If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses?
Our culture is getting so soft. No one can handle criticism. People just wilt. I can’t tell you how many times that gist has come up in conversation lately.
I’m no expert on culture. So correct me Mom and Dad if you think I’m wrong: You weren’t much for coddling. And correct me sons if you think I lie: I’m not much for coddling.
Which is probably just fine. Here’s why.
I Thought I’d Be Wrecked
No bright pink line. Another stinging sign of my empty womb. I thought I’d be wrecked at the next fruitless month. Little did I know there would be more than two hundred empty months (and nine full months) ahead. But here I am. I’m not wrecked.
I was looking for dirty socks under his bed. But there it was, my clue that something was off. I thought I’d be wrecked if we didn’t fix this now. But the rascally habit grew. It got more entrenched and bore bitter fruit. But here I am. I’m not wrecked.
They walked out of our house in silence. We’d have to meet again and try again to patch things up. I thought I’d be wrecked by year’s end if we couldn’t mend. But it would be ten long years before hugs. But here I am. I’m not wrecked.
God gave compassion and comfort and care. But there was not coddling.
Warm Mush & Helicopter Moms
So what is coddling?
To coddle means to overprotect. Not to protect, but to overprotect. As in helicopter mom. As in Ashley and her twelve year-old daughter Lacy, A girl was mean to Lacy at lunch, so I called her teacher and messaged the girl’s mom. As in, It’s 50 degrees so wear your hat and mittens and coat, Lacy, or you can’t go outside.
But I know many of you enjoy word study and a few love Latin. So here’s the quick etymology of coddling:
Coddle is probably a dialect variant of obsolete caudle: ‘administer invalids’ gruel’, based on Latin caldum: ‘hot drink’, from calidus: ‘warm’.
But that doesn’t mean he spares us grief, trouble and pain. While God is absolutely compassionate and merciful and comforts us in our sorrows (2 Corinthians 1:3-4), our Heavenly Father does not coddle his children.
He doesn’t overprotect us or spoon feed his adult children mush. God wants us to grow up (Ephesians 4:13, Colossians 1:28). But solid food is for the mature.
Anti-fragile: Children Prepared For The Road
I probably wouldn’t have had coddling on my mind if our book club hadn’t just read The Coddling of the American Mind. In it, Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt take on some great cultural “untruths,” like human fragility: the untruth that what doesn’t kill us makes us weaker. The truth, they say, is that humans are anti-fragile.
While that is true now and then—the greater truth is that human beings need physical and mental challenges or we decline. Stress actually makes us stronger, not weaker. For example, muscles and joints need stressors to develop properly. Without stress, our muscles to atrophy, our joints to lose range of motion, our heart and lung function to decline, and blood clots may form.
This is not mere resilience as when when we bounce back from a fall like a rubber ball. It’s more. Anti-fragile means we actually get stronger, we move past baseline, because of the stress.
The foolishness of overprotection is clear as soon as you understand the concept of anti-fragility, Lukianoff and Haidt explain. Given that risks and stressors are natural, unavoidable parts of life, parents and teachers should be helping kids develop their innate abilities to grow and learn from such experiences. There’s an old saying: “Prepare the child for the road, not the road for the child.”
In other words, the trials you’re facing now will prepare you for bigger ones later. Running against men will get you ready to race horses.
Not the Exception, the Rule
Time to explain the horses. A little background might help.
I’ve been reading Jeremiah lately. It strikes me again that God doesn’t coddle his children. He doesn’t overprotect the ones he loves. Rather, he prepares them for the rocky road ahead with smaller bumps now.
The more I read the Bible the more I see this not as the exception, but as the rule. Job and Jeremiah and Elijah and Paul and 11 of 12 apostles who died martyrs deaths prove it. Recall Jesus’ words to Peter, What is it to you? You follow me. God often turns up the heat before he turns it down. He prepares his children for the road.
Here’s what I mean, spotlight on Jeremiah. As chapter 12 opens, the weeping prophet takes God to task.
You are always righteous, Lord, when I bring a case before you. Yet I would speak with you about your justice: Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the faithless live at ease?
We get that, don’t we? How many of us would have a word with the Lord about his justice? Why is it bad guys thrive and honest, decent folks barely survive?
While it is grand to pour out our hearts to God, it doesn’t guarantee that we’ll like his reply. When Jeremiah inquires about the mistreatment he’s receiving in his own hometown (see 12:6), from his own brothers, God gives a shocking response.
You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet
So what is God’s answer to Jeremiah‘s questions? God comes back with a couple questions of his own:
If you have raced with men on foot, and they have wearied you, how will you compete with horses? And if in a safe land you are so trusting, what will you do in the thicket of the Jordan?
