I heard it just the other day listening to a podcast. The pastor said, “We have to do both love and truth. We can’t just be loving… we also have to be truthful.”
This sort of sounds wise, but in fact I think it’s deeply problematic and several levels. So my proposal is simple: let’s stop saying this entirely. Let’s stop trying to balance love and truth.
Think about it for a second with me:
Love isn’t deceitful, is it?
When we contrast love and truth like this, the vision of “love” our language presents is a kind of “niceness” that’s apparently willing to deceive others in order to make them feel better.
When I hear leaders contrast love and truth like this, the implication seems to be that “love” is the easy thing to do. It’s simply placating people, saying whatever needs to be said to maintain warm fuzzies.
And if that’s what “love” is, then I agree that it is a terrible strategy for life and leadership. But what people are thinking of when they use “love” like this isn’t actually love (as Jesus defines it, at least).
No that’s, not love. The nervous managing of other people’s emotions is a form of codependence. We call it Hang Out culture, where making sure everyone else is happy is the #1 goal.
What a weak vision of love! We’re doing ourselves (and those who listen to us) no favors by talking this way. Contrasting love and truth implies that “love” is less than truthful. We’re capitulating to a vision of love that falls far short of the New Testament’s vision.
Love in its fullness is seen in Jesus
Contrasting love and truth cheapens our vision of both love and truth. It makes love into “niceness” and truth into “toughness,” as if the truth is always negative. Much of the time, the truth that Jesus speaks to people is positive. It’s truth about their identity. Truth about their authority. Truth about their belovedness!
And it’s all done in love. What the New Testament proclaims is that we see what God is really like in Jesus. And what we learn when we look at Jesus is that “God is love,” as the Apostle John put it. What does that love look like? That’s the question.
It’s scary for a lot of people to realize that, according to the New Testament, love isn’t part of an equation that needs to be balanced by anything else. Rather, love is the whole ball game! It’s remarkably easy to miss this, I think because we’ve been hypnotized by our culture’s vision of “love.”
To jog our memories, here’s a cursory overview of how central love is to the vision of the New Testament writers.
- Love is what Jesus hangs all of the law and prophets on (Matt 22:34-40).
- Love summarizes (Gal 5:14) and fulfills (Rom 13:8-10) the entire law.
- Love is the goal of all instruction and training (1 Tim 1:5).
- Love is how faith works itself out, and this is the only (!) thing that counts (Gal 5:6)
- Love is the way we know we’ve passed from death to life (1 Jn 3:14).
- Love is the way that everyone around us will know we are Jesus’ disciples (Jn 13:35).
- Love is the way we are filled with all the fullness of God (Eph 3:19).
- Love is who God is, and our love is evidence we are becoming more like him (1 Jn 4:8).
I could go on. “Love and truth” aren’t the vision for Jesus or the New Testament writers. It’s just love! But it’s love as seen in Jesus, who wasn’t afraid to live in reality and call his disciples to do the same.
Love is full of grace and truth
I hope you can see how problematic it is to contrast love and truth (or to try and “combine” them, which still means you think they’re different).
Here’s my proposal instead: a better vision of love is to see it as “full of grace and truth” (as Jesus is presented in John 1). And what do I mean by grace and truth?
Grace is not just God “pulling his punches,” giving me a “pass.” No, grace is all about mutuality and connection in relationship. Grace is God’s empowering presence that reaches out to connect. Grace is God’s desire to be with us. It is the gift of his friendship with us.
“Grace is not just pardon for the poor sinner but “participation in the divine nature,” as Karl Rahner said.
And truth, as we see in Jesus, is all about seeing people as God sees them (not just what’s wrong with them), and calling them in love to live out their true identity in Christ. Truth is vision, empowerment, enlivening hope that calls people into God’s kingdom. Truth is about naming and living in reality as God sees it.
Love is full of grace and truth! Which doesn’t mean we try to “balance” grace and truth… no, it’s not about balance at all. It’s about learning to live in the fullness of both grace and truth, both “turned up to 11” at the same time.
Our temptation is to try and and separate them… we want love to be “niceness” or “toughness,” but real love is neither of those things (nor is it a combination of the two). It’s a third category that transcends the false binary of “love and truth.”
Questions for discussion
- Do you use the phrase “love and truth”? What work do you think it’s doing for you? I’m genuinely curious… maybe I’m missing something?
- What new possibilities does thinking about love as “full of grace and truth” open up for you?
Leave a comment below to start a discussion!