Love and truth belong together. So why is it that they are so often found separated?
Moral life arises from the recognition of eternal truth, the acceptance of the reality of others in that same truth, and the sensitivity to feel the connection between them.
Puritan preacher Richard Baxter said love for one’s neighbor is akin to hunger and food connecting. It makes possible a new and different conversation.
Truth and love cannot live divorced from one another. Otherwise we are, in the former case, driven to principles rendered only as power, devoid of kindness and the graces and kindnesses of feeling for the other.
In the most demonic outcomes, we have inquisitions and Nazism, the slaughter of entire peoples in the name of ideas without any reflection on the horrors of our actions.
In the latter case, love without truth, we are left with a weakness of will and thought, and left only with a sentimentality that can never say no to oppression and abuse, never call sin wrong and never grant anything but permission.
No, truth and love not only need one another, they are not finally themselves without the other. They spiral into darkness, lovelessness, lostness and despair.
But together? They feed the hungry. They fell dictators and despots, they build hospitals and orphanages. They raise billions of dollars for kindness and mercy, move the cold and indifferent to care and to give.
They protect babies, fight for children and stop bullies. They laugh and tell stories, but never at the cost of the humiliation of the other.
They aspire to excellence but can never leave behind a neighbor who is less talented or less able in their field. They find a way to praise what is good in someone else. They unite to persuade hearts to care, minds to find answers, wills to act and spirits to lift.
Love and truth are inseparable, and the fact that we separate them is not an indication of our reasonableness but of our sin.
It is akin, as Rev. Ernest Campbell once said, to removing a wing from an airplane and flying with only one. There just isn’t enough to lift it.
Loveless truth and truthless love are the twin failures of our time. They must be reunited, and only in a human life can they be so joined. Only in human beings who seek wisdom, unite passion with good sense, kindness with conviction, forgiveness with righteousness, and generosity with competition.
This sundering of one from the other is the utter failure of our politics and explains the failure of good people to offer themselves in its processes – and our oversupply of those who instead trumpet themselves as the answer to all the wrong questions.
It partially accounts for our willingness to be shaped by 30-second sound bytes rather than deep conversations that end in something different.
It explains our inability to govern, not because the problems are insoluble but because those charged with resolving them are unreconciled to one another and unwilling to be.
It illumines the deep crisis of this moment because being right and being in control have been allowed to rise beyond both truth and love, thus we wind up with endless impasse.
Our robotic calls and freewheeling campaigns finance corruptions – perhaps the poorest buy for the billions ever.
Here is all we ask: Balance a budget; take care of the weakest; defend us and no more; work together for the common good; do no harm; be stewards of our treasures of land, water, people and money.
If these seem like simple truths, they cannot work without love, which requires trust, collaboration and occasional laughter at oneself.
If possible, consider not talking unless you can genuinely advance the conversation or offer some respect for an opponent’s idea.
Ninety days is long enough to run for Congress, and four months for president. Govern the rest of the time.
Take all your PAC money and slush funds and give them to charity. Robo-calls get prison on the first offense. If you have something to say to me, let it be from another human being or in public debate.
Love and truth are powerful. They belong together. They alone deserve one another in the right way. They alone can get us out of the mess we are in.
Theologian H. Richard Niebuhr, in a book on theological education, once said that the purpose of the church and its ministry is the increase of the love of God and neighbor – not just to acknowledge it as an arid intellectual truth, but to multiply it, increase it, nurture it, tend it like a garden.
It is, or ought to be, our magnificent obsession as the church – love, watered and fertilized by the truth and love of our founder Jesus Christ, love and truth in the flesh, lived out, shared, given, touched, offered.
We, too, are guilty in this massive failure of collective life. We have severed the tie and trivialized love and truth by our deep anxiety.
Often when we think we are defending the “truth,” we find ourselves using greater and greater emotion to reinforce it and, if we are capable of getting it, realize that we are not defending the truth at all. We are defending ourselves, some cherished image we wish to guard, or some privileged place we hate to give up.
But once we truly ask, “What is the truth?” our conversation changes. We are sent on a journey, one that only enhances and enlarges us, never diminishes.
The love of neighbor is not a cold, dead command. It is a living, vibrant union of love and truth. It can restart the process, change the conversation, open up a new way where there was none.
This is no way to win elections, do business, treat a family or run a country. Stop it, all of us, stop it before we utterly destroy ourselves and everything about this beautiful nation.
Love and truth must be searched for again and found, reunited and cared for.
Separated, they slowly die the death of a thousand excuses and blames.
Hurry. Time is running out.
Gary Furr is pastor of Vestavia Hills Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama.