grace and truth?
There's a perplexing paradox that's plagued God's followers for thousands of years. It's that we must always show utmost kindness and grace while never compromising on what is true. This struggle came to the forefront for me when I started college. That was the first time that the bulk of my friends had little to no interest in Jesus and efforts to change that would have been harmful to them and our relationship. Even as I helped lead a successful evangelistic campus ministry, it seemed that I was holding out on the Good News of freedom and liberation with my close friends.
Disclaimer: I don't claim that this post has the answers you need, but it has the answers God gave me when I prayed about the terrible tension I felt at the time. Here, I walk through a prayer/journal entry that goes chronologically through the process I went through to get where I am today.
How should I address truth to people who want to reject God's wisdom for life? To people who find it offensive or repulsive because it call into question the things they take for granted or makes them pause to reflect upon how our society and dominant culture have normalized systemic evil. They get a glimpse of the malignant horror they naturally feel when they see the sin of everyone in power and their own contributions to evil. But they misinterpret that horror as a response to God and his truth rather than as a response to the world and its wrong.
This is easy to illustrate: Imagine taking a magic pill that makes you notice every crack in the sidewalk, or every crooked tile on the floor, or every note that's out of tune. We would naturally say that the magic pill is bad because it causes a disorder. We would say that the propensity to notice imperfection and brokenness is a curse. But, in reality, that pill just opens our eyes to the disorder that already exists in the world around us. In our mind, we would rather call the ability to notice brokenness “disordered” than admit that we consider the evil that constantly surrounds us normal or even normative. For 99% of the day, I totally ignore the evil around me and think I'm doing just fine. But when I'm faced with God's truth, I can't help but take note of that evil. Instead of blaming the evil for being evil, I blame God for taking me out of my comfortable stupor and causing me to see it.
And we can only know how the world falls short of the glory it's meant to live up to through the intimate relationship God has with every human, regardless of how each person sees or understands God. Such a unique and powerful relationship cannot exist while leaving a person unchanged. More specifically, God's relationship with us imparts to us a particular understanding of the world and our relationship to it. That relationship teaches us about how the world can and should be. It gives us the glimpses of Heaven that we need to understand that the things we experience are lacking in qualities that we would never discover through other means.
For example, no judicial system could ever be accurately described as “just.” Try as we might, everything we've ever tried has been full of injustice–but for some reason we can recognize that. We've never seen a truly just system of jurisdiction, yet we have an idea of what it would look like if it weren't broken. And we wouldn't understand “un-brokenness” if God hadn't placed himself in our lives in such a way that we could come to recognize his completeness and his perfection. When we judge the imperfection in our own world against the perfection that only exists in and through him, we can't help but feel it falls short.
This relationship is established (and is strongest) at the beginning of life, and we spend much of our life trying to minimize its effects on us. We see it as a problem or disorder if we're unsatisfied with the way things are. If our imagination “overactive,” do our best to curb it into conformity with prevailing, “practical” wisdom. We see the simple, absolute faith of children, but call them naive and gullible instead of recognizing that they clearly see God. In fact, taken to its logical extreme, if people grow up and are unable to ignore the evil, inconsistency, and downright stupidity of this world, we (the ones allowing evil to exist unchallenged) label them (the ones who recognize and fight against evil) as the ones who have the disorder.
The more we feel moved by the imperfection of the world, the less comfortable we feel in it. The people who see the world most clearly for the mess that it is are labeled as imbeciles and relegated to the fringes of society. They are thus relegated not because they pose a danger to us physically or mentally, but because they pose a very real danger of exposing to us the world for what it is, and through that also revealing us as the frauds that we are for recognizing its brokenness at the same time that we do nothing about it.
All this is to say, for those of us who choose to embrace the relationship God chooses to have with us, it's only healthy to recognize that the world is really messed up. If it makes you cringe, or cry, or cower, that's a good sign! It means you're sensitive to God's vision of perfection. Since you have clear sight of how the world should be, be diligent in your work within the realms where you hold power.
And, when you see your friend who equally recognizes the brokenness of the world (because God also shows himself to them), but lacks the cumulative teachings of 3,400 years of Godly tradition, don't push. Be patient. Recognize that they have specific dominion given to them by God–and their lives are not under your control. In other words, they're a ruler just like you. You rule separate kingdoms, and you're not looking to start a war by questioning their power and invading their territory. Instead, build bridges and inroads. Deal kindly with them. First, because you know that's the right thing to do. Second, because you love them. And last of all so that, one day, when they finally open their eyes to seek wisdom on how to live with the truth they already know, they'll be confronted with God's love through you. They will see how you live and listen to your instruction only when they're ready (and pray for this day to come soon).
Or if this day never comes and they cannot bring themselves to make the leap and love God almighty, you will still have loved them. And they will still have been loved by you and by God through you. And, as it is written, they will love you because, it goes without saying, those who don't know God are still capable of love, and they will love those who love them.
They may not recognize that God loves them, but they will almost definitely recognize that you love them. And they will love you in return. And when they love you because you loved them through God's love, they are, in all reality, loving God because he first loved them. This is the practical result of being an image of God and I find it quite beautiful.