Community Post – The Limits of Dualistic Thinking and the Blessing of Moving Beyond It

Please come with me on a little thought experiment adventure…

First, can you think of a person, probably somebody older than you, who you consider to be wise and spiritually mature? Somebody who responds to crisis, misadventure, calamity and disappointment in admirably calm, measured and accepting ways?  Hold that thought. 

As human beings we have a natural propensity to judge. This was part of the curse that resulted from mankind’s disobedience in Genesis 3. When Adam and Eve ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they became judges and judgers, and the first thing they judged was themselves. As they hid from God (“because we were naked”) they showed that their thinking had radically changed. Instead of accepting the unified Goodness of all that God had made for them, they were now putting things into categories: this is good, that is bad. Their conscience sprang to life in order to condemn them (Paul talks about this in Romans 2:15).

One of the out-workings of this for us is that we have a strong tendency to classify things as good or bad. As adults, we often approach the world with a dualistic thinking framework: this is good, that is bad. She is good, he is bad. This theory is good, that theory is bad. This politics is right, that politics is wrong. These people are right, those people are wrong. These ones are in, those ones are out; etc, etc, etc. We align ourselves with one side, and then it’s us versus them. Once this happens, there is little hope of any meaningful dialogue or discussion.  Battle lines are drawn and then it’s all about defending our territory. Humility has left the building.

It delights me to read about the occasions in the New Testament when people (often the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law) went to Jesus to trap him into aligning himself with one side or another. They presented Him with an A or B choice, and every time His answer was (and I paraphrase), it’s neither A nor B – there is a C option here. Read Matthew 15:15-22 where paying taxes to Caesar is the hot topic. I love to imagine the bewildered, deflated looks on the faces of the Pharisees as they walked away, scratching their heads, with their dualistic, judgmental framework in tatters. They were asking the wrong questions. It brings to mind the beautiful image in Micah 4:3 of swords being beaten into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks.

Now consider Luke 18:16-17…

But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”

There are many ways that this verse can be unpacked. The simple phrase, “like a child”, is full of rich possibilities. What did Jesus mean exactly? I believe he meant for us to contemplate and meditate at length upon this very question. You have probably heard sermons or been in Bible Studies where contrasts were drawn between “child-like” and “childish” behaviours and attitudes. It’s a helpful distinction. It’s unlikely that when Jesus said “like a child”, He meant that we should throw tantrums and refuse to eat our vegetables. In context, the real question is; how do children receive the kingdom of God? Wholeheartedly. Instinctively. Trustingly. Gratefully. Joyfully. All of these ways of responding have one thing missing: Judgment. Children are not born with a judgmental outlook on life. It is something they learn as they grow, probably as a necessary defense mechanism for the sake of their own survival in a broken, fallen world. But they don’t begin life that way. They begin with complete trust and acceptance of everything around them, as well as complete dependence, which is why the betrayal of that trust is so heinous, and we rightly respond with outrage when children are abused and mistreated. 

My guess is that your person (the person who came to mind when you read my first paragraph) has begun to move beyond simplistic, dualistic thinking. They have allowed the Spirit of God to work in their heart and soul in a way that is moving them forward and growing them ‘down’ – back towards the child-like mindset that Jesus commended; away from knee-jerk judgment, and towards open-hearted acceptance; away from the need to constantly categorise things, events and people as good or bad, and towards a trusting acceptance that the Sovereign God is the only One in a position to judge; away from law, towards Grace; away from condemnation, towards freedom; away from dualistic thinking, towards wholeness.  It looks like wisdom and spiritual maturity, because it is. 

Here is my next guess; that your person has wrestled with suffering. The road to maturity is not easy. It is usually hard won. When Paul exhorts the Philippians (and us) in Philippians 2:12-13 to “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose”, I imagine he had this kind of wisdom and maturity in mind.

Believe it or not, I started this article with a plan to encourage you to consider all the unexpected blessings and learnings that have come about as a result of this COVID-19 situation; to consider all the change and disruption in a non-dualistic manner; not to ask ‘what’s been good and what’s been bad?’ about social isolation and School@Home, but rather to ask: 

  • What have I learnt? 
  • What new knowledge have I gained about myself and my capacities? About my children and their capacities? 
  • What have my children learned about themselves and what’s really important and lasting? 
  • What new-found skills and strengths can my children take back to the classroom with them?
  • What has God been teaching me, and all of us?

I believe there are many unique opportunities for growth being offered to us at this time. My prayer is that these opportunities will be seized with joy and thankfulness, and that all of us will be blessed with greater wisdom and capacity for non-dualistic thinking. I pray that we will all be taking another small step down, towards maturity.

Lyndal Mitchell, Head of Primary – Curriculum & Diversability

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