Balancing Between Two Truths
01 June 2004

I realized anew that in the walk of faith we often have to live with conflicting—or perhaps competing—truths.

SOME YEARS ago, I was at a meeting in France to plan for a forthcoming conference. There were 25 of us sitting around a large table, when one of the two Belgians present suddenly leaned forward andasked a question that seemed quite out of context with what we had been discussing. ‘Should we say 'forgive and forget’, she demanded, ‘or forgive but don’t forget?

Everyone took a little time to consider this and then one of our number gave what I thought was a wise answer. ‘In interpersonal relations—such as between me and my wife—it’s usually best to forgive and international situations or between whole peoples and groups, it’s not always good to forget. So in that case forgive, but don’t necessarily forget.’

Thinking about this afterwards, I was struck not only by the truth, but also the nature, of my friend’s answer. Two truths, not one. Both were right, but in different circumstances. This is true, but this is also true.

I realized anew that in the walk of faith we often have to live with conflicting—or perhaps competing—truths. As a Christian, I find plenty of these in the Gospels. We are told we should be in the world but not of it. We are urged to be wise as serpents and at the same time harmless as doves. That we should live life abundantly and also be ‘dead’ to the world. That we should honour and love wife and parents, but that we should love God more and even be prepared to forsake them for him. We are urged to retreat to the desert and also to be active in the market place.

Wisdom and maturity comes as we are able to marry and reconcile these competing truths—as we get the balance right. ‘Tension,’ writes H A Williams, ‘is the price of life. It is only when we refuse to recognize tensions that are life-giving that we fall prey to tensions that are death dealing.’

There are plenty of tensions around. There is, for example, the tension between tradition (sticking loyally to certain founding truths) and innovation(being willing to look at new departures and new expressions of these truths). There is a right path to be found between submission (accepting authority and the leadership of others) and maintaining personal integrity and a rightful independence.

There can be a fine line between bringing a vision to fruition and creating an empire where I am at the centre. There is an important difference between being realistic about someone or someone’s plans and being negative and destructive. I recall an editorial writer for a national newspaper saying, ‘The duty of journalists is to be sceptical but never cynical.’ In personal relationships it is easy to cross over from ‘salty’ plain speaking (tough love) to being hurtful and abrasive.

We are halfway there when we accept that there always will be these tensions and conflicting truths and that, accepted, recognized and catered for, they can be life-enhancing and creative.