I’ve written for public newspapers for many years and I receive three types of letters in response to my columns. Some encourage me to “Keep being a voice for truth.” “We appreciate your willingness to be honest and take the heat,” they write. “Don’t be silenced by those who oppose you.”
I also receive letters from angry readers. These people label me and accuse me with demeaning words. I understand that they disagree but find it disappointing that they can’t do so agreeably.
The third type of letter comes from people who seem upset by what I write but address me respectfully. They struggle with my views because the issue is typically deeply personal to them. I often appreciated the transparency and vulnerability of these letters.
Although the respectful letters often share many of the same disagreements as the angry ones, the difference in tone assumes that I care enough to hear their struggles. The angry responses assume that I lack compassion for those who disagree with me.
This is part of the dilemma of written communication. Facial expressions and tones of voice are absent along with the process of listening and dialogue. 700-word monthly columns do not facilitate these parts of communication.
I occasionally meet people who disagree with my columns. After talking a bit, they say, “You seem nicer than I thought you would be.”
I take no pleasure in knowing that people feel hurt by my words. I don’t like being misunderstood or maligned as hateful, bigoted or phobic. These labels are simply not true of me.
I have lived long enough and engaged in people’s lives sufficiently to realize that life is hard for all of us in different ways and that my struggles are as real as those of others. We are all sinners, whether we like that label or not. We all need a Savior and a redeemer.
As a pastor, I often get a front-row seat to deeply personal pain. Gratefully, I have even been able to help some find their way to better days. This world is a broken place filled with broken people. At times, I feel inadequate to minister to others in their pain, but God faithfully gives me grace to persevere and wisdom to counsel. Sometimes my counsel is in the form of encouragement; sometimes admonishment. Sometimes I have to tell people things they don’t want to hear.
When Jesus came into the world, he was “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). My desire is to follow the example of Jesus Christ. But I know that being truthful (especially based on Scripture) puts one at risk of being misunderstood. I accept this even if I don’t find it pleasant. I must always work harder at being full of grace but not at the expense of truth.
The larger debate seems to settle on how one can know truth — especially truth from God. I look to the Bible for truth about life and death, God and humanity, morality and meaning. Although it must be understood in historical context and as a progressive revelation, I believe the Bible is reliable to guide us in the most important matters of life.
God chose the means of written truth to preserve his word for humanity (see II Timothy 3:16-17). The preservation and pervasive influence of the Bible is staggering. Jesus repeatedly demonstrated complete reliance on Scripture (Matthew 4:1-11), and I choose to follow His example.
The Bible contains truths that transcend historical and cultural boundaries, speaking to humanity with univocal authority. This is true because of the divine origin of Scripture. Clearly the Bible is a human product, but it is equally from God (see: II Peter 1:20-21).
To escape the truths of the Bible, some try desperately to mock it for a few obscure passages that are hard to understand. Others commit what C. S. Lewis called chronological snobbery by rejecting it as ancient and without current relevancy. Still others suggest that it is hopelessly meaningless because of conflicting interpretations.
Yet most of the Bible is clear enough to get the message — a message that centers in the human need for a Savior and God’s provision of His one and only son (see: John 3:16-17).
Rejection of that message says more about us than it does the Bible.
Truth-telling often involves a need to be instruments of godly sorrow.
When Jesus came into the world, he was “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). We cannot be full of grace at the expense of truth. Yet by being humble, loving, truth-telling followers of Jesus, we can offer the badly needed alternative to the uncertainty, anxiety, and angst of postmodern times.
See also: Subversive Gospel-centered Communities