Embracing Mystery: Speaking Truth with Love

Reflections from Dr. Howell

Paul’s on a roll at the end of Ephesians 4. “Putting away falsehood, let every one speak the truth with his neighbor” (Ephesians 4:25). What’s the climactic line in “A Few Good Men”? “You can’t handle the truth!” Handling truth is an art, requiring humility and wisdom. You can blurt out true things that are hurtful. St. Ephrem pictured truth as one wing of a bird, the only wing being love. Without love, truth can’t fly; without truth, love crashes to the ground.

Truth is a real thing, although we’ve been hoodwinked into believing all news is fake and all thought is prejudice. How pathetic would it be if there were no truth, but only our pet notions and ideological murmuring? Truth sets us free, as Jesus reminded us (John 8:32). Truth is the way toward healing. Truth is that God is good, and there is hope.

“Be angry but do not sin” (Ephesians 4:26) perhaps should be translated “When you are angry, do not sin,” especially as Jesus said anger is murder (Matthew 5:22). There is a kind of holy anger, although we mostly see unholy anger. St. Augustine poetically wrote that “Hope has 2 beautiful daughters: anger at the way things are, and courage to see to it they do not remain the way they are.” Get upset by what is not of God, not in sync with Jesus; but instead of stewing on it (is this sin?), do something.

Indeed: “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for edifying, that it may impart grace to those who hear… Let all bitterness, anger, slander and malice be put away from you” (Ephesians 4:29-31). Indictment against our time in history: we’ve become a people who seem to cherish nastiness, bashing the other guy. It’s personal, and political. At the end of the Civil War, with boatloads of resentment in the air, Lincoln urged “malice toward none.” Words, even in our day when they’ve been cheapened, are powerful. The test for us is Do the things I say edify anybody? Is grace imparted? Or shattered by my words?

“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32). Kindness is more tender and engaged than simply being nice, isn’t it? Why be kind and forgiving? Because God is kind and forgiving to you. What would Jesus do? Be sure you find out, instead of assuming Jesus is the Jesus of your fantasies… and try to copy him: “Be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1-2).