In 2014, an article appeared in the New York Times asserting that America was becoming more polarized. Nearly four years later, it seems that not much has changed. In fact, it could be argued that polarization has progressed even further. The freedom inherent in the American system allows for a uniquely diverse group of people – people who come from various cultural, religious, ethnic, and political backgrounds – to co-exist in society. The American concept of human rights allows these people to express themselves in pronounced ways. Together, these factors form the breeding ground for bold and controversial opinions that can not only be voiced, but acted upon. The current “age of activism,” as several commentators have labeled it, has only increased the strongly opinionated nature of many American citizens. Truth-claims (whether self-labeled or not), are thrust into the faces of people on a daily basis through exposure to social media, news outlets, and personal interaction. Americans are repetitively encouraged to sort through “fake news” to find what is true.
As the culture and political war rages on, Christians too are forced to stand ground for what they believe. For several years, the academic community has combated the harmful philosophies of Post-modernism and moral relativism. Many laymen seek to reinforce Christian truths regarding marriage, life, and the imago dei – all for good reason.
Yet, society’s profound emphasis on truth may be a trap.
C.S. Lewis once wrote that “[The Devil] always sends errors into the world in pairs–pairs of opposites…He relies on your extra dislike of one to draw you gradually into the opposite one. But do not let us be fooled. We have to keep our eyes on the goal and go straight through between both errors. We have no other concern than that with either of them.”
If the Devil is real (and I believe he is), it would make perfect sense for him to wage a war against truth – after all, he is the “father of lies” (John 8:44). However, this is not to destroy truth altogether. He cannot – the Truth has already won (John 14:6). What if, instead, it was to draw our attention more closely to it…at the neglect of equally important things? After all, the best tactic of any pickpocket is a good diversion. Perhaps too many of us as Christians have been so focused on the punches being thrown at our face, that we have neglected the money slipping from our pocket in the rear.
In our stand for what is true – a noble and necessary task – we have succumbed to the anger, bitterness, and harshness that categorize the world. We are slow to listen, quick to speak, and quick to become angry (see James 1:19). It is no wonder that truth and logic cannot reconcile. Too many people hear only clanging cymbals (1 Cor. 13:1).
By focusing solely on truth, many times we neglect an element that is just as important: Spirit. We fall into the Devil’s trap, as Lewis says, by erring too far in one direction. In John 4:23, Jesus states that “the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way.”
What makes us Christians – true worshipers of God – is not just what we believe or what we do, but just as importantly, how we do it. My deepest prayer is that I, and other Christians, would become a people profoundly identified with the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). When I read these dispositions, they sound so foreign to those on display in most public discourse. And that is a very good thing. There are many truth-claims in this world – some of which sound just as “strange” as Christianity. However, it is our dispositions – the way we act and interact – that show we are foreigners. It is then that we identify ourselves as “citizens of heaven” (Philippians 3:20) and become a “city on a hill” (Matthew 5:14).
I am thankful that we live in a country that allows us to voice our opinions so actively. We have the ability to proclaim truth in ways that many others cannot. But as we do so, we must remember that God also cares profoundly about the way in which it is done. Tim Keller writes, “Love without truth is sentimentality; it affirms us but keeps us in denial about our flaws. Truth without love is harshness; it gives us information but in such a way that we cannot really hear it. God’s saving love in Christ, however, is marked by both radical truthfulness about who we are and yet also radical, unconditional commitment to us.”
Truth is only a means to an end – not the end itself. It is one part of the equation – but not the solution. Jesus’ rallying cry for his disciples is not to “stand strongly for the truth,” but rather to “go and make disciples” (Matthew 28:19). It would be a travesty to have more people know what Christians believe…but to have less people actually believe it. Perhaps though, when we live in both truth and spirit, not only will we more freely worship God, but we will also inspire others to do likewise.