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Grace, truth best go together

Each loses something vitally important without the other

Saturday, Jan. 3, 2004
Copyright © 2004. Reproduced with permission of The Spokesman-Review.

By Bill Robinson - Special to IN Life

In the past few months, The Spokesman-Review's Saturday religion section and the letters to the editor seem to have a lot to say about grace and truth.

This is music to my ears because I would like Whitworth College to become the world capital of grace and truth. I would like us to bleed grace and truth.

I would like to overhear some guy in a sports bar say, "Sure, Gonzaga has a great basketball team, but how about that grace and truth up there at Whitworth?"

I am distressed, however, by frequent implications that we must choose grace or truth rather than grace and truth. I'm not sure which is a worse abuse: being clubbed by truth without grace or being coddled by grace without truth.

We parents often come up with ridiculous answers to our kids' first questions about God. I remember flushing some dead goldfish down the toilet and then being quizzed by our 2-year-old daughter, "Where's Grumpy, Dad?" I mumbled something about goldfish heaven.

Of course, when she teased out of me the particular route Grumpy took to heaven, she asked if God was in the toilet, if we'd get flushed down the toilet, and a bunch of other goofy questions that I totally deserved.

For the Christian church, the best way to answer questions about God is by pointing. That's what John the Baptist did when he was standing on the roadside with two of his disciples and pointed at Jesus and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God."

John the disciple, who recorded John the Baptist's pointing incident, used words to point in the 14th verse of his gospel: "The word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the father, full of grace and truth."

What did grace and truth look like to Jesus? The Bible tells of a group of religious leaders who catch a woman in the act of adultery.

"What are you going to do?" they jeer, pushing the woman toward Jesus. "The law says she must be stoned."

Well, you know the story. Jesus invites whoever is without sin to cast the first stone, and he doesn't get any volunteers. All the accusers just drift away. So now it's just Jesus and the woman.

Jesus asks her, "Did they condemn you?"

"No," she answers.

"Neither do I (grace)," Jesus replies. "Don't do it again (truth)."

What happens when the ecology of grace and truth is lost? First, I have observed over the years that grace ceases to be grace if it lacks truth. It's a tough sell explaining to our kids that we punish them because we love them.

But is it grace when we allow our children, friends or relatives to take dangerous paths because we want to be nice? Is it grace when we shield people we love from the consequences of their actions, allowing them to continue in self-deception? No. Grace without truth is not grace at all. But it can also be argued that truth without grace cannibalizes truth.

Having taken more than a few shots over the years, I've come up with some rules for all of you who want to pummel me with the truth:

  • I will have a hard time hearing truth if I am busy defending myself.
  • I will have a hard time identifying truth if the assault feels like it's more for your good than for mine.
  • I am not capable of accepting truth from you if the attack feels personal.
  • I will stop thinking about truth if you make claims about my motives. Only I know my motives -- and I would rather you ask me what they are than tell me what you think they are.
  • So for me, and I suspect for most people, your credibility and capacity for truth-telling is destroyed without grace.

Grace and truth. At the most primal level of our human relationships, we need grace and truth together. It is how we are made.

Christians have no monopoly on grace and truth. In fact, history has shameful examples of Christians' graceless attacks on those who disagree with them. And, ironically, when these attacks have happened, it is because we have denied the truth.

The truth is that this God with whom we have bludgeoned others is the same God whose Bible says way more about humility and love than about any particular sin, except for maybe the sin of pride.

Am I suggesting that Christians water down the truth? No. I am suggesting that we bathe the truth in the living water of Christ's grace.

Grace and truth. We need both.