You ain’t seen nothin’ yet. It’s as if God takes Jeremiah down to a track meet and has him run the 400 meter, the 800 meter and the mile. Then, as he stands doubled over in the infield, God asks, Jeremiah, you all set to race in the derby?You’re in lane five, against Secretariat.
The second question is like asking, If you fall down in the Great Plains how are you ever going to make it over the Rocky Mountains? Things will get worse before they get better. If the hometown crowd is mean to you, get ready for the toughies in Jerusalem.
Buck up, Buttercup. How will you compete with horses?
Prepared For The Road Ahead
In a message on Jeremiah 11-12, Phil Ryken says, God did have great things in store for Jeremiah, but he could never achieve them unless he was willing to persevere in little things. There were greater challenges to come.
By analogy, Jeremiah could expect to run against horses in the future. He needed to learn how to trust God and to draw on His strength in his present challenge, in order to prepare him for the greater challenges in the future.
If Jeremiah was foundering at his mild mistreatment in Anathoth, how would he fare in big-hostile Jerusalem? Before long, he would be locked in stocks (Jeremiah 20:1-3), thrown into a muddy cistern (Jeremiah 38:6), and imprisoned in the court of the guard (Jeremiah 28:13). The troubles he was having in Anathoth, Ryken says, were nothing compared to the troubles he would have later in Jerusalem, Babylon, or Egypt.
“In order to our preparation for further and greater trials, we are concerned to approve ourselves well in present smaller trials, to keep up our spirits, keep hold of the promise, with our eye upon the prize, so run that we may obtain it.”
That is 17th-century Bible teacher, Matthew Henry’s take on Jeremiah 12:5 and our non-coddling God. Our non-coddling, deeply-compassionate God who lovingly trains us for more difficult roads ahead.
So where’s the good news in this, Abigail? Good question.
Jeremiah never saw the hard road coming. But I want us to see it. I want you to learn what it’s taking me so long to learn. In the decades since that first negative pregnancy test and that wrapper under the bed and those hug-less years, I’m learning to feel God’s love in the trials, to know his purpose, that the Lord is compassionate and merciful (see James 5:11).
But believing that takes frequent reminders. Reminders about running with horses. Reminders that God is a loving Father but not a coddling grandfather.
Jeremiah’s little exchange with God reminds me again that our God is not safe— if safe means he keeps us from hardship and trouble. No, as Mr. Beaver said of Aslan, Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.
Good parents prepare their children for the challenging roads ahead. Our Heavenly Father is doing just that. Which, I hope you’ll agree, is good news.
As I close, I ask, Who’s running against you? What troubles could wreck you?What is the long, hard road you’re on?
Just look at you. Here you are—running with horses, bucking up. You are strong.
And you are definitely not wrecked.
The LORD is the strength of His people, a stronghold of salvation for His anointed.
Asking you to tolerate whatever I do or say because you say you love me is a fundamental misunderstanding of what love is and what love does. Much of what we think love is simply isn’t love after all.
-Paul David Tripp, New Morning Mercies
If You Love Me, You Would…
Have you ever said that? Has anyone said it to you? If you love me, you would ___________. Fill in the blank: scratch my back, stay up late, wear a mask, don’t make me wait.While it’s absolutely true that love is kind and seeks not its own, love does not mean anything goes.
We know this intuitively. Which is why I don’t bite when my 13 year-old says loving him means I allow him take a phone to school. Or when the 15 year-old insists loving him means I let him go deep with an ominously named gaming stranger.
But, as helpful as are, the love languages they might hurt us here. Because if I assume that for love to be love it must always come in my preferred language—and feel good—I’ll miss and misinterpret a whole lot of love.
I know this because the Lover of my soul doesn’t always speak my preferred language or love me how I would choose to be loved. He didn’t with Mary and Martha either.
Jesus loved them enough to let Lazarus die—yes, to die—so that he could raise him up in a majestic way and so that they would see the his glory. And I guarantee that Mary did not say, Master, if you love me, please wait to come until Lazarus dies.
I Wanna Know What Love Is
We’ve got to know what love is. And Jesus can show us.
Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was (John 11:5-6). Jesus loved them so much he didn’t save Lazarus from dying. He didn’t spare Mary and Martha that pain.
Love is doing whatever you have to do — or whatever God has to do — at whatever cost, in order for the glory of God to be shown. If that sounds like no definition of love you’ve ever heard, like it’s straight out of left field, please reread John 11:1-6. (If that definition is still confusing, you might listen to “Even When It Hurts,” where John Piper explains this definition.)
Because seeing the glory of God is the greatest good. And love, we know, is helping the beloved enjoy the greatest good.
5 Things I Know About Love
1. Love Is Anchored In Truth
I know it must be anchored in truth. It cannot contradict truth. It cannot exist without truth.
Real, biblical, self-sacrificing, God-honoring love never compromises what God says is right and true. Truth and love are inextricably bound together. Love that compromises truth simply isn’t love. Truth without love ceases to be truth because it gets bent and twisted by human agendas. If love wants and works for what is best for you, then love is committed to being part of what God says is best in your life. So, I am committed to being God’s tool for what he says is best in your life, even if that means we have to go through tense and difficult moments to get there.
Paul David Tripp, New Morning Mercies
This, for the record, is one of the marks of a true friend. And lest we misconstrue Tripp’s words, it’s not as if one person in the relationship is always the “truth tool” while the other is always the “project.” Holding out the truth in love, or “truthing it in love” ala 4:15, is to be reciprocal. The subject and object are not fixed. Heidi truths it with me and I truth it with her.
What’s more, speaking the truth in love is not the main point. It’s not. The grammar of Ephesians 4 is clear. Truthing it in love is not an end in itself. Me correcting you or you proving a point factually true, or even us rooting out our idols together, is not the point.
Do you see the purpose of Ephesians 4:15? The end for which “speaking the truth in love” is but a modifier?
It’s grow up. We are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ. That’s the goal.
Speaking truth in love is not the endpoint. Growing up into Jesus is.
But what you might not know off the top of your head is what comes right before it. Here’s the famous command in context:
That jumped off the page when I read it last week. Because most of us are conflict avoiders. It’s so much easier to walk away when we see a brother do wrong. And if the wrong hurt us, well, we might walk away and nurse a grudge. Because, if I’m honest, to hate my sister in my heart takes less effort than to reason frankly with her.
When conflict comes we are tempted to think God has left the building. In peacetime we feel God’s presence; his providence is sweet. But the moment a fellow sinner hurts me, we imagine God left. But God said Love, don’t hate. And God said the way out of hate and the way into love is reason frankly.
Speaking truth in love includes “reasoning frankly.” And, done right, it not only benefits my sister it also helps me. Because the alternative to reasoning frankly with her is “incurring guilt” myself. The guilt could come if I take vengeance, bear a grudge, or get passive-aggressive. And she could be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness (Hebrews 3:13). In both cases, reason frankly is God’s preventative against incurring guilt, against harm.
But this is hard. Because reasoning frankly and holding out truth in love can cost a lot.
3. We All Need Influencers
But I’m learning that silence is costly too. To the extent that I feel I can’t speak truth—because a friend is that sensitive— it is equally hard to feel love. My closest friendships are the ones who truth it love, side by side, with me. They say, “Smile more, talk less.” They ask, “Do I hear discontentment?”
I read this paragraph last night. It doesn’t use the word truth and it doesn’t mention love, but it’s on point. Here, a main character—The Man in the Wing Chair— describes his mother.
She just has her own opinions, and they’re the only tribunal that’s permitted to judge her when she makes a mistake. Can you imagine what you would be like if you didn’t have anyone close who was capable of influencing you? Anyone to point out your flaws, to confront you when you went too far, to correct you when you did something wrong?
Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera, The Awakening of Miss Prim
Isn’t that so sad? When I read the paragraph, I dropped the book and asked myself, Who is close enough to correct me?
Now I ask you, Who in your life is close enough to dare correct or confront you?
4. Speak Soft Words And Give Hard Reasons
I won’t grow if I stay blind to my faults, blind to my sin. As a Christian, I know that the Word of God and the Spirit of Christ can convict me. I don’t always need a fellow sinner to show me my sin. Sometimes it comes to light without him.
But God uses means. I wrote about the large chocolate spot I obliviously sported one night. The lesson: friends tell friends.
But how we hold out truth matters. And I’ll be first to admit that I don’t always get the how right. My family and friends will tell you that. But I do aim to apply C.H. Spurgeon’s advice:
If you see that a stick is crooked, and you want people to see how crooked it is, lay a straight rod down beside it; that will be quite enough. But if you are drawn into controversy, use very hard arguments and very soft words. Frequently you cannot convince a man by tugging at his reason, but you can persuade him by winning his affections.
That might sound like this: Kelsey, your voice is gorgeous. And I know you want us to be drawn to worship Christ not be focused on your clothes. That’s why I wanted to tell you I was distracted by your clothes the last few times you led singing. But I don’t doubt your love and I thank you for your hard work.
