July 5, 2020

Balance

Virtue and truth, if out of balance, cease to be virtue or truth.

That’s a bit short for a post, so I’ll expand.

Any virtue developed in isolation from other virtues becomes a vice. Truthfulness, untempered by kindness, becomes a critical spirit. Gentleness without courage is weak. Empathy without self-discipline is soppy. It is easy for us to develop the qualities we are more naturally good at, and we want to congratulate ourselves that we are growing spiritually. But if we don’t work on the opposite virtue, we may just be making ourselves intolerable. A pitcher who develops his right arm and neglects every other muscle in his body would be a freak, not an athlete.

Here’s an example: My husband and I once spent several days traveling through the Sahara desert with a Dutchman. He began with rude comments about Americans in general then moved on to personal insults and harangues. (We were stuck in a car with him, surrounded by baking emptiness. Where could we go?) He interspersed his comments with, “Hey, I’m not trying to insult anyone, I just have to tell the truth.” Truth is a virtue, but he didn’t impress us as a virtuous person, since he displayed no kindness, common sense, patience, or wisdom — just his version of truth.

How often have I done the same thing? How often have I excused cowardice as discretion or a lack of charity as efficiency? How often have I expected to be tolerated because “that’s just the way I am?” It’s not good enough. I have to work against my natural impulses and develop the virtues I’m worst at. Even the recent trend to identify spiritual gifts can be problematic. Saying, “Well, my gift is prophecy, so you have to take whatever I say even if I’m cruel,” or “My gift is leadership, so I can’t work in the kitchen” doesn’t express spiritual maturity.

In a sense — and this is a frightening thought — we don’t have any virtues unless we have all virtues.

Truth, too, remains truth only in balance. But it’s hard to perceive truth. A single truth is like a sphere. We can see only part of one face at any time. If we turn it, we can see the other face, but never the two together. I think grace and works are like this, two sides of the same sphere but never visible at the same time. If I forget to keep them in balance, I swing from antinomianism to legalism.

But it’s even more complicated than this. If a fact is a circle (two dimensions), and a truth is a sphere (three dimensions), they still can’t begin to represent God in His multi-dimensional fullness. Picture all the spheres — justice and love, judgment and forgiveness, holiness and prudence — all being spun in the air by a master juggler. Now we’re approaching not fact, not truths, but Truth.

Look what we do then. We try to snatch a ball from the juggler and claim it for ourselves, and the whole beautiful, swirling pattern falls apart and crashes to the ground.

So many of the heated arguments among Christians and Christian denominations involve this error, this snatching of incomplete truths to the destruction of the pattern. I have never been able to see, for example, why grace and works contradict each other. Or why God cannot be absolutely just and absolutely merciful. Reducing His infinite variety to one face of one little ball makes a lie of Him. He ceases to be who He is if He is made out to be less than He is.

It’s ugly to see the picking of sides and the fortifying of positions. Fighting over whether God is just or merciful is as foolish as a bunch of people pointing to a woman and shouting, “She’s a daughter!” “No, she’s a mother!” “You idiot, anyone can see she’s an engineer!”

I am not recommending open-mindedness so extreme your brains fall out. Virtue and truth cannot be compromised. There is Truth, but we do not know it all. There is virtue, but we do not possess it all.

We need to keep all truths and virtues in balance. We need to develop our memory as an essential part of wisdom, remembering what the other side looks like when we no longer see it. We need to accept that we are too limited ever to see everything at once, in balance and in motion, as God does. And we need to be part of the Body of Christ, because you can see what I cannot and can tell me what I might have forgotten. Please do.

Comments

  1. Having just spent an evening with ‘prophetic’ people who are disenchanted with our church this post just about expresses everything I have been struggling to put into words. And reminds me once again of why we are in community – we need each other more than we know. Thanks Damaris.

  2. This is wonderful writing, Damaris. I always look forward to your posts.

  3. This is so….true. Very helpful.

  4. Lisa Dye says

    Damaris, thank you for these good thoughts. One-spoked wheels don’t roll very well. If we are predestined to be conformed to the image of Christ as Romans 8 tells us, then may it be in all the fullness and richness of his character.

