Truth vs. Love
This post comes in part as ideas from the Storyline conference this past weekend suddenly coalesced in my brain. The catalyst was a friend’s most recent blog post, which was about Absurd Hope and its role in leading a meaningful life, a great story. You can find it here. Many of the hopes that she lists at the end of her blog I have for my life also. That is part of why we are good friends.
However, reading her blog about the importance of Hope struck a discordant note with my own thoughts. While I agree with many things that she wrote, I eventually realized what was bothering me; it was my reaction to her explanation of hoping in Death. Let me be clear, I agree that is the only thing we can hope in eternal glory after Death. However, and I am not alone in this, I find that often the Hope in Heaven is used as an excuse to be a jerk to people, to be condescending and judgmental and to be excessively preachy.
Why do Christians have a tendency to act that way? Two reasons really.
The first I mentioned yesterday, which was the redemptive and empathy-producing powers of pain. Our own pain and suffering often bring us to our knees, humbling us, and wipe all of the judgmental arrogance out of us. And then sometimes it kicks us while we’re down. I have found in my experience that some of the most judgmental Christians are the ones that have not yet experienced a season in the valley of the shadow of death. They have yet to feel what Job felt, or they have and they hide the scars as they try to appear perfect.
The second reason is the primacy of Truth in many of Christians minds. “I have to share the Truth”, “I know what is True; others must know why they are wrong”, “People must know the Truth; that they are sinners”, “I must focus on saving souls with the Truth”, and other similarly well-intended (I would hope) and misguided motivations abound. Often, Christians becomes so obsessed with being right and letting others know it. However, large parts of the Bible see Truth differently. Christ said, “I am the way, truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but by me” (John 14:6). Often, like in Psalms and Proverbs, truth is contrasted with falsehood, in the context of having integrity. In Paul’s epistles, the word truth is often used talk about what is true or real, as opposed to what is false or made-up or imagined or dishonest. Sometimes truth is used in a context concerning our relationship to God, like when the psalmist says that he will walk in the truth (Psalms 86:11). Nowhere does the Bible give people the right to judge others; in fact, it says “judge not lest you be judged” (Matthew 7:1). In essence, truth is an issue of faith; we believe what is true. When describing our relationship with others, the Bible does not say, “Bombard them with the truth” or “Make sure they know they are wrong!” So, what does it say?
The Bible says to “Love your neighbor as yourself,” (Luke 10:27) which is the second of the two greatest commandments. The first, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength,” is a private matter of faith between you and God, it describes your relationship to Him. For our neighbor, we must love each other as ourselves. When asked, “Who is my neighbor?,” Jesus responded with the story of the Good Samaritan. Here is a quick recap: a man is robbed and beaten and left by the side of the road. The people that are expected to help him (i.e., his own people, priests, etc.) all ignore him. His enemy, a member of a hated nation, sees him and carries him to an inn. There, the Samaritan uses his money to care for the injured man, by paying for food, medicine, and a place to stay; additionally, he told the innkeeper that he would return and there would be more money if needed. The uses of our resources to help those in need; that is the example we are given of loving our neighbor. The Samaritan didn’t judge the man, didn’t tell him that he deserved what happened or that it was the result of bad choices and character; he selflessly helped him, out of his own pocket.
In modern society and especially in America, we have this concept of tough love that confuses me. As it is used in our culture, it often means to be rude, mean, careless, judgmental, and selfish, but to justify such actions by saying that we are really acting that way out of concern for the other person. “It’s for their own good . . . ,” we often hear. For example, “They’ll just waste the money I give them on drugs or alcohol; my money is better spent somewhere else, not fueling someone’s drug problem. It’s for their own good.” Tough love is different than discipline; discipline is fair and just, without personal judgment or arrogance. Even as Christians, we have turned selfishness and arrogance into moral goods that are supposedly aimed at bettering someone else. This is similar to how Truth is often misused in the Church, as an obsession to prove that we are right, to win the war of culture and ideas, and to take no prisoners, so to speak. Often, we convince ourselves that it is acceptable and expected (“It’s tough love!”) to be so concerned with the afterlife that we forget or choose not to love others now.
However, that is not what we have been commanded. It is telling that at the end of 1 Cor. 13, truth is not even mentioned. We have Faith, Hope, and Love [not Truth], and the greatest of them is Love. In fact, the Bible speaks so strongly of love that it says the one who does not love, does not know God; for God is love (1 John 4:7-8). In no certain terms, we have been commanded to love them as ourselves. To love them as the Good Samaritan loved the man by the side of the road (y’know, like the homeless people are by the side of the road in modern times and are asking for help?). To help them. To save lives. To be transformed into someone more Christ-like through visiting the sick, the dying, the alone, and the poor; to caring for them. To live a life full of meaning. The love Christ commanded is not tough love, it is not an obsession for judging others that masquerades as love; it is a love so bright and shining that it destroys the shadow.
That is what we have been commanded. That is what we must do. We must all save lives, and love one another.