Gentle words, with gratitude and hard argument, rooted in truth. We speak this way so that we will grow into Christ and not incur guilt.
5. We Love People When We Love God
That was a big takeaway for me as I studied 1 John. Since God is love (1 John 4:8), it stands to reason that if I don’t understand God rightly, I won’t understand love rightly. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments.
But isn’t that out of order? Hasn’t John explained that the main way show our love for the God who we can’t see is by our love for our brother we do see (1 John 4:20)? Yes, he did: We cannot love God without loving His children.
But that answer just kicks the can. How do we love people? In 1 John 5:2, John explains that we love others by loving God and keeping his commands.
That brings us full circle. So what about, If you love me you would…? Jesus is the only person who could say with impunity, If you love me you would.
Do you know why? Because he and the Father were one. The God-Man had no sinful nature to taint his If you love me you would. He knew with certainty what would help us see His glory. So he said, If you love me you will keep my commands.
Truth without love is abuse. Love without truth is neglect.
The doctor that conceals a cancer diagnosis is not “loving” his patient. Remember the prophets who “healed the wound of the people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:14)? Perhaps out of self-love or fear of disappointing, the prophets did not act in love for God’s wounded people.
Love covers offenses and sins (1 Peter 4:8, Proverbs 10:12). But it also exposes and rebukes (Matthew 18:15, Proverbs 27:5-6). Soft, gracious words do not abuse and hard, biblical reasons do not neglect.
Paul David Tripp writes,
Love doesn’t call wrong right. Love doesn’t ignore wrong and hope it goes away. It doesn’t turn its back on you because you are wrong. Love doesn’t mock you. And love doesn’t go passive and stay silent in the face of wrong. Love moves toward you because you are wrong and need to be rescued from you. In moving toward you, love is willing to make sacrifices and endure hardships so that you may be made right again and be reconciled to God and others. God graces us with this kind of love so that we may be tools of this love in the lives of others.
Love moves toward you because you are wrong and need to be rescued from you. Jesus did that for me. He—Love—covers a multitude of sins, but also shows me my faults.
And as much as I want to be a tool of this kind of love, sometimes it’s hard to discern which path love takes.
What I Don’t Know About Love
There are so many things I don’t know about truth in love. The God-Man alone, could rightly say, If you love me you would… Because he knows all things. He alone knows all that is good.
I do not. Which is why I can’t always tell if my friends and sons are right when they say or imply, If you love me you would….
And I don’t know how much truth love tells. I’m not always sure when love conceals and when it reveals. I often don’t know the best, the most loving way to hold out the truth in love or if I should say a thing when I don’t feel the love.
But I do know that I want to be pure for the day of Christ. And I know I need a discerning love.
We have to be push-backers, Abigail. Truth demands it.That from a recent email from a friend-who-shall-go-unnamed. This post is that: a little pushback. It is not a call to civil disobedience, to wear a mask or to take it off, or even to vote.
It is a call to not live by lies—a call to be courageous and walk in the truth in love and in truth. Both. John Stott wrote, Our love grows softif it is not strengthened by truth, and our truth grows hard if it is not softened by love; John the Beloved, Let us not love in word or talk but in action and in truth. They belong together. Believers love truth (2 Thessalonians 2:10).
So when the world calls evil good, bitter sweet, and darkness light (Isaiah 5:20), those of the truth refuse. They refuse to drift along or succumb to self-righteous masquerade. Rather, because they love the truth, they push back against pretense.
They live not by lies.
1. Are You A Push-Backer?
Do you ever push back for truth? Or only ever go along?
I’m not (naturally) a push-backer and I don’t (generally) like to rock the boat. But sometimes a shift is too important to ignore. When it comes at you on multiple sides you can’t let it slide out of mind. You’d be a fool not to take note. I don’t want to be a fool.
So I took notes and now I share them. Because my friend is right. We must be push-backers. Truth demands it. Since Jesus is the truth (John 14:6), as his follower I must walk in truth. The Father commanded (2 John 4) and the Spirit guides this walk (John 14:16-17).
In fact, did you know truth is the reason Christ came into the world?For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth.Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice” (John 18:37). And, at some point, everyone who is of the truth will push back for truth.
2. Do You Trust God’s Truth And Doubt Your Deceitful Heart?
Culture makes it hard. For one thing, our culture cherishes moral ambiguity as an end in itself, as an intrinsically good thing; theologian D.A. Carson notes. Humble Christians trust God to be true (Isaiah 66:2) and doubt their deceitful hearts (Jeremiah 17:9).
