“I told him the truth about my life”, said the distressed wife, “and now he’s furious and about to walk out.” This wail by a woman who had made a difficult confession to her husband points out accurately the dilemmas of honesty and deceit. Honesty clears the air, but often complicates life. Deceit maintains an unsatisfactory status quo, but is usually easier.
And so it is that at all sorts of levels we find ourselves torn between the dictates of honesty and the fears of its consequences.
How is this to be resolved? One cannot walk up to someone in the street and say “Quite honestly, I think your hairstyle is ludicrous,” however strong the temptation might be! Nor can you say to your hostess at the end of the evening: “Frankly, that dinner was terrible.” If we expressed every feeling honestly to everyone the social structure of day to day life would collapse and psychological chaos would ensue overnight.
On the other hand, when honesty is lacking, people walk around with their resentments, hostilities and deceptions all locked away, thereby not only accumulating guilt, but rendering relationships progressively more phoney and problematic. And so innuendos and hints are dropped here and there, but not picked up. Insinuations register vaguely but are not understood.
Burst of courageous resolution
Finally, in a burst of courageous resolution we decide to be honest. We share the feelings. We confess the fault. We acknowledge the resentment. We spill the beans. And then the wife walks out. Or the boss fires you. Or the friend leaves you.
Does that always happen? Of course not. Often the relationships are deepened, the air cleared, the harmony restored. Why then does honesty sometimes work and sometimes fail? Why are the people who make a cult of indiscriminate honesty sometimes such a pain? What factors dictate when to be honest and when to say nothing?
The Bible answers the question in one simple formula – “Speaking the truth in LOVE” (Ephesians 4:15). The whole New Testament links truth and love. Love without truth becomes phoney. Truth without love becomes brutal. Only in Jesus was the combination perfectly balanced, for, as John tell tells us, He was “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). And note the order. Grace first, then truth.
The dictates of love and grace therefore indicate when truth is to be spoken. Because “love is kind…and is not rude” (1 Corinthians 13:4-5). It knows that no creative purpose is served by rude comments on a stranger’s hairstyle or your hostess’ meal. But because “love rejoices in the right” (1 Corinthians 13:6), it knows that deceit and secret resentments are wrong, and therefore to be eliminated. Because they spoil and violate love they have to go. In other words, honesty is in order if it serves some creative purpose and is born out of love and promotes the cause of love. Of course, even loving truth may hurt like blazes, but it is far preferable to a lifeless and deceitful status quo.
Love also creates the emotional climate within which sincerity and honesty can be supported.
If a relationship is full of tension, trauma and hostility, it can probably not at that point support total honesty. That is like asking the orange sapling to support a full-grown fruit. It can’t or the branch would break. Thus “there is a time to keep silence and a time to speak” (Ecclesiastes 3:7).
And only Love can really decide which is which.