Forbearing and Confronting: Finding a Balance
Nikos Kazantzakis, author of Zorba the Greek and other works, once wrote about a time when he came upon a cocoon resting in an olive tree. The infant butterfly was just starting to break through. The young Kazantzakis moved ever so close and breathed on it. The warmth of his breath caused the butterfly to prematurely emerge from the cocoon. The butterfly’s wings, however, were not adequately formed. Unable to fly, it soon died. Kazantzakis had impatiently intervened and interrupted a process he didn’t understand, thus preventing life from adequately forming.
Sometimes our lack of tolerance, understanding, and patience prevents life and character from adequately forming, thus doing great damage. I can think of relationships in my past that have been damaged and ruined because of my impatient interventions. A healthier result would have ensued had I pursued the proper course of exercising patience and restraint.
In writing to the church at
Paul says, “Live worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all
humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love” (Eph
4:1–2). We live and embody Christian love when we patiently bear with one
another in humility and gentleness. Ephesus
I am not suggesting, however, that we should never intervene. Paul, in this same passage, talks about the need to resist deceitful schemes and to speak the truth in love (Eph 4:14–15). This is the other side of forbearance. There is a time to confront and speak, to say enough is enough. The key is knowing when—when to refrain and restrain oneself, and when to engage with the appropriate words and actions.
This is a constant struggle for me. How do I critique toxic Christian teaching and behavior (in all reconstruction there has to be some deconstruction) without condemning and demeaning the person or persons who believe it and teach it?
I believe Jesus struggled with this. Jesus embodied a great love and taught us to love our enemies, praying for them and doing good to them. Yet, according to some accounts that appear in different forms in the Synoptic tradition, Jesus called the Pharisees hypocrites, children of hell, blind guides, and white washed tombs full of dead bones.
It’s a real test of character and spiritual discernment to do this right, to speak the truth in love, especially when you are speaking truth to power. And even when you do get this right, you will most likely be accused by someone of being arrogant and condemning.
Recently, several high profile political figures accused President Obama of demonizing (that is the very word they used) small business owners, because the President said that no one who has succeeded in our country has done so without some help. In context, he was referring to the freedoms and infrastructure government has provided, such as bridges, roads and public access. He could also have referenced the numerous government grants, subsidies, and loans made available, but he didn’t. By misrepresenting the President and twisting his words, the President’s political opponents demonized him.
It’s inevitable that those who speak and work in a public context will be, at some point or regarding some point, taken out of context, and their words will be misrepresented and subverted. This is why it is so important for those of us who represent the living Christ to not get caught up in the name-and-blame game the world plays. As followers of Jesus, we should be showing the world what public discourse for the common good looks like and sounds like.