When Truth is Swallowed Up By ‘Love’
Love is the highest truth.
My truth is love.
Phrases like these are not only popular, they resonate with us. Something feels right about them. It seems warm and inviting, hospitable and kind. It’s unlike angry preachers and quibbling theologians. Jesus, of course, was not like them. He was gentle and, above all, loving. So, love, we conclude, must be above all our notions of truth.
But there’s a problem. To equate truth with love is not simply a confusion of language; it’s an error in thinking. Language is how our minds process concepts. So a muddle of words—as poetic as they might be—reflects a fuzziness of the mind.
Logic these days has a bad wrap, so I’ll try not to lean too much on it. But indulge me for a moment. Pretend these were the days when all great men and women had to be schooled in the art of logic and rhetoric, when the supreme force of the cosmos was a universal ‘logos’.
Here’s a hypothesis: Love and truth are not synonymous; they are symbiotic.
Love is not truth and truth is not love, but they need each other to be what they are.
Love needs truth in order to be loving.
What do I mean by this? Take for example our uneasiness about being a ‘defender of truth’. No one wants to be a ‘defender of truth’. Such people are angry and old-fashioned and grumpy. And yet, we want—desperately want—to be defenders of the oppressed. This is noble of itself. It is God-like—to be a defender of the weak and the marginalized.
But here’s the problem: How shall we determine who the oppressed are without ‘truth’, or at least some version of it? (Set aside the necessary epistemological questions for the minute.) We are so quick to point out how we see truth dimly and imperfectly and with all our baggage of bias and prejudice when we want to minimize what is being said. Someone says sex outside of marriage is not what’s best for real and sustainable intimacy, and we say, ‘Well…You read Paul that way, but you have all these biases and prejudice of being in a patriarchal Western society. That is not my truth.’ But when we want to condemn certain nations for, say, the subjugation of women, all of a sudden the subjective nature of perceiving truth is forgotten. No: now we know that something is wrong.
But haven’t we cut off the leg we are hoping to stand on? On what basis shall we say that beheading people whose religion you despise is wrong? What ground are we standing on when we say that selling children for sex is wrong? How shall we defend the oppressed without some version of truth—however imperfectly perceived—to draw lines between right and wrong?
Moreover, if our highest ethic is to defend the marginalized, what happens when the people we think are the oppressors in our day become the ‘marginalized’ in the next era? (For a fun example: What happens when Evangelicals—the perceived fundie-oppressors—become the marginalized in America? Do we change our tune and start defending historic Christian views?) The point is that saying our ‘truth’ is to love the outsider is not enough. We need a way of saying why.
The logic goes like this: To be loving, we must defend the oppressed; to defend the oppressed, we must define who the oppressed are; and to define that, we need a vision of truth. In sum, Love needs Truth in order to be loving.
Truth needs love in order to be true.
Here is where the voice of our age has been of some use. It has helped shake us from our notion of truth in abstraction. It has reminded us that the truth must take on form. And truth must take into account real people with real stories and complicated situations. Truth does not manifest in a vacuum. It always is embedded in the gritty detail of life.
But our age wasn’t the first to see this.
Jesus—the Logos—became flesh. Jesus the Truth became Man that He might give His life away in love for the world. Truth is not truth when it remains in the abstract or conceptual. It must be embodied. And when it is embodied, it is embodied as sacrificial, self-giving love.
This is where stories help us more than ‘logic’ does. All the great stories we love are stories that ring true. They speak truthfully about the pain of our lives, and the power of sacrificial love to carry that pain to its healing.
Truth needs love in order to take on flesh and die.
So, yes: love needs truth, and truth needs love. Confusing the two or conflating them does not do justice to either and robs us of loving truly and truly loving. When truth is swallowed up by ‘love’, we lose both.
And the only way to see these things clearly is to behold Jesus, to behold in him the’ glory of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.’
Look, and live.
Look again, and live more deeply.
Give us eyes, Lord, that we might see Jesus.