I have often found that the truth of an issue often lies somewhere between the extremes, and requires somewhat of a balancing act to avoid straying too far down a path that leads to a completely incorrect understanding of the issues. Furthermore, sometimes when one encounters a person out of balance, it is necessary to pull them to the other side so they can settle into a proper equilibrium among views. The challenge when doing this is avoiding pulling them too far to the other side or letting yourself go too far in the attempt to help them. Let me clarify with an example.
Let’s look at the problem of evil, pain and suffering (EPS)—the hardest single issue facing any worldview. There are a number of perspectives within Christendom about why God allows His people to suffer. Some say that since God works His ultimate plan through all that occurs, then we should not grieve when we have suffering, pain, evil in our lives because God intends it for good. Critics of this view argue that it implies that God is sadistic, and therefore not good. Others say that God is incapable for various reasons of stopping all EPS. Critics say this view denies God’s omnipotence. Still others say that God is completely sovereign, but has also allowed freedom and therefore cannot lift all consequences of sin upon innocent parties without violating the principles of freedom, and so allows some tragedy. This is often viewed as completely unsatisfactory. There are other variations and theories, but I think these cover most of them. They all have some level of problems with them, which is why there is so much debate about the issue.
Personally, I lean towards the last, but with the understanding that it is at best a two dimensional, flat understanding of what is both paradox and mystery. (Deut.29:29) Scripture deliberately leaves this critical question pretty vague, saying basically, trust God because He is holy, righteous, and good, and that He has established justice and it will be carried out completely and satisfactorily in the end. This is difficult for both the skeptic and the thoughtful believer alike to accept, especially in the midst of such times. Yet, repeatedly in Scripture, we see God grieving over EPS, even when He is about to relieve it. The account of Jesus raising Lazarus is a key example of this. He allowed the tragedy of Lazarus’ death, but in His sovereignty restored him to life.
An example of the first view was related by a friend who did college missionary work and stayed with a pastor and his family, which included the couple, their kids and the wife’s mother. The routine was he would get up, play with the young kids until breakfast, join them for breakfast and then go do his missionary work. One morning at breakfast, the wife announced with a smile that the night before her mom had passed to be with the Lord. My friend instantly shared his condolences and apologized for the normal rambunctious antics he’d done earlier in the morning with the children. The wife jumped down his throat, rebuking him for grieving her mother because it was God’s will that she go, and if it was His will, it must be good and therefore grief had no place in their hearts. I fear for this woman and her family and hope that deep psychological wounds did not arise from this attitude, but I am not optimistic.
If Jesus grieved over both Lazarus’ and His own deaths and tribulations, then I feel very comfortable in doing the same in an appropriate manner. When we have surgery, we take pain medicine post-op because the pain is real—our bodies have been insulted, regardless of whether it was for good or ill. We don’t refuse the medicine and pretend the pain doesn’t exist simply because the surgery was for our benefit. That is foolish and nonsensical—the pain is real and must be dealt with appropriately as a real issue, even though we know it will eventually go away. The same is true for emotional pain. We do have hope, and so the grieving is tempered by it, but the loss is still a real loss.
I have an acquaintance who is internationally known in Christian circles. In his objection to what he views as the Pollyanna-ish, psychologically disturbing view that we should refuse to grieve because it shows God’s Hand moving in our lives, he attempts to pull people over towards the idea that God is limited, that He is not really sovereign and wishes you well, but is unable to protect you from all wrong. I agree that it is sometimes helpful in convincing people of wrong attitudes or beliefs to present a stronger case than it exists in reality, but it is also incumbent on the convincer to be able to recognize when they are stepping beyond what is acceptable and true doctrine and moving over to an unbiblical extreme. My acquaintance doesn’t just merely argue a view that is beyond typical understandings of the Biblical perspective, he actually believes it and holds to it firmly and vociferously, going so far as to saying that God is not sovereign and there are things He is unable to do. He developed this view in reaction to the Pollyanna view, but in my opinion goes too far with it.
In our academic fields, much the same dynamic occurs—people hold differing views on controversial issues and, in arguing with those of different persuasions, hold their arguments more and more firmly until they wind up at the extreme view out of sheer stubbornness or defensiveness. Logic and reasoned thought no longer reign, but dogma.
Once we lose the teachability of humility, and descend into blind dogmatic insistence, we lose much objectivity and reduce the effectiveness of our authority on the topic. We also tend to lose the ability to discern between primary, secondary and tertiary issues—we make mountains out of molehills.
It is one thing to be emphatic or even dramatic in helping to correct others. It is quite another to over correct, and thus need correcting ourselves.