Nuance Is a Tool of the Wise
Motherhood is a gift and a joy. It’s a truth many of us took time to celebrate, reflect, and publicly proclaim this past Sunday. Though not a church holiday by any means, Mother’s Day does give an opportunity to acknowledge the beauty and importance of the role God created.
Yet it wasn’t hard to see the many cries for nuance in approaching this particular day. I scrolled through my social media feeds and saw women mourning their lost children, the babies they never had, or their own mothers who had passed away. These women didn’t want their realities forgotten.
This plea for more careful meaning and application is not confined to Mother’s Day. Nuance is a term that seems to be frequently thrown around lately. Perhaps this is due to the nature of our shorthanded communication, or maybe it’s the drive for inclusion that seems to be sweeping through our culture.
In reaction, I’ve seen some Christians dismiss the idea of nuance by labeling it primarily as a sign of weakness or a way to hide the truth. Yet I don’t think this is the right move either. Instead, I believe Scripture shows nuance is a skill to use wisely, and it’s one we should all desire to cultivate.
Definitions and Distinctions
The Oxford dictionary defines nuance as “A subtle difference in or shade of meaning, expression, or sound.” This description of shading makes me think of pencil art. Though the artist has only one color, the variation of the shades and tones of the lead create a more full and detailed picture than one would see with ink alone.
The shading doesn’t change the picture, but it does clarify it.
Nuance is not to be confused with another word: qualification. To qualify means “to make (a statement or assertion) less absolute; add reservations to.” This is the term we’re often tempted to lump in with nuance.
Temptation surrounds us in these days to qualify the commands of the Lord, and it’s something all Christians should reject. We should be bold and unwavering on God’s Word. We have no need to make God’s truth more agreeable for our audience, nor should we follow Christian leaders who twist God’s Word to appeal to sinful passions (2 Tim. 4:3).
What Does Wisdom Say?
Now that we’ve defined what nuance and qualification are, we must ask: How would the wise man handle nuance?
In his book Gospel and Wisdom Graeme Goldsworthy states that “Wisdom is concerned with the nature of reality.” So what is our reality? Our reality is we live in a fallen world. We see this every day. Families are broken apart, women aren’t able to bear children, people suffer from disease and disabilities, and some moms or dads must parent alone.
The wisdom literature of the Bible, particularly Proverbs, exemplifies this in showing the various situations where living in light of the gospel of Christ will look different. This is something Job’s friends couldn’t quite grasp. They may have said true words, but their failure in applying their rigid structure to the real experience of Job made them very poor comforters. Goldsworthy remarks that Job’s friends were “incapable of dealing with the apparent contradictions that experience throws up.”
But wisdom takes into account the subtle shades of experience in our world. The wise person understands that the way God’s Word is worked-out in an individual’s life can look different. Because wisdom always operates under the fear of the Lord (Ps. 111:10), a wise use of nuance will never qualify or diminish the truth of God’s Word, it will only shine a light on the beauty of its application.
A Tool to Pursue
As part of the body of Christ we have the privilege to “admonish one another in all wisdom” (Col. 3:16, my emphasis), which includes using the tool of nuance. This goes far beyond the simple goal of being inclusive. Instead the use of nuance in our encouragement shows a godly love and patient understanding. We don’t bring down God’s truth like a hammer and leave, but instead like a cattle prod (Ecc. 12:11) we carefully lead our brothers and sisters to see the application of God’s truth to their own particular experience. This doesn’t mean our prod won’t ever poke, but it does mean it will be pushing them towards a response applicable to their own situation.
We actually show great love for a sister and for God’s Word when we speak the truth that motherhood is a blessing from the Lord, and then guide the single or childless woman in how she can live out this reality in her own situation. It is loving to announce the sanctity of sex within marriage and then lead the repentant teen mother to an understanding that purity is found in Christ. It’s the wise who can speak about the importance of male leadership in the family, and then can shepherd the single mom in seeing the leadership of the greatest Father in her family’s life.
The care to include nuance in our speech is not a creation of our culture we must renounce. Instead it’s a tool of the wise, because it requires wisdom and humility to see how the gospel applies to the brokenness of our world. It requires thought and care to continually consider your specific audience, the various situations or questions they might have, and the responses they need to hear.
Undoubtedly this is hard to do, and I’ve failed many times. In order to wisely use nuance and approach the complexities of life, we will be forced to cling to Christ, the perfect wisdom of God, and the perfect wise man (1 Cor. 1:24). But this is where we must be. For it’s always the Spirit alone who enables us to follow and apply his Word throughout each of life’s various circumstances.
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