October 29, 2008
Bless His Heart, but...
by Katherine Britton, Crosswalk.com News & Culture Editor
“Do not withhold your mercy from me, O LORD; may your love and your truth always protect me.”
1 Thessalonians 5:11
Beware if ever you hear a southerner begin a sentence with “bless his heart.” I often follow that genteel saying with the critical conjunction “but,” and some criticism of motive or action is about spew forth. An example would be, “Bless his heart, but he just doesn’t get it at all,” or “Bless his heart, but he is making things difficult for himself.”
That’s criticism at its veiled best – distant, underhanded, and with a pretense of concern.
We all like to pretend that we’re good at “speaking the truth in love,” don’t we? But how often do we arm ourselves with the “bless his heart” mentality, thinking that we can throw out any comments by prefacing them with a benign statement? Instead of crafting our whole response in love, we think a quick show is enough.
When I was about eleven, I misunderstood a pastor’s tongue-in-cheek statement about the “gift of criticism” and took him at his word. Criticism is a spiritual gift, I thought? Whoopee! I can be contradictory with a purpose, oh boy! I can defend myself with “the truth!” I’m making the world a better place by pointing out all its flaws! Thankfully, my mom caught up my bad theology pretty quickly.
This Sunday’s sermon reminded me of that childish belief, as the pastor focused on Jesus’ response to Mary and Martha at Lazarus’ death. The story doesn’t have much to do with criticism, but everything to do with speaking in love and truth at the same time. Read the story (John 11) for yourself, and note all of the ways Christ sympathizes with the grieving sisters, instead of stopping with a terse expression of truth or belittling them for not having enough faith. He even cries with them. He never lets them lose sight of who He is, but encompasses both truth and love in His responses.
Psalm 40:11 underscores our need for truth coupled with love: “Do not withhold your mercy from me, O LORD; may your love and your truth always protect me.” It’s not a balance between the two, but a synthesis that blends the two into one fantastic mystery called the Gospel. Without God’s truth, we don’t know we need mercy. Without God’s love, the truth blasts us to smithereens.
I wrote a while back about the power of the tongue for life and death. I think we undergo another “tongue transformation” when we focus on how God has dealt with us through this love/truth synthesis. How do we go on pointing out what’s wrong with people and pretending like criticism is a gift when we realize how much is wrong with us? More than our words change; our attitudes do, too.
The sermon on Lazarus’ death concluded by reminding us that “love demands an answer.” If God was simply a God of truth, Christ’s death on the cross wouldn’t have happened, would it? It was because “God so loved the world” that Christ came to extend mercy that goes beyond the harsh truth. How do we respond?
Intersecting Faith & Life: How can you extend love instead of criticism today? With your spouse, family, friends, co-workers? Contemplate this: Christ’s sacrificial love is where our hope comes from. How does that hope shape your words?