I have developed a slight obsession with Eldridge's "Beautiful Outlaw." I think because there is something beautiful - and uncomfortable - about realising that perhaps I have spent much of my Christian life stripping Jesus of his personality and that now it is time to reclaim it. To allow Jesus to be wonderfully, compellingly, and, at times, frustratingly, himself.
One of the characteristics that Eldridge most admires about Jesus is his uncompromising honesty. Jesus is honest in a way that very few people ever allow themselves to be. His honesty is shockingly disruptive. Jesus clearly never learned the nice middle class habit of saying nothing if you can't say anything nice. He frequently says things that aren't very nice. And yet, if Jesus is God, and God is love, then even in these moments of brutal honesty, Jesus is loving. As he critiques the disciples, expresses his exasperation with the Pharisees, rebukes the religious and weeps over the state of Jerusalem he is acting in love. He loves humanity so much that he will not allow us to carry on in delusion and self-deception. He will tell us straight. Even if this straight-talking will turn people away from him. (John 6:60; Matthew 19:22)
Jesus lovingly ministers truth to people. Truth is the only remedy for the human condition and he applies it with precision. (John 8:32) He says what needs to be said - especially when no one else is willing to say it. This is a dangerous habit. And almost certainly why I don't indulge in it too often. I am terrified of being honest with people. I don't mean that I deliberately lie. It's just that - most of the time - it's a lot easier to avoid the topic that really needs to be discussed, to gloss over any potential conflict by pretending I haven't noticed just how outrageously one of my friends is acting, and to talk about the inane and meaningless things of life instead.
"Most people go through their entire lives without anyone, ever, speaking honest, loving, direct words into the most damaging issues of their loves...we chitchat. We spend our days at a level of conversation as substantial as smoke. We dance around one another like birds in a mating ritual, bobbing, ducking, puffing out our chests...why aren't we more honest with each other? Because it will cost us." (Beautiful Outlaw, p.70)
I long to be more honest. Not to hurt people, but to love them. To love them deeper and more genuinely because I want them to know what is really true. To be willing to say hard things in love even if it costs me.
I am trying to let Jesus teach me to be like this. The only problem with embracing honesty is that it also means letting Jesus be honest with me. This wasn't really part of the bargain. On Friday, I met with my dear friend Elaine. She is one who loves me enough to be honest with me, to tell me straight and show me where I have got it wrong. I love her for this. Even if that isn't always obvious at the time of us talking. We talked about many things, particularly my anger towards someone who I felt was acting selfishly. As the words tumbled out, becoming more and more like a rant, and less and less like an appropriate expression of something I was struggling with, I knew it wasn't the right way to behave. I knew that I had crossed a line from confiding to bitching, from sharing a struggle to blatantly condemning someone else's actions.
It was time for some honesty, the heart of Jesus on display in Elaine's words: you need to forgive. You're not being loving. You are judging someone when, in fact, you are behaving in the same way. You are being selfish, and stubborn and refusing to acknowledge your messed-up-ness.
I definitely didn't want to hear any of that.
I didn't want that particular dishing out of honesty thank you very much.
And yet, and yet, oh how I needed it. How I long to be better. To be transformed into his likeness, to be one who loves without cynicism, without judgement or criticism. Who loves unconditionally no matter how unlovely the object of that love. For surely I too am unlovely. Jesus, who sees the very heart of me sees all of my unloveliness on display, and then, in love, he tells me about it. In love, he sends his Spirit to nudge and prompt and nag and gently suggest that perhaps this is not how a daughter of the King should behave. Perhaps this is not what is best.
Much Christian imagery paints pictures of a potter's gentle hands; of flames dancing merrily in a kiln; of sweetly scented soap that washes us clean. But this potter knows how to be rough when he needs to be; the heat of the refiner's fire will burn and hurt and scald to get rid of the dross; and it is the harsh bristles of a brush and a launderer's powerful soap that scraps us clean. The truth will set us free but it will not do so without causing some pain in the process.
Oh Jesus, let me accept your honesty. Let me be wise not a fool.
Do not rebuke mockers or they will hate you; rebuke the wise and they will love you. (Proverbs 9:8)