Monday, October 04, 2010
It's All About Context
These days, we--Christians and non-Christians in the West--have elevated "tolerance" to the highest human virtue. So much so, in fact, that a member of one of my former parishes told me once that, so far as he could tell, the gospel message was, "Live and let live." I wondered what Bible he had been reading.I really like the way Mark puts that and there are two very important points he makes that deserve amplification.
Christians should have no desire--any more than Jesus Himself did--to coerce people into repentance for sin or faith in Christ, of course....
If a child has the notion that sticking her or his finger into an electrical outlet would be fun, the last thing a responsible parent would do is tolerate this impulse. The parent would do everything conceivable to prevent the child from harming himself or herself. Love and truth would trump parental tolerance.
Just so, the Church has a God-given responsibility to militate against a lazy, indifferent tolerance, to instead, opt for love and truth in warning people who ask us for an account for the hope that is in us through Christ, to make them aware of the destructive consequences of flouting God's will, whether it's expressed in materialism, injustice, egotism, lovelessness, covetousness, or sex outside of marriage.
The first point is in the phrase "opt for love and truth." Love DEMANDS that truth be spoken. There is no love in watching someone destroy themselves. Love DEMANDS that we at least make sure people know they are making bad choices. It is inherently unloving to sit by and watch people make mistakes. But love also demands that we do so in a fashion that bespeaks of kindness and gentleness. Illuminating truth and condemnation are two very different things.
In many ways it is not about the truth, but in how we use the truth. It is also important to note that people who behave contrary to truth are often very sensitized to its declaration. They will often cry intolerance at an provocation becasue they recognize the essential truth of what is being declared and it runs afoul of their perceived desires. We are not accountable to those to whom we speak truth as to how we speak it, but we are accountable to Christ, and the how matters as much as the what.
The second point is in the noun "destructive consequences." We are often tempted to define sin by deific declaration. That is to say, "It's sin becasue God said it was." But we do not worship a caprious God. That which is sin is sin because it indeed has destructive consequences - consequences that we should be able to describe and demonstrate without resorting to a purely prophetic voice.
Which brings me back to the "how's" of declaring the truth. Reason matters more than condemnation. Again, the truth is condemning of itself. We do not need to provide the condemnation, only the truth - and reasonably so.