But the world does the reverse. Be true to your heart, it shouts. How can you be so sure, it taunts. If you trust God—if you “stand alone on the Word of God, the B-I-B-L-E” and believe the sum of his word is truth (Psalm 119:160)— now that, it sneers, is most virulent form of pride.
This reversal is nothing new. G.K. Chesterton described it a century ago, when he wrote,
[W]hat we suffer from today is humility in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction; where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert – himself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt – the Divine Reason.
Do you see? We should doubt ourselves—our feelings, desires, and ‘needs’— not God’s truth.
But believing a truth and speaking it are two different things. Gabi taught me that.
3. Do You Speak Up For Truth?
It was a Friday night in July. Maybe it was pushback to even be where we were. I’m not sure. But the after-dinner mood was light and Gabi was right across the table from me. We’d only met the hour before, but I sensed my new friend from the Czech Republic wouldn’t mind if I asked.
So what was it liketo live under communism?
Gabi was in middle school in 1989, when the Wall fell. Almost overnight, she replied.
That’s how fast her teachers went from denouncing democracy to decrying communism. Her school dumped the pro-communism for pro-republic curricula—taught by the very same teachers who’d spouted the party line mere months before.
How could they do that? I asked, incredulous. What do you think they really believed?
I think there was relief when communism fell and they could teach the truth. They taught what they were told to keep their jobs.
Since statue toppling and painting was big in the news, I pressed on.
So what about all these statues toppled and defaced?
Without blinking, Oh, yes. That happened in Czechoslovakia shortly before Soviet rule.
My stomach churned with the same tension I’d felt a lot in 2020 when I felt torn to like a friend’s post or affirm her position—even if it didn’t sit right. Gabi was insightful and wise, and still across the table from me. So I asked the burning question.
When do I just go along when and when do I speak up for truth?
I think—here Gabi paused and took a deep breath—you must be true to your conscience.If your conscience says it’s wrong, do not go along.
4. Do You Lower Your Voice And Close The Door?
Rod Dreher said the same thing Gabi did in Live Not By Lies: A Manual For Christian Dissidents. The title comes from an essay by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, dated February 12, 1974 —the same day Russian secret police broke into his apartment and arrested him. He was exiled to West Germany the next day. Live Not By Lies, the essay and the book, are clarion calls to courage for those who are of the truth.
But courage to push back against lies doesn’t mean we refuse all compromise. Daily life requires assessing which fights are worth having. Choose your battles. Though one must guard against rationalization, prudence is not the same thing as cowardice. (p. 105)
Sometimes silence is an act of resistance.My refusal to like a popular post or parrot a trendy mantra is choosing to live not by lies.Judit Pastor, whose father was arrested for vocally opposing Ceausescu in 1968 was arrested and his life destroyed in a Romanian prison. She says, Keeping silent when you aren’t expected to be silent is also pushing back.
A year ago, I wouldn’t have believed the restrictions, “soft” restrictions, I now feel on freedom of speech. I am loath to admit that I close more doors and look over my shoulder far more often when I speak in public places. I wonder, “Can I trust her with this? Should I say that in front of him?”
This is new. It’s a shift. I never used to wonder like this.
A Primer On “Soft” Totalitarianism
I don’t fear arrest by government police. That happened in Soviet era where compliance to the Party’s demands were enforced by the state. That’s not what we’ve got. The totalitarianism we face is “softer.” It demands allegiance to a set of progressive beliefs… It masquerades as kindness, demonizing dissenters and disfavored demographic groups to protect the feelings or “victims.” I’m not worried about arrest as much as Facebook nixing my post, or a “fact-checker” blocking a link. I have, by the way, experienced both.
Compliance within soft totalitarianism, Dreher explains, is forced less by the state than by elites who form public opinion, and by private corporations, that thanks to technology, control our lives far more than we would like to admit. (p. 8-9)Anyone else second guessing your open invitation to Echo and Alexa?
But no, this is not a copy of life in the Soviet Bloc nations, with their secret police, gulags, and strict censorship. Which is precisely the problem, according to the many émigrés Dreher interviewed who had experienced “hard” totalitarianism. One Czech émigré, a professor in the Midwest, told Dreher about the shift he feels: friends would lower their voices and look over their shoulders when expressing conservative views. I grew up like this, he said, but it was not supposed to happen here. (p. xiii)
I agree with Dreher: it’s hard for us who’ve never lived through such “idealogical fog” to recognize what’s happening.
But don’t forget the frog in the pot.