  5. I agree that many of the schisms and arguments that happen between Believers happen because we feel that we have to defend one side or the other, as we assume that both can’t be true. The Scriptures are full of what seem to be opposing, or mutually exclusive concepts. This is mystery, this is the work of an infinite, all-powerful God, and we finite creatures trying to figure it all out. Let the Scriptures say what they say, believe it, and marvel at God’s greatness.

  6. Luther rightly compared Holy Scripture to the manger in which the incarnate Christ was laid. No one should worship the manger (cattle trough) in which the incarnate Word of God was placed. Beyond the sacred page our spirit must hunger for the Christ to whom all the law and prophets testify. Our battle for the Bible has resulted in a lower view of Christ and a higher view of the Bible in many instances.

    • Jonathan Blake says

      Very good point John and Thanks Damaris for another great post! 🙂

    • chaidrinkingfool says

      Yes! There was a time I attended a church in which it seemed as though they had mistaken the Bible for a member of the Trinity.

      And woe unto the person who tried to explain why describing something as “biblical” might not be quite the same thing as describing it as “Christian”…

  7. Amen

  8. No fair holding up that mirror in front of me!

    Seriously, thank you for this post. You sunk my battleship …

  9. Good word. Apart from the Spirit, we cannot do this but will always drift into error. But Christ who embodies all grace and truth, virtues, fruits of the Spirit… can helps us as individual persons in community to bring all things into harmony. God’s love for us/in us/thru us will bind all these together in perfect unity.

  10. “There is Truth, but we do not know it all. There is virtue, but we do not possess it all.”

    And so it is…..Grace.
    What a wonderful post. Perfect for this day. Thank you.

  11. Great , and timely topic (esp. like the part about spiritual gifts being potentially problematic) and your usual strong, clear writing. To borrow your metaphor, we are mesmerized by our ONE fascinating orb (my PRECIOUS….) and are unaware or uncaring for the rest. OR: some OTHER christian is just ten times the juggler we are……or grabbed the ball first…..or……

    Memorable, valuable, and helpful writing…..stay at it Damaris.

    Greg R

  12. Good post! Pietism seems to allow one to pick and choose ones virtues. Spiritual gifting based upon personal preference questionnaires also leads to a sort of designer-spirituality and self-deception. Holiness in a vacuum: based upon a really narrow criteria and definition of my own choosing, I can be pretty proud of myself. Hey, at least I’m not like that tax collector over there!

    • I find what works best is to focus on how to get the most out of my failings, rather than my virtues. I have gotten a lot more good spiritually out of being too lazy to argue with people than I have by being intelligent enough to win arguments; and it is a lot harder to be self-righteous about sloth.

  13. Beautiful Damaris. Thank you.

  14. Sometimes I pray that scary prayer for God to remove my blindness and reveal my faults even more clearly, so he can start with the power sander. Then I am always reminded to look at some of my best qualities and there the worst ones will be lurking close by. Can’t get enough of that grace!!

  15. Good post. I think one of the causes of the mindset of either-or is the Enlightenment and its heavy reliance on rational and scientific methods and thought. While it has brought much good, it has also limited our appreciation of the mysteries and paradoxes of Scripture. Too often we view them as things to be solved rather than avenues to awe, wonder and worship. Thanks for the gentle tug back in the right direction.

  16. Such a simple concept yet so hard to internalize.

    One other thing to consider: being gifted in one area does not preclude being faulted in a myriad of others. “The gifts and calling of God are without repentance”, so we have no reason to exalt our “giftings” or to presume that we are more “important” to God than any other other person. We are only one cardiac incident away from eternity.

  17. I don’t think I have ever heard “truth” described in better terms, Damaris, your words giving me fuel for thought that consumated as a post where I “live”…..

  18. Thanks Damaris for these words. Ever since I began reading iMonk.com a couple of years ago, I’ve only really just begun to see how much of a sham my “faith” has been. Y’all here (and posts like this) have been one of the reasons that I still remain a Christian today.