The Conflict Between Truth & Love


Is there a conflict between truth and love?

As a casual observer of the culture, it's an almost daily occurrence to watch an activist, group or notable person become vocally offended, hurt or downright angry about something someone said somewhere. You know what I’m talking about. We are calling it cancel culture now but it’s as old as time. Many points of view or beliefs once considered acceptable in polite society not that long ago are now unacceptable. Speaking your mind can all too often result in being fired from your job or being publicly shamed by the media or a mob of anonymous self-proclaimed "do-gooders" on the internet. All of this from people who don’t even know you personally and don’t care to. Some have an agenda; others just like to feel powerful. The “Overton Window”, or those ideas which are considered acceptable by the general public at any given time appears to be shifting away from a celebration of a diversity of opinions in favor of intellectual conformity. The Founding Fathers saw this coming and even made sure freedom of speech was the very first amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

After coming out of a tyrannical monarchy where the king's power over the individual was absolute and criticism could be met with imprisonment or worse, they thought it prudent to make the art of speaking your mind freely a founding principle in the fledgling Republic. But sadly, what once gave us every day Americans the right to speak our minds is quickly being discarded in the name of tolerance and yes, even love. This is problematic, no matter which side of the political aisle you happen to be on and it begs the question: how does this trend in society affect you and I? Well if you don’t care about or believe in truth, it doesn’t! But I do and here’s where the rubber meets the road for me.

Truth

As a follower of Jesus Christ, I believe it is my obligation to speak the truth. It doesn't mean I die on every hill I come to and go looking for arguments. It means instead to always be ready to “preach the word of God. Be prepared, whether the time is favorable or not.” (2 Timothy 4:2a) The Word of God has completely transformed my life and has given me more peace over the years than I can express in words. If I know what I have is valuable and worth sharing, then by all means I should and so should you! But as the potential cost of speaking the truth increases, so does the temptation to be silent. In fact, though the bible commands us to “speak the truth in love”, a misunderstanding of true love is often used as a shield from public backlash.

I’ve got to be the world's biggest people pleaser. In fact, and I downright hate offending people! When it comes to truth however, I know deep down that the consequences of NOT speaking it are so much greater than the consequences of temporary offense, pain or persecution. Let’s consider some examples where this is the case.

Here’s an easy one. A doctor does a check up on you and knows for a fact you have a curable disease but lies to you about it, knowing the uncomfortable truth of your illness will ruin your day and will make you unhappy. Would you be alright with that? Here’s another one. Your 5-year-old child begs for junk food and sweets every chance he gets because, well that’s what kids do! You can’t bear to see the way it makes him cry when you say no or explain that eating too much junk. That though delicious, it will be harmful for his body and lifestyle when he’s older. So, you give him exactly what he wants and let the child suffer being malnourished and obese. Apply this thought experiment to other topics and the negative results become obvious. A professor teaching a pro-socialist curriculum who loves the free market capitalist system that allows him to make a living doing what he enjoys, but carries on teaching a destructive ideology anyway, obediently. A politician who witnesses devastating acts of corruption within his own party but continues to turn a blind eye in the name of his upcoming reelection. A friend of an alcoholic who can’t bring himself to confront the person he loves to offer support. A parent who is afraid to discipline their children. A screenwriter afraid to write a script promoting conservative values. A pastor avoiding the “controversial” parts of scripture in the name of “staying out of politics”. A generation of adults unable to pass along the principles of success taught to them by their parents to the next generation. Believers in Jesus like me who are afraid to tell people that without coming to terms with their own sin, they face an eternity of judgement and separation from God – a living hell. 

It’s not difficult to see where the absence of truth tellers would leave an already confused and hurting world. The worst of humanity would step in the void and use unimpeded lies to control and manipulate; a story played out on the historical stage all too often. Given the stakes mentioned, to not speak the truth in any of these examples simply selfish and therefore wrong.

So, if avoiding offensive, truthful speech isn’t love, what is?

Love

Biblical love is speaking the truth with the other person’s best in mind. There are 4 types of love in the Greek used in the bible. Affection (Storge), Friendship (Philia – where the city of Philadelphia gets its name), Romantic (Eros) and Charity, or love without any conditions (Agape). (for more reading on the subject of love, check out 'The Four Loves' by C.S. Lewis For every one of these types of love there is sort of an alternative, perverted version. Instead of true romantic love, you can have lust for instance. We can be easily deceived into thinking certain feelings or actions are truly loving based on this reality. "Not offending" or hurting peoples feelings can likewise be confused with showing charity but as we see this is not always the case. This is where wisdom is important - knowing when to speak and when not to coupled with the courage to act when the time is right.

With that in mind, the “lovepart of "speaking the truth in love” in the bible is referring to the agape version of the word. This agape is the foundation of the so-called golden rule Jesus invented 2,000 years ago when saying to “do to others what you want them to do to you”. It means to relentlessly pursue others' best even when it costs you something. We could replace the phrase with “speak the truth to others as you’d want them to speak the truth to you” and it would be just as meaningful. That’s what Jesus lived after all. In fact, he so often spoke his mind, saying the wrong truthful things to the wrong people to the point he was eventually killed because of it. Killed for others. For us.  Killed to complete the process of salvation for mankind with his death and subsequent resurrection. Killed in the name of truth, and love. Talk about moral courage!

As you can see, truth and love aren’t at conflict at all. On the contrary, you can’t have one without the other. Without truth, there is no ability to truly love and without love, well, your truth will fall on deaf ears and will be in vain. “If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:3)

Imagine what the world would look like if we lived this way? There are no guarantees that things would change within our culture overnight, but if we have our society’s best in mind, it won't matter! So, here’s my challenge to you: don't be afraid to speak the truth! Do it in love, yes. But do it in the right kind of love. Don't be afraid to say the hard things, having the people's best in mind. Who knows? Maybe those who take offense now will even thank you for it in the end!

“Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ…” Ephesians 4:15


Author: Benjamin Thomas Noble



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