There’s Another Side to That Coin

It seems most people function under the assumption that everything in life is a zero sum game. Basically (extremely basically) that means that everything equals out to zero in the end. Imagine having 10 dollars. If I took ten you would have zero, if two people took 5 you would have zero, and so on. The sum would always end up so that the gains by some leave others with nothing. In areas of life that aren’t quite so numbers oriented it looks more like “I am right and you are wrong” or “If this is true then that is not.”

Whether or not we realize it, it is this sort of black and white mindset that causes all sorts of conflict. Think of a couple going on a date. The woman walks into the room ready to go and the man compliments her hair. Her immediate response? “Oh, you don’t like my outfit?” He hadn’t realized that the total number of compliments allowed was one and And that he had used it up on her hair. Such a light-hearted example still shows the mentality to think in stark terms about subtle or complex issues. He actually loved her outfit, but by emphasizing appreciation for her hair he’d left the door open for her to misunderstand me.

Many of the instances when this happens aren’t nearly so trivial. They lead to arguments, even animosity. Think of the divisions in the church over theology. God is loving and gentle vs. God is just and firm. God is sovereign vs. man having free will. God desires action vs. God desires study. And so on. All zero sum arguments; if one is right the other is wrong.

Think of the polarity and division in American politics. Party vs. party. If you vote for one candidate you do not love Jesus. If you’re for the unborn you side with those who do not care for the poor. If you side with the ones who care for immigrants you do not care for the unborn.

Such thinking is a logical failure and faulty reasoning. It stems from a lack of thoughtfulness and willingness to listen and consider all sides of an issue. Just recently I saw somebody tweet something to the effect of “The gospel is about how we live this life not where we go in the next.” Really? The gospel is not about where we go when we die? Nonsense. The gospel is about both. The argument is about which side of a coin is the “true” side without ever realizing it’s the same blasted coin.

Such argumentation leads to side-taking and false conflicts. It fabricates opposition out of what is really a discussion of emphasis and priority. (Of course, if the conversation is about what is best or of utmost importance, it is different; that is a zero sum game because there is only one “best.”) The vast majority of issues are not right vs. wrong or true vs. false. Most issues are questions of how things fit together and what is the point of emphasis. If you love a good argument you’ll still find plenty there, but you won’t win by painting another person as an idiot or a liar.

Life is complex. Truth is complex. God is complex. It’s rarely as simple as a zero sum game. To treat it that way is to undermine what is true and hurt those who are trying to represent it. We must put in the work to understand, to consider, and to turn the coin over to see the other side.

I live in the Nashville area and spend my days helping churches with leadership development. My nights are spent writing and rooting for Minnesota sports teams. I also podcast a bit. I'm the author of The Pastor's Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity, Help My Unbelief: Why Doubt is Not the Enemy of Faith, and The Curious Christian: How Discovering Wonder Enriches Every Part of Life