A Wedding of Mercy and Truth
Throughout the month of May in my weekly blog, I explored the apparent tension we all sometimes face between being people of mercy and being people of truth. This is vitally important because the implications of how we handle mercy and truth extend to every facet of how we relate with one another: how parents raise their children, how husbands and wives work through disagreements, how teachers or coaches or bosses motivate those they oversee, how the church goes about “kingdom work,” and certainly how our team at Regeneration relates with the men and women who come to us for help.
Much of my thinking (and writing) in May about the interplay between mercy and truth was informed by what I see as I watch how our culture—including our churches—is inadequately addressing the plight of homosexual men and women.
The reality is that both mercy and truth have power to shape us, and so whether we use them well or poorly makes a huge difference in what we are shaped to be. For those seeking freedom and healing in the area of sexuality and for those seeking to walk well with others who seek that freedom and healing, we must find that place where mercy and truth are wed together.
MERCY, TRUTH AND TWEEZERS
Mercy alone can be harmful. My five year old recently came inside crying because she got a splinter. Mercy rose up in me. I knew the splinter had to come out. But when I tried to remove it, she recoiled in pain, screaming, “Don’t touch it! Don’t touch it!” My efforts to bring healing were hurting her.
In your life, maybe it’s not a splinter but loneliness, a troubled marriage, a gender identity conflict, sexual temptations or addictions, unwanted same-sex attractions, current problems stemming from past abuse or neglect. Mercy wants to rush in with comfort, kisses, anything to relieve the pain, calm fears, ease aloneness. (Oh how we need more mercy on the earth, don’t we?)
In this ministry, we know thousands of people who have carried a heavy burden of shame for sins they did, sins they could not seem to stop doing, sins they were tempted to do, or sins done to them. Many of them grew up hearing nothing of their struggles but condemnation from the pulpit and gossip from the pews. We’ve heard countless stories of our brothers and sisters responding by hiding their sins, temptations, and wounds for fear they’d be rejected (or worse) if their secret struggles came to light. And we know how destructive shame and secrecy are.
Mercy of course wants to see an end to the burden of shame, the years of aloneness, the pain of reckless words, and the poison of secrecy. Mercy wants something better for these sons and daughters of God. And rightly so.
But there is a form of mercy that hones in solely on these pains, and has as its main and only objective to relieve pain if it can, and if it can’t, at least not to make it worse. This is a shallow mercy.
And here’s where a shallow mercy fails us: The pathway to restoration usually requires more pain, not less. And because it aims to alleviate pain, shallow mercy falters. And when it does, it ends up cooperating with the source of the original pain. It makes an alliance with the true problem. This is what’s happening in so many sectors of our present culture, particularly those dealing with sexual and relational sins and brokenness. And it’s what’s happening in many churches as well.
This results in churches that
· Focus outwardly, while inwardly they are full of festering wounds, enflamed addictions, and dying congregants
· Re-interpret Scripture’s teachings against specific sins to mean something else altogether
· Operate as though inclusion and acceptance are the highest calling of God’s people
We see this in the areas of divorce, sex outside of marriage, lust in general, and homosexuality.
Instead of coming to the Cross and pressing our lives into the body of Christ where true, deep mercy washes us clean from sin and shame, this shallow mercy leads us afar off from the cross. We are like travelers far from home, viewing the cross from a distance—as from a scenic overlook. From a distance it is sanitized—something to remind us of how much He loves us but never something through which we travel from death to life, something that utterly transforms us.
We take Christ’s provision of freedom from sin and shame and trade it for the shamelessness of the culture and a dulling of our corporate conscience.
For my little girl, mercy alone would have left her limping and fearful. With bigger problems, when healing requires greater pain, the consequences are much more substantial where shallow mercy balks.
To be truly merciful, mercy needs truth. Where mercy’s focus is easing pain, truth’s focus is exposing and dealing with the source of the problem. The cross is so important here. In the cross, mercy and truth are wed. They become loving allies, a unit, always working together. Truth empowers mercy to be truly merciful.
Whether receiving mercy for yourself or letting it arise in you for the good of another, you need more mercy, not less. A shallow mercy will not do. Do not settle for the inexpensive copy when the top of the line version is yours at the Cross, where mercy and truth flow deep together.
Likewise, truth without mercy can be destructive, too.
This is kind of a startling thing to consider, isn’t it? After all, Jesus is the Truth. How can truth be destructive? Consider for a moment a quotation taken out of context so it appears to say something different, even contradictory, to what the original speaker had in mind. The person said the words, but the quotation didn’t say all the words.
Truth can be used like this. God’s truth is an expression of His character, His personality, His love, His mercy. Divorced from who God is, truth alone is static and so it can be used destructively.
In Luke 7:36 – 50, a sexually immoral woman comes into a room where Jesus is eating and she falls at his feet. She wets his feet with her tears and uses her hair to wash them. She anoints his feet with expensive perfume.
A respected Jewish leader, Simon, sees all this and says to himself: “If this man were a prophet He would know who and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner.”
Simon was right. She had a history of sexual immorality with no evidence she’d changed her ways. And Simon knew a lot about God (the God Jesus was supposed to be representing), and before God, she was guilty. It was all true.
But it wasn’t all that was true.
In response, Jesus tells a parable to bring in the bigger context—what’s actually happening at this table, what “sort of person” she is . . . and what sort of person Jesus is. Then Jesus looks at the woman and asks what I think is one of the most profound questions in the New Testament: “Simon, do you see this woman?”
Truth is, he hadn’t. Simon saw the truth of her sin, her disregard for male-female cultural boundaries, Jesus’ peculiar lack of concern for the things that so occupied Simon’s own attention. But he could not see her.The difference between the two men, the difference between Simon’s smaller truth and Jesus fuller truth, was mercy. Simon saw the truth of this woman’s ungodly actions and believed God’s next order of business with her must be judgment. The truth of God’s heart of mercy towards this woman was nowhere in his equation. And so he assessed her worth to be little. Interestingly, by virtue of Christ’s response to the woman, Simon made a similar assessment of Jesus’ worth. Simon did not see that God’s embodiment of truth and mercy was at the table.
In Christ’s hands, truth comes with mercy and for mercy’s sake. He uses truth not like a bludgeon to crush but like a sword to separate where a person ends and sin begins. He doesn’t like collateral damage. Mercy stays small truth where it would be brash, slows it down and more fully informs it. Just as truth deepens mercy so it can be truly merciful, mercy breathes into truth, expanding its reach to take in the fuller scope of God’s heart towards people.
With mercy, truth includes the context that the creation of humanity is a love story between God and us. And though we brought sin and death into the story, it is not now a chronicle of war or a dark tragedy. Through the merciful work of Christ crucified and resurrected, He is making the love story more heroic, more romantic, more glorious than anyone could ever have dreamed.
Where in your life have you tried to wash yourself or others in the puddles of shallow mercy—tried to alleviate pain and so settled for a life of sin or brokenness? Where have you needed to plunge into the deep cool waters of mercy and truth?
Where in your life have you beat yourself up with your failures, or hammered others with truth devoid of God’s heart of mercy? Where have you settled for the truth of your sin and let it define who you are? Where have you needed the heroic, rescuing embrace of the God who uses truth and mercy together to separate you from your sin?
Do not stand afar off. Come to Christ on the Cross. Come for His truth, come for His mercy. Come.