January 29, 2013

The Uncomfortable Conversation

Responses to friends or family, or even strangers, who talk to us about spiritual matters tend to result in knee-jerk reactions trying to avoid hearing or openly discussing what they have to say. But why is that?

Why do we feel so uncomfortable when someone close to us wants to talk to about the very things we all know matter most in life?

Doubtless, we all know what its like to be scolded by someone unnecessarily, or to be in the room with the person who is overly critical but will not listen to anyone else's opinion. I'm not referring to that particular kind of uncomfortable conversation. There are good strategies for dealing with people in such situations, but that's a topic for another time.

It would take quite some time to describe in detail all the answers that could be found in the Bible for why we tend to feel stressed in conversations regarding spiritual realities. Some natural reasons, of course, may be that we believe there is too much disagreement among various religious points of view. However, I believe the answer lies in questioning why we believe so strongly that agreement is unattainable.

The Bible teaches that we tend to avoid uncomfortable discussions about spiritual truth because we naturally do not like to be in the light. Just after telling Nicodemus about God's love for the world in John 3:16, Jesus also said that people hate the light and will not come into the light because they are afraid of having their sinful behavior exposed (John 3:19).

We usually react to statements like that by thinking it does not apply to us, but must be referring to other people out there somewhere. That kind of reasoning is called self-justification, which the Bible also points out as sinful. King David wrote that he wanted to be rebuked for his sin because it would help him avoid what was evil (Psalm 141:5; see also v. 4). David's son and heir to his royal throne, Solomon, wrote that people who hate correction are stupid (Proverbs 12:1) but that a wise man will love you if you rebuke him (Proverbs 9:8). Solomon also said that the prayer of the person who will not listen to God's Law is an abomination, and if they continually refuse to listen to correction, they will come to ruin suddenly without any hope (Proverbs 28:9; Proverbs 29:1). Jesus taught that unrighteous thoughts spring from a corrupt heart (Mark 7:20-22) and the apostle Paul, quoting from Psalm 14, explained that there is no one who is righteous and without sin. But when someone openly brings up similar things in a conversation, we may feel annoyed, or worse, angry.

We do not like to be judged, and so we often respond with the notion that "only God can judge our hearts...and he loves everybody anyway," so we tend to avoid talking about it. But what we forget is that God's Word is judging our hearts openly already, because that is its purpose (Hebrews 4:12). We do not need to run from that judgment like running from a fiery explosion, but we should step into it like stepping into the warm sunshine where all our blemishes can be seen for what they are, and can be healed as well.

So the next time anyone talks to you about the uncomfortable truths of the Bible, instead of shutting them down or turning away, engage with them openly and tell them how much you appreciate it, even though it may make you feel uncomfortable or you may disagree. Usually the best things in life make us feel uncomfortable at first, until we are trained by them. Exercise is never comfortable at the beginning, but we all know how much better we feel and look in the long run when we endure it. Endure the pain of those tough conversations for your own good and for the good of your loved ones. If they lead you to a deeper relationship with Christ, then you will be eternally blessed and happy for it.