Silence Doesn’t Save Us, It Corrodes Us
Part of the reason it all feels so foggy is that language is changing. Newspeak, here Dreher borrows from Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, is the Party’s word for the jargon it imposes on society—it controls the categories in which people think. “Freedom” is slavery, “truth” is falsehood, and so forth. Doublethink—”holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them”—is how people learn to submit their minds to the Party’s ideology. If the Party says 2+2=5, then 2+2=5. (p. 14)
We might see through the lies, but will we speak up? But if we never do, our silence will not save us but corrode us. So says Czeslaw Milosz. He would know. Milosz was exiled from his native Poland as an anti-communist dissident in 1951.
To dissent costs more these days. To even post this blog gives me pause. But walking in truth constrains me to write and encourage you to live not by lies. Because when you see someone acting courageously, you will act courageously as well. (p. 170)
5. Do You Prefer the ‘Peace’ of Conformity to the Tension of Liberty?
Dreher interviewed Vladimir Grygorenko, an immigrant from the Ukraine. He expressed concern over polls showing waning support for the First Amendment. Grygorenko sees this as a sign of a society that prefers the false peace of conformity to the tensions of liberty. He added, To grow indifferent, even hostile, to free speech is suicidal for free people. (p. 104)
I walked and talked and ached with a friend over our difference this morning. I bear witness: tension, discomfort, and hurt feelings are the price our free expression. But wouldn’t your rather bear the tension of our differences, as our Founding Fathers did, than enjoy a false peace of conformity? Wouldn’t you?
What I did with my friend—imperfectly as I apologized twice in 20 minutes for raising my voice—we must all do. We must speak up. We must be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger (James 1:19), but we must “truth it in love” and grow up (Ephesians 4:15).
You have to live in a world of lies, Dreher concludes, but it’s our choice as to whether that world of lies lives in you. (p. 105)
The Greengrocer Breaks The Rules
One of the most gripping sections in the book was the Greengrocer story.
The grocer posts a sign in his shop bearing the well-known slogan from the Communist Manifesto, “Workers of the world, unite!” But the grocer doesn’t believe in it. He hangs it in the store to signal conformity. He just wants to be left alone.
But his action is not meaningless. As Dreher explains, the grocer’s act, “not only confirms that this is what is expected of one in a communist society but also perpetuates the belief that this is what it means to be a good citizen.” Then he quotes Vaclav Havel, one time Czech political prisoner who became the Czech Republic’s first President.
Let us now imagine that one day something in our greengrocer snaps and he stops putting up the slogans merely to ingratiate himself. He stops voting in elections he knows are a farce. He begins to say what he really things at political meetings. And he even finds the strength to express solidarity with those whom his conscience commands him to support. In this revolt the greengrocer steps out of living within the lie. He rejects the ritual and breaks the rules of the game…His revolt is an attempt to live within the truth. (p. 98)
And Shatters the World of Appearances
But this act is costly. He loses his shop, his salary is cut, and he can’t travel abroad. Maybe his children can’t get into college. People mock him. If not because they disagree with him, then to keep the authorities off their back. By refusing to mouth a lie, the man suffers.
But there is a deeper meaning to his gesture,
By breaking the rules of the game, he has disrupted the game as such. He has exposed it as a mere game. He has shattered the world of appearances, the fundamental pillar of the system. The grocer has…demonstrated that living a lie is living a lie…He has said that the emperor is naked…He has shown everyone that it is possible to live within the truth. (p. 99)
Maybe you’re shaking your head, saying, Get off it, Abigail. Lighten up.
Last year I would have agreed. But now I say, The kind of Christians we will be in the time of testing depends on the kind of Christians we are today. (p. 204)
What are you willing to risk—to sacrifice—for the sake of truth?
6. Will You Choose Comfort Over Your Soul’s Health?
Because if you live by lies and never push back for truth, your spiritual health will suffer. A person who lives only for his own comfort, said Havel,who is willing to live within a lie to protect that is a demoralized person. (p. 99)
Havel’s words remind me of something J.I. Packer wrote. Packer sets up the analogy by describing first how our bodies are like machines, that need the right routine of food, rest, and exercise to run efficiently. Conversely, if they’re filled up with “the wrong fuel—alcohol, drugs, poison—they lose physical health and ultimately ‘seize up’ in death.”
Then, to our point,
What we are, perhaps, slower to grasp is that God wishes us to thing of our souls in a similar way. As rational persons, we were made to bear God’s moral image—that is, our souls were made to ‘run’ on the practice of worship, law-keeping, truthfulness, honesty, discipline, self-control, and service to God and our fellows. If we abandon these practices, not only do we incur guilt before God; we also progressively destroy our souls. Conscience atrophies, the sense of shame dries up, one’s capacity for truthfulness, loyalty, and honesty is eaten away, one’s character disintegrates. One not only becomes desperately miserable; one is steadily being de-humanised.
