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Thursday, January 09, 2014

When Does "Truth" become the Enemy of Love?

Early in my adulthood, I was fascinated with a question that occupied my mind throughout my undergraduate and early graduate years. Which is the higher pursuit, love or truth? I came down hard on the truth side. My reasoning could be reduced to a simple thought--how do we know what to properly love unless it is grounded in truth? Not coincidentally, this logic informs much of the Fundamentalist/Evangelical thinking, of which I was very much a part.

Here's how this thinking works: Taking the meaning of love as an action, not an emotion, we are to "love one another." This means we are to behave toward one another as Jesus would, nurturing, sharing with, and protecting those who are our brothers and sisters in Christ. So far, so good. But soon an invidious question emerges: Who is my brother/sister in Christ? The purpose of this question is to make sure that we don't lavish our love on the unworthy (pearls before swine, as it were). Here, love is at the mercy of "truth." With "truth" as our guide, we soon are entrapped in a quagmire of a dualistic sense of the world: who's in/out, right/wrong, good/evil, friend/enemy, worthy/unworthy, on and on. The world is divided up largely between us and them and enemies abound. Perhaps the greatest fatality is the resultant inability to love one's enemies.

The seminary dean while I was getting my M. Div. loved to say that if he found a church closer to the truth than his, he would join it immediately. The criteria for such a church would be doctrinal purity or "more truth here." All other churches are deemed less truthful, and in some cases, the enemy of "truth." It seems that we cannot hold to grace in the presence of  purity laws. Purity wins every time.

(Note: Yesterday's post explains why the pursuit of "truth" is elusive.)

But, how would the priority of love work? Can it inform what is true?

One of the texts that is used to support the priority of truth is Matthew 5:48, where Jesus says, "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly father is perfect." Perfection is understood here as being perfectly in line with God's truth. But this is a gross misunderstanding of the meaning of perfect, as the context shows. Here's the full version:
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Recently I was having coffee at a local coffee bar with a friend. We were sitting outdoors in an area frequented by homeless people looking for a little charity. One young lady happened by and hit us up for a little change. I had a loose couple of dollars and handed them over to her. My friend, whose generosity could make him poor, hesitated, sensing a ruse at work. (She said she was looking for money for meds, while sipping on a large "to go" drink.) I am fairly sure she lied to us. But I didn't care. There are no people unworthy of our help as this passage from the Sermon on the Mount shows. for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. Being perfect, therefore, is to behave by loving people the same way God does, indiscriminately, without eligibility tests of any kind. Being human and therefore a child of God is sufficient. That's the truth! (You can make your own application of how this pertains to LGBTs, I'm sure.)

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