that out plainly enough.  The Sermon on the Mount overall makes it clear—sometimes too clear for comfort—that kingdom life is not like going through a buffet line but involves a focused commitment as a disciple who actually follows.  Jesus’ concluding parable in the sermon offers us a definitive and evident choice that is meant to be visible and measurable by how we actually live.

At the same time, God has made a world of both light and dark, of both infinity and finitude, of both freedoms and boundaries, of both human dignity and human depravity.  Most profoundly, the Incarnation is God as both/and, both human and divine.  As expressed in the beautiful poignancy of John 1:1–18, or in the poetry of Philippians 2:1–11 or Colossians 1:15–22, the heart of our faith beats because “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself.”

The God who “holds all things together” is the one who therefore holds the either/or and the both/and qualities and experiences of our lives.  The pages of Scripture are filled with the evidences of the God who relentlessly pursues us in our both/and qualities (“a little lower than the angels” and “sinners.”)

One of the most profound examples of our vocation to live both/and lives is our call to be forgiving.  The conditionality of either/or life restrains forgiveness, but both/and allows us to practice both naming the truth, the wrong, the offense, and to extending mercy and grace.  As Paul declares, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” 

If we only had the possibilities of an either/or world, we would lose the possibilities of forgiveness, love, and justice.  This issue of FULLER magazine invites us all to ponder just how essential the both/ands of life really are.

Written By

Mark Labberton, President

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