“I think this house has bad bones, it looks like the remodeling job is only skin deep.” This was the latest home we had looked at only to hear from our realtor that it was likely falling apart internally. It was early March and Mickey and I had been looking at two to three houses a week for the last two months. Without fail, some sort of issue had come up every time: the taxes were too high, our financing didn’t work for the seller, or someone had just snatched it off the market by the time we’d finished touring it. But the most frustrating of all of the issues we ran into was when we found out that the house that looked great on the inside was a mess once you got past the surface. Our realtor and longtime friend normally broke the news to us, “I know this house looks great, but trust me, you don’t want this...it’s got some major issues.” Every time I knew he was right. I’d known Josh for over 20 years, we’d been friends since the second grade, and he was the best man at my wedding. If he said there was something wrong with the house, I believed him, even if it wasn’t what I wanted to hear.
When Wisdom Goes Silent
The Bible is a book of many genres: poetry, prose, biography, apocalypse. But perhaps the most neglected genre of scripture in our day and age is wisdom literature. Books like Ecclesiastes, Job, and even some of the Psalms fall into this category. But the most prominent wisdom book is that of Proverbs. This book is rarely preached through in its entirety, and that is understandable. But in this current moment, the church seems to be feeling proverbs absence acutely. Who can look at the state of American Evangelicalism and claim with a straight face that it is marked by wisdom? Far from wise, evangelicals seem to be devolving into a vaguely spiritual movement of snake oil salesman and conspiracy theorists.
In our present moment, I’m reminded of the words of Proverbs 27:6, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” Social media has made it easier than ever to distance ourselves from friends who are brave enough to tell us hard truths. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen someone state their political or theological views bombastically and follow it up with, “Don’t like what I have to say? Go ahead and unfriend me.” Behind a status update like that lies a deep falsehood: real friends will only ever agree with me and confirm what I already believe. If you’re not on board with my convictions about the timing of the rapture, who Christians should vote for, or the latest theological controversy then keep those opinions to yourself, I’ve made up my mind. I can’t overemphasize how unbiblical this approach to relationships is. It destroys the possibility of accountability, and it removes the opportunity to be called to repentance when we’re wrong, and it creates a form of faith that leaves little room for the sort of confrontation we find between Peter and Paul in the book of Galatians.
That’s not to say that every comment from someone we hold dear should be taken as Gospel. It’s important to recognize that wisdom literature isn’t meant to be rigid and inflexible, it presents us with general principles that help us to engage in a complex world marred by sin. This is why proverbs can tell us not to answer a fool according to his folly, and then in the very next verse tell us that we should answer a fool according to his folly (Proverbs 26:4-5). Which is it? Well...it depends on the fool you’re dealing with and the nature of his folly. In the same way, not every painful word a friend utters will be true. The test of all truth is how it comports with God’s word. But if we shield ourselves from those who disagree with us, we’ll also miss out on seeing God’s Word in all of its richness.
As much as I wanted to believe that the house we saw in March was salvageable, I’m so glad that Josh took the time to warn us. As hard as it was to close that door, in the end, it spared us the even more difficult season of trying to fix up a home that was broken beyond our ability to repair. Likewise, when friends call us out of patterns of sin, our challenge our untrue ideas about God and his world, it is ultimately an act of mercy, sparing us from the inevitable heartache of clinging to a collapsing structure. Now more than ever we need friends like this, and we need to be friends like this. We desperately need to recover the wisdom of allowing our friends to wound us with the truth so that we might be healed. That’s what this series is about, cultivating friendships that are marked by truthfulness. And becoming the sort of friends who are willing to speak what might be a painful word so that those we love might walk in step with the truth.