There was an interesting documentary last night on TLC. It featured Abby and Brittany Hensel, twins who were born in Minnesota in 1990. As the result of a rare abnormality, Abby and Brittany were born conjoined. They have two heads but one body. They have two arms and legs and each girl controls one of them. Internally they have two hearts, two sets of lungs, two stomachs, and two large intestines. Yet they share a small intestine and bowel and one only set of reproductive organs. In some ways they are two people but in other ways they are one.
In many ways these girls redefine individuality. At school they each write their own English test and are graded individually. In math they work together and receive a single grade. On their sixteenth birthday they took their driver’s tests and had to take the test twice, even though driving is a collaborative effort where one works the brakes and the gas while the other works the turn signals and they share the steering responsibilities. They passed both tests and each of the two girls received her own license. When they use the instant messaging program on their computer, they both type (one controlling the left hand and the other the right) and tend to use the pronoun “I” when they express a view they share (rather than “we”). Again, in some ways they seem to be two people and in other ways they seem to be one. Whenever they face a new situation in life, they have to determine whether they will be treated as one person or two.
Their case raises a host of questions. If they are caught speeding, which one of them will get the speeding ticket? When they go to college will they have to pay tuition for one or for two? When they fly, do they need to purchase one ticket or two? Some problems cut much deeper. If someone were to assault the girls, would he be charged with one count of assault or two? The question that had my wife and I talking in circles last night was this: what if the girls want to marry? They indicated in the documentary that they want to be mothers some day. They are normal in more ways than not, and like most girls they want to experience motherhood. It seems that, physically, they will be able to bear children. They also seem to want to experience the joys of romance and relationship. But how can they do this when they are both individuals and conjoined? Should the two of them marry a single man? Or should they marry individually? If they do give birth to a baby, whose baby will it be?
I think the reason this story was of such interest to me is that I have spent the past seven months writing about spiritual discernment. Discernment, which I define in the book as the skill of understanding and applying God’s Word with the purpose of separating truth from error and right from wrong is a discipline that depends upon making binary distinctions. It involves separating good from bad, truth from error, right from wrong, better from best. In other words, it involves separating black from white. It seems to leave little room for gray. When we practice discernment, we are applying the truths of the Bible to our lives. We are attempting to understand the words of the Bible and trusting God’s Word to give clarity so we might see things as God sees them. Our goal in discernment is to do just this: to see things through God’s eyes through the Bible and thus to see things as they really are. Like wiping the steam from a mirror, we seek to remove what is opaque so we might see with God-given clarity.
Yet sometimes it seems that clarity is impossible. How can we have absolute clarity about situations like Abby and Brittany Hensel? How can we fully and finally determine how romance, marriage, sex and childbearing can work in this kind of a situation? There are many biblical principles that can guide us, but it seems that none of them are extensive enough or complete enough to govern this kind of situation. And truthfully, there are many other situations in life that seem more gray than black or white. How does discernment function in such gray times?
I have had to think about this in writing my book and have come up with a few principles that I’ve found helpful.
Rarity: Situations that are truly gray are rare. Most often the gray situations are gray only because we have not done enough work to clarify or because our own sinful desires have interfered and have interposed themselves between black and white.
The Fall: We need to realize that “grayness” is a result of the Fall. Were we perfect beings we would not have to wrestle with issues between black and white. It is only our sin that forces us to wrestle with issues that would otherwise be clear. There is no reason to think that issues like this will trouble us when we are in heaven.
Clarity: When wrestling with issues that appear gray, it is important to begin with what is clear from Scripture. Far too often we begin with what is obscure and work backwards to what is clear so that the exception disproves the rule. As Christians we must begin with what God has made clear. When looking at the Hensel girls we would not want to allow their unique situation to change our minds about what the Bible makes clear: that God demands and expects that marriage is the union of one man to one woman and that any deviations from this pattern make a mockery of the whole institution of marriage. We need to begin with the Bible and allow it to establish the standard. We can then interpret deviations or exceptions on the basis of this unmoving standard.
Humility: Gray situations provide us an opportunity to express humility. When we come to the end of our own abilities and realize that we simply are unable to see with the clarity of God, we can take the opportunity to see again that we are mere creatures. We lack the perspective and the wisdom of the Creator and this should help us express our humility before Him.
Dependence: These situations also give us the opportunity to express dependence on this Creator. There are times when even our best efforts fall short. There are times when even our best attempts at extrapolating the Bible’s wisdom leaves us scratching our head. This gives us opportunity to express our dependence on the Spirit and to acknowledge that any ability in spiritual discernment is a gift from above.
Conscience: These gray situations show the need for a developed, biblically-informed conscience. Sometimes, when we simply cannot arrive at a firm and satisfying conclusion, we need to rely on something that goes just a little bit deeper than pure reason. It seems that God has given us a conscience for this reason. While conscience must be subservient to Scripture it nevertheless plays an important role in the life of the Christian and should often be heeded, especially when the issues are less than perfectly clear to us.
It is frustrating to me that these gray situations exist. Yet I think it can be healthy. Not only does it stimulate a lot of thought, a lot of discussion and a lot of searching of the Scriptures, but it also teaches me about my own dependence upon the Lord and my need for humility.
As for Abby and Brittany, I hope they enjoy a long and healthy life. I hope they are granted their desire to experience the joys of romance, love, marriage and motherhood. Most of all, I hope that God draws them to Himself so they can experience all of this under the wisdom and guidance of the One who created them with these good and pure desires. I am sure He can bring clarity to them as they seek His face.