J.I., Packer, KNOWING GOD, 102-103
Simply put, believing one thing and doing another will ruin your spiritual health. Living by lies will enslave your soul. It might seem like a liar is strong, and his lie is a victory over his victim. But in reality, a lie is an enslaving act.
Because, as Ayn Rand wrote, one surrenders one’s reality to the person to whom one lies, making that person one’s master, condemning oneself from then on to faking the sort of reality that person’s view requires to be faked.
Maria Wittner said, We live in a world of lies, whether we want it or not. But you shouldn’t accommodate to it. She would know. Her refusal to go along with the Party lies landed in a Hungarian prison. It’s an individual decision if you want to live in the freedom of the soul. If your soul is free, then your thoughts are free, and then your words are going to be free.
Refusing to live by lies isn’t always comfortable, but comfort is overrated. The idol of comfort will disappoint. C.S. Lewis observed,If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth—only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.
If you refuse to live by the lie, whatever it costs you, you will gain a spiritual victory. And this is the victory that overcomes the world—our faith. (1 John 5:4) But God doesn’t mean for us to conquer alone.
I read it and I agree. It’s hopeful because it says we are not without options and because it is a call to be alert.
That call to be alert and watchful so we’re ready for the Bridegroom is not new. Jesus urged us, Peter urged us, Paul urged us: be alert, stay awake, be watchful (Matt. 24:42, 1 Pet. 1:13, Eph.6:18).
Christian community helps us does that. That came through loud and clear in all of Dreher’s interviews with Christians who kept the faith under communism. To stay alert and remind ourselves of truth, Dreher prescribes the Christian dissident form small cells with fellow believers with whom she can pray, sing, study Scripture… (p. 18)
Rod Dreher wasn’t the first to note the connection between living in loving relationships with other believers and being alert. John praises his readers for “walking in the truth” (2 John 4), then reminded them “to love one another” (v. 5), expressed by “walking according to his commandments” (v. 6). Those words probably don’t surprise us: truth, obedience, love.
But it’s the connection in verse 7 that grabbed me, the reason we must not let our love grow cold (Mtt. 24:12). Love one another, John writes, For many deceivers have gone out into the world. Walking with others in love is a protection against deception.
When we walk side by side we gain strength to live not by lies.
The Final Word: Touchstone For Truth
None of this is easy. Lies aren’t always obvious. The conscience is pricked at different points. But the Christian, as J.I Packer described, is the one, who acknowledges and lives under the word of God. She says with the Psalmist, The sum of your word is truth.
He submits without reserve to the word of God written in ‘the Scripture of truth’ (Dan. 10:21)…since the Scriptures tell him that all things work together for his good, the thought of God ordering his circumstances brings him only joy. He is an independent fellow, for he uses the word of God as a touchstone by which to test the various views that are put to him, and he will not touch anything which he is not sure that Scripture sanctions.
J.I., Packer, KNOWING GOD, p. 104-105
But we need to the Spirit to illumine and help us apply the word. I feel my need acutely. My sin is ever before me.
Solzhenitsyn, for all his calls to resist totalitarian rule, knew well his own sinful heart: “the greatest totalitarian ruler of all—myself.” We are not gods. We never will be gods. But we can know the true God.
For only when we know him can the truth set us free— free from slavery to deadly self-rule and free to live not by lies.
And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.
1 John 5:20
AFTERWARD: If You’re Still Wondering What It Means to Live Not By Lies
Even if, Solzhenitsyn wrote, we do not march into the squares and shout the truth out loud… let us refuse to say what we do not think…let us each make a choice: whether to remain consciously a servant of falsehood…or to shrug off the lies and become an honest man worthy of respect from one’s children and contemporaries.
Such a person, Solzhenitsyn wrote, will not:
sign, write or print in any way a single phrase which in his opinion distorts the truth;
utter such a phrase neither in private conversation nor in public, neither on his own behalf nor at the prompting of someone else, neither in the role of agitator, teacher, educator, nor as an actor;
depict, foster or broadcast a single idea in which he can see a distortion of the truth, whether it be in painting, sculpture, photography, technical science or music;
cite out of context, either orally or in writing, a single quotation to please someone, to feather his own nest, to achieve success in his work, if he does not completely share the idea which is quoted, or if it does not accurately reflect the matter at issue;
allow himself to be compelled to attend demonstrations and meetings if they are contrary to his desire;
remain in a meeting, session, lecture, performance or film if he hears a speaker tell lies, or purvey ideological nonsense or shameless propaganda;
subscribe to or buy a newspaper or magazine in which information is distorted and primary facts are concealed.
