Love and truth (and Syria)

I have been very pleased that my church has chosen to engage ‘head on’ with raising support for the Syrian refugee crisis, and I have been glad to take a role in researching and promoting relief efforts in Syria, as well as researching the causes and complexities of the struggle that has cost so many people their homes (and sometimes their lives).

As I have been engaging in various discussion within our FaceBook group it was revealing for me to realize that I do not support sponsorship of Syrian immigrants to Canada “carte blanche.”

Instead, I find myself concerned about the potential threat of increasing ideological extremism in Canada via immigration from the Middle East, but not because I think that Canadian immigration screening is not thorough or effective. Instead, I recognize both that there are no “guarantees” in life and that there is much in Canada that I want to protect (including my own family).

Further, throughout the discussions about Syria many have advocated the need to love the Syrian people and to recognize that they are “like us” in essential ways. Yet when I consider my own experiences with different ‘versions’ of Christianity I recognize that these views enable people to “love” others in very different ways, some of which seem to me so very, very unloving.

And if this occurs for Christians, why not Muslims?

Yet I do, in fact, support sponsorship of Syrian refugess in Canada. And this is because I think that I have enough evidence to believe that our immigration process is sound and that the need is great. And while I suspect that many ‘versions’ of Islam are deeply problematic and even destructive I do trust that, when removed from environments that are narrow and repressive, better ways of thinking and living can be emerge.

Yet my point is this: love alone cannot be my guide here. This is not because I devalue it but because I think that love alone is insufficient. Nor do I want to be oriented primarily toward trust, for the same reasons. So what are the options? If I think that it’s true that there’s much to protect in Canada or that I suspect that Islam can be destructive, then can truth or suspicion be my guide?

I don’t think so: truth alone will not suffice either, nor does suspicion offers enough to orient me rightly.

Instead it is my belief that love and truth / truth and love are co-equal and co-central both to healthy human existence—to living life “abundantly”—and to the character of the Christian God, as revealed in the Biblical text and as I have experienced it in my own life.

In short, both my experience and how I read the biblical text leads me to the strong belief that love and truth need to be placed in tension with each other such that they both compliment and, where necessary, can correct each other. Likewise, I find human life to be filled with tensions—between suspicion and trust, skepticism and belief, confidence and humility—and rather than being destructive I believe that these tensions are actually productive.

As such I find that I live life best, and as a Christian relate to God best, not by collapsing these tensions into principles (and so creating hierarchies where love is privileged over truth, or vice verse) but by maintaining the dialogue—the sometimes ‘rough and uncomfortable harmony’—that they create.

For love without truth is sentimentalism that risks naively welcoming “the other” at the risk of denigrating (and even destroying) the self: by being finite and fallen we are sometimes as apt to welcome devils as well as angels, unawares. Yet truth without love is inhumane and risks mercilessly denigrating (and even destroying) “the other:” by being finite and fallen we are sometimes apt to deceive ourselves that we are better beings than those whose faults we discover.

But to my mind “better” is not found in denouncing faults that we do not share but in forgiving them, even as we recognize (and are wounded by) them.

 

I became a family mediator, in part, because I believe that conflict always has a positive component: it indicates passionate involvement, and passions are connected to our beliefs about truth. So conflict is one way that we promote, protect, and pursue what we think is true. If this is so, then while falsehood may be the opposite of truth, it is not its greatest enemy: that enemy is apathy.

I think that apathy with regard to Syria—or helping others in need, generally—is simply not getting involved: having “too much to do,” not seeing the importance of the issues, or having too many “good things” to do at home to look further afield. This can be prompted by a range of factors, from selfishness and fear to not cultivating curiosity and courage.

But for my money the answer to apathy, whether it concerns how we engage with our family, with Syrian refugees, or with the God of the Bible comes down to two things.

First, being dedicated truth-seekers. For Christians I think that this means accepting the daily challenge to formulate and embody the deep connections between the truth of our faith and the truth we understand and experience in our world. Second, fully participating in love: being loved and loving in return. And for Christians, I think that this means allowing ourselves to be transformed—inspired to love God, ourselves and others rightly—by stories and experiences of loving and being loved by God.

In other words I believe that right engagement with ourselves and our world and, for Christians, with God, happens best when we let truth and love, love and truth, have their due: dual top billing.

2 thoughts on “Love and truth (and Syria)

  1. Hi Gregg. Thanks for your blog. I appreciate how you said that love and truth had to be held in tension. And I appreciate how you’ve held our church’s call to action right beside the fears that were expressed with much respect. You’ve done an excellent job as facilitator.

    The only thing is that sometimes holding that need to be CAREFUL beside the need for LOVING ENGAGEMENT becomes inaction. And the Scripture that’s been rattling around in my brain the last few weeks has been Matthew 25:31-46 about the sheep and the goats. I do want to be one of those of him the Almighty will say, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ That sounds like impulsive love that springs from seeing a need and acting, almost without counting the cost.

    • Hi Renita,

      Thanks so much for your comment! I would agree that when it comes to matters that are complicated and fear-inducing, like the Syrian refugee situation, the danger of inaction looms large. I think, in brief, I would characterize a response to such a situation that is guided by love and truth / truth and love as one where we do the right thing, for the right reasons.

      In terms of the specifics, it’s interesting that you mention “an impulsive love that springs from seeing a need and acting, almost without counting the cost.” From my perspective I see “counting the cost” not so much related to truth as related to justice, which (proverbially) seeks to balance costs—and losses!—in her scales.

      So while truth is what we balance in our scales (thus to determine what is just), yet the requirements of justice need not become our mandate. In other words, I would like to bring justice to situations in the Middle East, but I see this as beyond my grasp and, likely, beyond anyone’s grasp. But while truth is essential to justice, justice is not essential to truth.

      And this draws me to your point about love being “impulsive.” Yes, I agree with you here in the sense that impulsive means “compelled to act.” Yet I also think that we can have both proper and improper impulses—regardless of whether they are impulses to love, protect, etc.—and so in my view our goal must be the cultivation of proper impulses.

      I would see this cultivation coming from two sources. First, through the discipline of life-long, serious engagement with truth. Yet not simply truth as knowledge, for full truth is never just for my intellect, but has knock-on effects of stimulating my emotions, inspiring my imagination, invoking my creativity and compelling my action.

      Second, through developing an intimate relationship with both love and justice, such that we understand what they are, how they compliment each other, and when (and why) one must prevail over the other. One of my favourite philosophers writes about love and justice having different “economies.” So justice has an economy of reciprocity or equity, such as the famous “eye for an eye.” Love is not like this. Love, instead, has an economy of superabundance: more and much more.

      Indeed, where an entire community has cultivated proper relationships with truth and reflexes concerning love and justice, then I think that the innate and natural differences among us will actually be at their most complimentary. Thus our ability to love will be fully and dynamically productive, yet in such a way that self-sacrifice and self-giving find a powerful yet judicious balance. So also our commitment to truth we prompt careful yet innovative reflection, such that our thought is mutually conducive to improved theories and sharpened action.

      When I take aim at this co-centrality of truth and love / love and truth I see it playing out much like the ancient Greek notion of phronesis: practical wisdom. Phronesis cannot be learned by instructions but comes through apprenticeship to masters of the craft. And phronesis is never still or stagnant but is innately productive: it is creative yet informed.

      In this sense, as a Christian I seek always to act in a manner that is truthfully informed by and creatively faithful to, and ultimately lovingly expressive of the truth and love, love and truth that I have both understood in and through my engagement with the Bible / experienced with the God that this texts point me toward.

      I hope that this helps make my position more understandable.

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