The devil is a better theologian than any of us and is a devil still. A. W. Tozer
I find Tozer’s words to be deeply troubling precisely because of their accuracy; throughout scripture we see those who resist God described as knowing God, God’s word, and Scripture. I speak, of course, of stories like the snake in Genesis 3, Satan tempting Jesus (Matt. 4, Lk. 4), and James’ words, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.” James 2:19. We are presented with a striking reality that those committed to undermining God’s work know the truth of God and the scriptures. Not only do these beings know the truth they use the truth to deceive those who would follow God. Give that idea honest consideration, demons can proof text with the best of humanity, that is a frightening scenario, and has real implications for how we approach scripture. If demons are able to use the truth of scripture to their own ends how do we know when scripture is being used appropriately? This is important because I am seeing an increase in people saying, “Truth is the most important thing.” Taking Jesus’ temptation accounts seriously means considering the fact that Jesus felt pressured to listen to Satan as he spoke scripture, that means the truth was used to do damage. Satan was attempting to use the truth to so doubt and rebellion. Satan stood before Jesus and used words of scripture to undermine Jesus’ potential ministry.
Your response might be, “Well Satan was twisting the truth”– well yes but that raises a larger question, how do we know when the truth is being twisted? Satan quoted a wonderful affirmation of the scripture that God will take care of God’s people, what made it wrong was the timing. Satan quotes the truth but the situation makes it a temptation to disobey. What this means is that truth must be governed, it must be bound because true ideas used at the wrong time and place can become temptations to evil. “Truth” does not always equate to “Good” or “Righteous”, I can easily use the truth to harm, maim, and destroy I can even use the truth of the scriptures to sow doubt, confusion, anger, and bitterness. Truth therefore cannot be put on a pedestal by itself, it must be bound. Eugene Peterson in The Contemplative Pastor talks about how adjective weaken nouns– this is an instance when a noun must be weaken, truth must be partially bound so that it cannot be abused to do damage. This is why the scripture says, “Speak the truth in love.” (Eph. 4:15). It should be clear, but if it is not– I am not arguing that truth is unimportant or that relativism rules the day. I am saying that there need to be guidelines for using the truth so that our truth is used for good. Are there dangers to a relativistic approach to the world, yes, and there are dangers in discounting truth in the name of culture, but there is at least an equal danger in promoting truth above all else. Wisdom is the call of the Bible and wisdom is about understanding which knowledge (or truth) to apply in a given situation. This is why wisdom is so often identified with God’s Spirit in the Scripture, but wisdom teaches when to use an appropriate teaching and when to refrain. We see this throughout Proverbs where the righteous and the wise are often synonyms and knowing when to speak is as important as knowing what to say. All of the truths of scripture are meant to point us to God but just like road signs posted in the wrong place, these truths used at the wrong times will inevitably point us in the wrong ways.
When Jesus was asked what is the primary instruction for his followers he responded to love God completely with every aspect of your life and to then love those around you. Everything we do, including speaking the truth must be subject to this rule, if it is not we step outside the Church. If i might push a biblical metaphor a little further than its author, if the scripture is indeed a double edged sword, love is the scabbard which protects us from doing accidental damage. The truth of scripture is designed in part to help cut the worst parts of our being away, and these truths thrown around with little concern for how the recipient might hear them is like a surgeon wildly hacking with a scalpel without focusing on the problem area. The reason for all of this is that we believe God is the Truth, truth then is not command or rule, Truth is a person. And the reality of our culture is that most people in America who do not follow the Christian message say that we present God as hateful, vindictive, mean, cruel, or capricious. This means we are using the truths of the scriptures to provide people with the wrong impression of God. The solution that I see is to properly sheath our swords with the love of God, so that our slices will be seen as the healing scalpel and not a warrior’s sword.