John tells us in his gospel that Jesus was 'full of grace and truth' (John 1:14). Most of us do not believe this. Paul tells us to speak the truth in love, but we do not really believe this is possible. We suffer dreadfully as a consequence.
Let me say it again: Jesus, God made flesh, the human being in Whom God has finally and full revealed Himself, was full of grace and truth.
Whatever else it means, it must mean at least this: if we truly understand them, grace and truth are not incompatible; they are not opposed to each other. Grace and truth are not opposites; rather, they are two sides of the same coin, the character of a loving God.
We struggle to believe this.
In our experience, we are pulled in different directions by these two principles. We feel we have to make a choice between being truthful and being loving, between being kind and being honest, between being nice and being right. That is our experience. And we believe our experience.
This division has been expressed in many different ways over the years. CP Snow wrote about there being the two cultures - science and the arts; we have to choose in school which of these we want to study and explore. Our experience says that we can act on the basis of the facts and ignore people's feelings, or we can act on the basis of peoples feelings and ignore the facts.
But God tells us that our experience, in this matter, is misleading. If we were to see things rightly, if we were to understand what is really going on, then we would understand that truth and love are not opposed, We really can find a way to live which does not compromise either of these essentials.
I believe that truth and love must go together: in the end, telling a lie is never the loving thing to do. Lies destroy; only the truth can set you free.
On the other hand, when you tell the truth, you do not have to be brutally honest. There is always a way to hold together grace and truth, but it is rarely an easy way.
Some people advise you to tell the unvarnished truth, and if it hurts, so be it; other people will tell you the only sensible strategy is to lie (but, of course, only tell 'white lies', with good intentions) so that you do not upset folk.
But those are not our only options. There is always another way; and believing this is half the battle. If you believe there is another way, and you believe this matters, you will be willing to invest time and effort in finding it.
Our need to hold together grace and truth is not just a theological issue or a challenge for Christians. The same battle is worked out in many areas of life. Much of the BCAN Volunteer Training Program involves helping people find how to do this in different areas of life.
In these practical areas, the conflict is often between a soft, gentle, easy, heart-centred 'loving' approach on the one hand, and a hard-headed approach which insists on dealing 'properly' with the problem on the other hand.
When dealing with issues of mental health, you are often faced with people who are holding firmly to some form of unreality. The two obvious options are to confront or collude.
The danger implicit in each of these options should be obvious.
When dealing with issues of addiction, the battle lines are drawn up between those who are committed to an abstinence based solution (often, but not always, using a twelve-step approach) and those who advocate harm reduction.
Both sides seem to miss the obvious point that no one approach will be right for everyone, and most people will benefit from different approaches at different points in their journey.
When it comes to sharing their faith, Christians divide between those who believe in confronting unbelievers with the stark truth, as they see it, that anyone who does not put their trust in Jesus will burn in Hell, and those who favour the more gentle approach of friendship evangelism and Alpha Courses.
In this case, I believe that the real truth is very different from what those who advocate presenting the 'hard truth' about hellfire believe. In this case, the difficulty lies in believing that God really is as good and loving as He claims, and He really does give us freedom to choose our future.