Over the last few years I’ve thought a lot about telling the truth. Truth is vital – it literally gives life, and is so important for the way our lives unfold. Truth is also difficult – sometimes it hurts, causes schism, wounds us, and shapes us in ways that are brutal and painful. But truth is also important, life-giving, freeing, affirming, liberating, and so much to do with the kind of King that Jesus is and the Kingdom that he is gently and firmly breaking in to our world.
Paul wrote, in Ephesians 4:25, and I quote it in the NLT because that translation puts it so well;
So stop telling lies. Let us tell our neighbours
the truth, for we are all parts of the same body.
The same verse in the ESV, another translation that I really like, puts it slightly differently;
Therefore, having put away falsehood,
let each one of you speak the truth with his
neighbour, for we are members one of another.
Truth in Relationship.
I’ve hopefully acknowledged the importance of telling the truth, and the importance of truth itself, but also the way that truth can sometimes be difficult. That is why, as this little snippet from Ephesians hints, it is important to ground the truth in relationship. Hard truths are more palatable when they are told in the context of relationship, in the context of telling the truth, in the context of a commitment to community and walking alongside. The truth-teller and the truth-receiver, I think, can often swap spaces in the same conversation – but the truth doesn’t change.
One place that has given me much to think about in terms of truth, and also several relationships that have been valuable, is the strange gathering known as the Society of Vineyard Scholars. One of my friends from there, Mike Raburn, blogged a long time ago about being people who tell the truth to each other. You can read his thoughts in Part One and Part Two of his post(s) on becoming people who tell the truth.
Telling the truth is always the right thing to do – but it is important, too, to be mindful of tone and timing and the relationship you have (or don’t have) with the person or people you are trying to tell the truth to. In churches, and in our culture, the truth often gets buried by feelings or circumstance, by a sense that it is easier just to muddle onwards rather than be clear. We certainly wouldn’t want to be on the wrong side of history or have to rethink anything, would we?
I mention history because 2017 is the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation, a time when the speaking of truth was particular prescient, and particularly painful. For more on the history and impact of the Reformation, I’d recommend Mike Reeve’s excellent little book The Unquenchable Flame. One of the key human players in the Reformation drama was a German monk/theologian named Martin Luther. Among his many projects was contributing to the 1518 Heidelburg Disputation. One thesis sticks out to me, in the context of telling the truth:
A theology of glory calls evil good and good evil.
A theology of the cross calls the thing
what it actually is.
I blogged recently about the Wonder of the Cross, and in a re-post of something I wrote about Depression I touched on the importance of calling a spade a spade. I long to be a theologian of the cross who speaks a theology of the Cross. A theology of the Cross brings life – a theology of glory by definition does not tell the whole story.
Will you be a person who tells the truth?