By Alison Andreasen
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Has someone ever tried to convince you to keep quiet about your beliefs because they might hurt someone’s feelings? People like this argue that pointing out differences causes divisions.There is no good pointing out the truth, they say, because all thoughts are equal. It is frustrating to be labeled as intolerant, cold-hearted, and stuck in your ways even though you are only describing what you believe. It makes you wonder how stating what you believe can be so offensive. It makes you question if the other party is being as tolerant as they claim since your thinking is so disturbing to them. Yet that is exactly how you are labeled--a haughty person who thinks her beliefs are better than others’.
It is almost as if there is an 11th commandment that says, “Thou shalt not think you are in the right.” There is a fancy name for this, too. Jeff Mallinson speaks of it in his section entitled “How We Know” in the book, Learning at the Foot of the Cross: A Lutheran Vision for Education. He says that epistemological relativism, a common way of thinking in our day, stands on two premises: 1. That there are many thoughts on one subject, and 2. That there is no way to determine whether one has a better view than another.
With this thinking, it is a terrible sin to claim you possess the truth. But being an epistemological relativist is not an ideal Christians should strive toward.
Epistemological relativists are notorious for insisting that all views of truth are the same. While it is true that sometimes apparent disagreements are caused by differences in vocabulary that mask a similarity of belief, sometimes disagreements are the natural result of completely different foundational beliefs. This is nothing new. Luther experienced similar run-ins. Consider this passage from a letter Luther wrote to Erasmus (quoted by Mallinson):
“What you say here seems to mean that it does not matter to you what anyone believes anywhere, so long as the peace of the world is undisturbed, and that in case of danger to life, reputation, property, and goodwill, it is permissible to . . . regard Christian dogmas no better than philosophical and human opinions, about which it is quite stupid to wrangle, contend, and assert, since nothing comes of that but strife and the disturbance of outward peace . . . . By such tactics you only succeed in showing that you foster in your heart [the perspective of the atheist, who] secretly ridicules all who have a belief and confess it. Permit us to be assertors, to be devoted to assertions and delight in them.”
In disagreements with epistemological relativists, no matter what the primary disagreement is, the underlying disagreement is actually that there IS truth. What good is believing something if you don’t think it is any better than other possible truth? Dear brothers and sisters, no matter what they want you to think, you can be assured that there is indeed truth! And it is okay to claim there is truth, that it is knowable, and even that what you believe is true.
Sometimes one answer is right and one is wrong! Today is either Monday or Friday. Both answers cannot be correct. The same is true in spiritual matters. Someone can’t claim that Jesus existed and another claim that He didn’t and both of them be correct. Either He lived, died, and rose again or He didn’t. If He did, the other things He said deserve to be believed. “And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Cor. 15:14). He is the one event throughout history on which every other truth claim hinges. There is absolute truth and He is it!
Your belief in Jesus is not just a blind faith that is equal to any other faith. Jesus was a person who actually lived. People saw him. They gave testimony about Him and stood by those testimonies in the midst of terrible persecution and death. Your faith is not in some make-believe creature. He was real. He is real. And what He says stands.
Christians view Scripture as authoritative. If it says there is truth--an absolute truth--we also say so. It doesn’t matter if the world around us denies that there is absolute truth. We are being consistent with our faith and that is a good thing.
Yet knowing that truth exists doesn’t always make life easy for a Christian. Fortunately, we aren’t left to determine truth on our own. Jesus gave the Holy Spirit to continue to be with His people after He ascended, and this Spirit is called “the Spirit of truth.” “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come” (John 16:13). John 17:17 says, “Sanctify them in your truth. Your word is truth.”
Sometimes the truth hurts when it tells us that something we love is wrong. It hurts when someone says they can’t condone our actions. It hurts to be reprimanded and see our weaknesses laid open before others. It is no wonder the Word of God is called the sword of the spirit and “sharper than any two-edged sword” (Heb. 4:12). But because something hurts doesn’t mean it isn’t true. Anne in the Anne of Green Gables series didn’t like being told she had red hair, but that didn’t change the color of her locks.
The truth may hurt, but it doesn’t mean the truth-sayer is guilty of hate. Often, it is the people who speak the truth to you that love you the most. They are not okay with seeing your sin destroy you. Silence that appears to be supportive is actually negligence when a person is in danger. The parents who remains silent or nods approvingly while a child is eating rat poison (even if it looks like candy) are not loving. A parent who warns a child, even loudly and sternly, is the one who loves. Asserting that our neighbors are doing things to their detriment, temporally or eternally, isn’t hateful. Neither is pointing out differences or incongruencies in thought and life. It is possible to both disagree and hate, but it is also possible to disagree and love.
We, as Christians, should acknowledge where we have sinned and repent of ungodly behavior in disagreements. Measuring ourselves against the Ten (not 11) Commandments, we see where we have fallen short in discussions. We do need to confess when we have talked about others behind their backs, slandered them, lost our temper, or harmed them physically. Confession is a beautiful thing that allows us to be honest and humble. And often, that act of vulnerability is enough to open doors of communication that invite other parties to do the same, revealing their insecurities, weaknesses, and sins.
Yet we do not need to apologize for telling the truth in love even if it hurts someone’s feelings. Take heart, daughters of God! There is Truth and His name is Jesus! May we move forward in this world full of eggshells, stepping boldly, yet gently with love, knowing that we are not alone--even if it feels that way sometimes.
Alison is a wife of one, mother of four, and teacher of many. She lives in rural South Dakota where she enjoys life on the prairie as a dual parish pastor’s wife. A trained Lutheran school teacher and homeschooling mom, she has a passion for children’s education, especially education in the Christian faith. She loves locally grown food, foraging with her family, reading classic literature she's never read before, and day dreaming.