Thursday, October 22, 2009

Grace and Truth

John 1:17

Moses brought the law, Christ came to bring grace and truth.

This verse has always stuck out to me; it made sense but it did not. I knew somewhat of the law of Moses; 613 commands on how to eat, bathe, marry, work and generally live. As Christians I think we can only vaguely understand how stressful Judaism must be, unless of course we have grown up in a conservative church that had a lot more than 613 ways to piss off God. Either way, the idea that Christ brought Grace and Truth on the foundation of law is fascinating. And I have seen the beauty of this played out consistently in my relationship with Christ and good friends; but I have also seen the twisting and ignoring of these two delicate words. So I wanted to share some thoughts, hopefully some encouragement.

I wanted to start with the greek definitions of the two words John used. Also, I know many of us have learned that Christ spoke in Aramaic, however John was assuredly written in Greek, and there is good scholarship pointing to Christ speaking in Greek often as well. It was a common, almost universal language in Judea at the time. It seems beautiful to me- the lovely word 'charis' (greek for grace) also rolled from Christs' lips.

charis: grace
that which affords joy, pleasure, delight, sweetness, charm, loveliness: grace of speech
good will, loving-kindness, favour of the merciful kindness by which God, exerting his holy influence upon souls, turns them toward Himself, keeps, strengthens, increases them in faith, knowledge, affection, and kindles them to the exercise of the Christian virtues

Aletheia : truth
-objectively what is true in any matter under consideration
what is true in things appertaining to God and the duties of man, moral and religious truth
in the greatest latitude
-the true notions of God which are open to human reason without his supernatural intervention
the truth as taught in the Christian religion, respecting God and the execution of his purposes through Christ, and respecting the duties of man, opposing alike to the superstitions of the Gentiles and the inventions of the Jews, and the corrupt opinions and precepts of false teachers even among Christians
-that candour of mind which is free from affection, pretence, simulation, falsehood, deceit

so these are the definitions the writers of the gospel, and Christ meant when they used the words 'Grace' and 'Truth'.

I am not quite sure if our English definitions match up exactly. I think 'grace' means letting people get away with things. 'Truth' can seem standard, except that so many are not sure if they believe in universal truth anymore. We are seeing not the onset of Relativism (you can see this in the writers and intellegencia of the 30's), but we can see the effects of it in our generation; open-mindedness; kindness; a true pursuit of knowledge, hand in hand with apathy; cowardice and selfishness. That is another note.

In regard to Christianity, it is easy for us to adopt one or the other. Most Christians are known for their 'truth', we have all heard the megaphone on the street corner. And perhaps what he is screaming is truth, but who is listening? As well, we have all told people the truth, but most of the time it is reserved for heated conversations- truth screamed over email or updates or break ups; over dirty dishes, missed appointments; uncovered lies or the like.

This is precisely the worst time to be honest with those we love, or those we don't. When we reserve Truth bathed in anger, it gives the other person all the right in the world to dismiss your words based on emotion or all the truthful hypocrisies of your own life that they can shout right back at you. And so we float through life, stuck in our minds and eyes, unable to see our action and words from any point of view other than our own.

And how desperately we need the truth. I know everyone is aware of my abject fascination with Meyers Briggs/ The Five Love Languages, and the reason for it is because the only time I believe truth to be subjective, is when it applies to the standards by which we judge people. When someone doesn't follow through; when someone doesn't offer to help me; when someone says one thing and does another- these things boil my blood. Because acts of service is my primary love language, because I try to stick by my word (to be honest, this has not been a strong point with me lately- sorry friends) however, this is not how everyone relates. I could care less (usually) if someone says something unkind or questionable to me, I can laugh off words, but many cannot. And so when I have had friends that are primary 'feelers' or in which words of affirmation is important; i am in trouble. And this is not because I don't love them, or because I am mean; I am just different in how I love and communicate and value things. But this does not change that I hurt people with my words or lack of them. And 'this is just how I am' is a selfish way to go through life. And so the Truth my friends have given me has been incredibly important. But if it was not delivered in Grace and Love; all I could see was all their own faults and inconsistencies and I was so busy thinking about that, I hadn't the time to consider the things they told me. Words spoken in this way is not truth. It is Cowardice.

And then there is Grace. This seems to be the most often characteristic of friendships. We let things slide, we avoid confrontation; and mostly we just bitch behind backs to our other friends, trade stories; feel affirmed; and then never give the other person a chance to change.

Confrontation is terrifying to our culture. Generally we surround ourselves with people of similar temperament and vices, people with whom we can avoid friction. And so we allow vanity or shitty treatment of women/men, poor spending choices or apathy; because we don't even notice. Good friendship is just building each other up mutually, affirming anothers place in the world and lifestyle. We may know our friends are hurting people, we know they are heading somewhere dark, we know they are addicted to pornography or shopping, we know they are not eating or eating too much; their hearts are hard and dark; but who are we to bring up difficult things? And so we have 'grace' for them and figure they will work it out. This is not grace. This is Cowardice.

I say Cowardice because it does not take Bravery or Strength to yell at someone, to gossip or slander. It does not take Integrity or Character to ignore or allow our friends to drown behind their own eyes.