While these are not “all possible and necessary ways of avoiding lies,” wrote Solzhenitsyn, “whoever begins to cleanse himself will easily apply the cleansing pattern to other cases.” Learn more in John Stonestreet’s probing 4-minute Breakpoint podcast.
How will you resolve to live not by lies? I’d love to read your comment.
He has the right to criticize, who has the heart to help.
I’ve always loved those words of Lincoln.* He knew the sting that criticism brings. Abraham Lincoln lived-and died-a target. He had more enemies than all of us combined, I’d bet. And he knew how to dish: stand-by-me friendship style.
In a “Temperance Address” he said, It is an old and true maxim, that a ‘drop of honey catches more flies than a gallon of gall.’ So with men. If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend. And a soft tongue will break a bone.
When Criticism Comes Without a Heart to Help
I totally did not see it coming. I was broadsided, then they stung. Her words were very personal, strongly worded, and cut me to the core.
Not that those are bad, by the way. But it was dish and dash. The words were served up and she was gone.
In days and weeks that followed, I stretched and asked if we could talk, and try to work things out. But she didn’t reach back. Bitterness tempted me.
I did pray a lot. For me, for her, for pure hearts, for God to get glory out of this mess. And for power to practice what I preach about not being so thin-skinned that we crumble- or lash out-when criticism comes.
Assume you are guilty when a fellow believer confronts you about your life. I’m not saying respond as if you’re guilty. Don’t immediately plead guilty. But put on a posture of faith-filled, no-condemnation deference, and be willing to test whatever questions or accusations they bring to or against you.
The Bible tells us to consistently test ourselves anyway, regardless of what others think or say (2 Corinthians 13:5). Don’t assume you are in the right. Ask yourself serious, probing questions about your faith and life. “[God] leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way” (Psalm 25:9). Why not, then, also use others’ critical comments as an opportunity to truly search yourself for anything out of step with the gospel? “Test [every potentially prophetic word against you]; hold fast what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). With your Bible open, and your heart humble, try their words on, and see if they fit after all.
Best Practice: Serve it up with Love
If dish you must, be sure to serve it up with love.
Priscilla and Aquila didn’t dish and dash on Apollos when he was preaching wrong (Acts 18:18-28).
Paul didn’t dish and dash on the Corinthians. He wrote hard things (1 Corinthians 3, 2 Corinthians 2, 13), then came to be with them (Acts 20:2-3).
Jesus didn’t dish and dash on Peter. He said, “Get behind me, Satan,” then six days later he was one of three Jesus called up to see him transfigured (Mark 8:33-9:8).
God doesn’t discipline and convict and dish then dash on us. God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit promise to be with us, never to leave us (2 Corinthians 13:11, Matthew. 28:20, John 14:16, respectively).
So let’s don’t dish and dash. Because, says Christopher Abel, criticism is best tethered to a helpful heart.
Criticism alone is distasteful at best. It’s lazy. It’s an easy way to make you feel better about your own life.But criticism tethered to a helpful heart is how the world is changed.
Critique the world. Challenge the status quo. Hold people to a higher standard. But don’t stop there. Have a heart to help.
A heart like Jan’s. She has a heart to help. She’s the friend who confirmed, when I asked, an hard truth in the criticism. And Jan stuck around. Her presence beside me is a tribute to God’s grace and a reminder to apply that kernel I found.
The Least Defensive People on the Planet
And if it’s all true about God never never leaving and no condemnation for us in Christ Jesus, then we should, as Segal says, be the least defensive people on the planet, because the gavel has fallen once for all and we are free.
Instead of being defensive or angry we should test every criticism offered, whether it’s served dish and dash or stand-by-me friendship style. Because, as Marshall Segal concludes,
Ultimately, there’s only one judgment that matters, and it’s not the courtroom of your friends’ opinion. Through Christ, God has already ruled decisively and eternally on your behalf and in your favor.
* * *
One hundred fifty years ago Lincoln saw the “storm coming.” He was bitterly attacked for his stance on slavery. In the face of critics on the right and left, Lincoln said,
If He has a place and a work for me- and I think He has- I believe I am ready. I am nothing, but truth is everything.
He has the right to criticize, who has the heart to help, is great. But, I am nothing, truth is everything, that might be better. At least when you’re the receiver.
Criticism is one of God’s gifts to conform us to Christ, and this gift won’t always come sweetly. But being conformed to the image of the Truth Himself is way more important than how the criticism was served.
Because I-my image, ego, I- am nothing. And Truth, who loves me and will never leave me, is everything.
Finally, brothers, rejoice.
Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace;