Marriage really is Gospel boot camp, and I’ve heard raising children is like the Navy Seals’ version. In my experience, in the context of marriage, you begin learning the truths of Christ which you always knew in your head but had yet to work out in practice. Here’s something I’ve been learning for the past four years: propositional truth must be lived out in the context of relationship.
I’m usually content, in the midst of argument or hurt, with giving my wife well-meaning platitudes of the Christian life. These propositional truths are, by their nature, true, but oftentimes they are ones I haven’t learned to live out in the context of empathetic, loving relationships. But don’t we all tend to do this? When someone is facing a hardship, oftentimes, because we don’t know what to say, we feed him or her truths and expect change.
Safely nestled in our foxholes, we lob them like propositional grenades onto their turf but ultimately fail to approach them in love and understanding. We so easily forget one of the basic principles of the Christian life: Truth was not hurled at us in such a way that called us simply to interpret and recognize it. Truth was incarnated. Christ didn’t simply shout from Heaven but came near to experience, to learn, and to know us. This is what uniquely qualifies Him to aid us in our suffering (Hebrews 2:18, 4:14).
Statements like, “I’m a sinner too,” “Jesus came to save you,” “All things work together for good,” or “Everything is going to be alright” are wonderful things to say, but apart from a person who mirrors the Incarnation by coming near to actually comfort and understand in deeper ways, these truths are incomplete and fall short. Jesus teaches us that propositional truth must be given in the context of incarnational empathy and nearness. I like this quote by Octavius Winslow:
“But let us deal with man ,- let him address us in grief to whom sorrow is not a strange thing,- let him chide our infirmities who himself is a partaker of human weakness,- let him succour us in temptation who has himself been wounded by the archers,- let him instruct and lead us whose feet have travelled the path we tread, and we are truly and effectually helped. Such an agency God employs. Christ, the true HELPER, to His people, as peerless among His fellows, as a brother pre-eminent among His brethren. While He is wakeful to all their circumstances as man, He is prepared to succour them from His infinite resources as God.”– Help Heavenward, viii.
Indeed, Christ alone, by His Spirit, can be the true helper, because He alone knows us, has tasted all of our weaknesses, and has the strength as God to supply our every need. It’s as we see that He is willing to bleed like we are, willing to hunger as we hunger, willing to sweat as we sweat, and has actually done so on our behalf that we are willing to commit ourselves wholly unto His care.
But let us not forget, as God did not attempt to aid us from a position of simple power and distance but came near to put His arms around us, to be with us, and to draw us up by loving us, we should also mirror that truth by our presence (sometimes without words) around those who are hurting and by our attempts to truly know and engage a person with attempted empathy, understanding, and love. Perhaps we should pray with a person before sermonizing with them. Perhaps we should hug them before speaking. Perhaps we should really seek to know them before trying to fix them. Propositional truths without incarnational empathy and understanding are shadows without realities, forms without substances.
Are there times when we need to lob the grenade? Sure. By His Spirit, Christ does challenge us all. He daily calls into questions our allegiance and reminds us of timeless, life-giving realities. He prods us along with Absolute Truth. But He does so robed in human flesh. Let’s all work towards understanding and loving each other in small ways, as Christ knows us ultimately, before pulling the pin. Perhaps then we may all walk out of here with fewer missing limbs.