I am a coward in some of my friendships. I have a few friends that are Liars, in that they lie quite absurdly and often. Other people know this and it is talked about frequently behind their back. I have gracecowardice because I've been a Liar and because I know they don't like themselves very much and desperately want other people to (things I can relate with). I have never spoken to them about it. Isn't it terrifying to think about all true things people say behind our backs? Let's hope to God our friends tell us before our enemies or spouses or bosses or children do.

So the delicate balance of Truth and Grace are necessary, and rare, so rare.

I see this in Christ. The longest recorded back and forth conversation Jesus had with someone in scripture was the woman at the well. She was a racial outsider (think of a white southern preacher having a conversation and with an African American prostitute in the 1950's Alabama- in plain site for all to see) and a woman of ill repute. Christ strikes up a conversation with her, asks her questions to which he obviously already knew the answers; and encouraged her toward change. Grace and Truth.

In my own life Grace and Truth has ultimately meant humbling myself and being humbled. It is uncomfortable and vulnerable and so counter intuitive, no wonder it is so rarely done.

But the Truth is- I could ignore everyone who spoke behind my back, shrug off the gossip that reached my ears, or the catty passive agressive comments some of my friends slung at me. But I could not ignore my best friends coming to me in tears, begging me to stop what I was doing. I was doing things that seemed okay to me, things that comforted me and made sense in my own mind. But this was not the Truth. And they did not hide behind Grace or the caricature of it.

When I have gone to friends I thought were hurting themselves and others in Truth and Grace, it was like shedding all of my clothes and kneeling before them in tears. It was like peeling back my breastplate and giving them full access to my heart. Anger is a wonderful shield. It blocks words and actions and can throw bullets and knives back at your attacker. Grace and Truth require terrifying vulnerability. But, it works.

The truth is most of the time when we are angry with the actions of another, we may not want them to change in the present moment as much as we want them to hurt or we want to feel better. Shouting and back biting and condescending exchanges are perfect for accomplishing this.

But going before someone and loving them, affirming them and admitting that you are not perfect, not flawless- saying upfront that the purpose of your words is not to hurt or cause pain- but because you love them, are worried to what they are blinded to- (various flaws here) - that requires a lot of bravery.


Your best friend bails on hanging out with you for the umpteenth time; another broken promise; or phone call that never came, etc.

the option of truthcowardice: Telling her/him they suck at life, complaining to other friends, being cold to them; etc.
What does this do to the best friend? Reminds them of every time you have failed to come through, or that time you made out with their ex, or ruined that thing you let them borrow or how you never clean up after yourself. So they tell you as much or say it behind your back. And they don't change.

the option of gracecowardice: ignore it, avoid it, forgive them and lose faith in their words or become repeatedly hurt.

And the truth may be that your friend is terrible about remembering to call or follow through in the same manner that you never remember to encourage your friends, or clean up after yourself, or any number of personal inconsistencies. You don't mean them personally and are confused when people think you do, it is just how you are. And that is exactly what they think about their own faults. So they don't change.

the option of Grace/Truth: sitting them down and telling them that you love them, you miss them and only because of this does it hurt when they don't follow through. Letting them see not anger, but vulnerability. Apologize for the ways you have hurt them as well, and ask one another how the friendship can grow.

I think Grace and Truth come easily to Christ because he knows all of us intimately, on a micro-level. He knows our wounds, the memories and words that haunt us, the Reason Why We Are How We Are.

I know we all have friendships in our lives with difficult people- and we may hear others gossip about them or argue with us as to why we spend time with them. And I am sure we all say the same thing 'You don't know them the way I do...'. For many of my friends this person has been me. I used to joke that my friends all had part time jobs running damage control for me. I don't know how many times someone has gone to Jenna or Jenn when I have said or done something to offend them. And their response is the same "She didn't mean it that way..."

But when have we not all been guilty of this? We can make excuses for our best friends, but we can also honestly defend them, because we know them on a Micro Level- we know them intimately and personally.

I recently saw the movie 'Infamous' about Truman Capote writing the very first true crime novella ever published. He spent time interviewing and getting to know two men who killed a family of four in rural kansas. One of the killers was typical; unrepentant; ignorant- things we may automatically assume a murderer would be. But the other was an artist; was gentle and broken. There were so many little, tiny things that added up to this man shooting a father and son in the head. His father calling him a sissy and a fag, and his friend using those same words right before he took the shot gun and became a murderer while trying to redeem his masculinity. Truman Capote knew him intimately, on a micro level, the way God knew that man. The way God knows you and I.

God has Grace and Truth for us and we must, must, must have this for other people.

Anything else is Cowardice.


  1. This is a great blog. It's hard to live out that truth/grace in a spirit of vulnerability. I think that we have to understand our own relationship with Christ (the whole grace thing, particularly) before we can relate it to each other. When I falter in treating my friends with the attitude you speak of, I think it's because of my lack of understanding of how Christ applies it to me.
    Cliche, yes, but Incredible Truth nonetheless.

  2. Grace and Truth require terrifying vulnerability.

    Amen. I echo what Jeanne said about treating friends badly sometimes because we don't understand how Christ can apply it in our own lives. Anger IS a wonderful shield, but so is self-righteousness. To take the stance of the victim and see that as somehow nobler when really it's another shield to hide behind in the face of the terrifying prospect of fully understanding Love and Grace in our lives and the lives of our friends.