Think of your best friend. Chances are that the person who came to mind is somebody who has always been there for you through your struggles, and you have probably always tried to be there for him or her through theirs too. You each find strength in one another. Now imagine that this friend struggles with an addiction—maybe alcoholism, or compulsive gambling, or maybe a sex addiction. If that friend called you up and told you that they were going to go indulge their addiction—going out for a night at the bar, or to Vegas for a weekend of gambling, or to pick up a hooker or a one-night-stand—how would you respond?
If you love this friend, chances are that your response will be to try your damnedest to talk some sense into them. You might have to hurt their feelings, or raise your voice, or even threaten them . . . but you love them too much to let them go out unopposed and do something self-destructive. Your love for them does not require a blind affirmation of their every whim; no, at times love requires you to challenge people. Sometimes you have to offend them or hurt them because, if you don’t, they will end up hurting themselves. Real love sometimes has to be tough love . . . even if the person you love ends up getting mad at you and walking out of your life.
There have been times when I, and countless other Christians, have been accused of being unloving (or even of being ‘hateful’) because we are willing to challenge behaviors that we believe run counter to the long-term well-being of individuals and society. This accusation cuts us deep, because we know we are really doing the opposite. We know that love doesn’t mean unquestioning acceptance, constant affirmation, or bottomless approval. People who expect these things are narcissists; people who indulge them are sycophants. Neither are giving, or receiving, anything resembling love.
Let’s steer clear of the political third-rails of the day and consider something that most of us can agree is wrong: adultery. An adulterer can claim, with quite a lot of evidence to support his case, that he is just doing what comes naturally to him. His inborn instincts lead him to ‘spread his seed.’ Monogamy is rare in nature, after all. Who are you to tell him what he can and can’t do? Who are you to stand in the way of his happiness?
If we Christians really hated this adulterer, we would pat him on the back and say, sure, do whatever makes you happy. If we hated him, we’d help him along to his own demise and not lose a minute of sleep over it. But if we loved him like we’re supposed to, we would try to help him to see that what he’s doing is wrong. We would try to convince him to change his ways, to turn away from his sins like Saint Paul did on the road to Damascus (cf. Acts 9). Love calls us to sympathy and understanding; he, like all of us, has his cross to bear. But understanding that he faces strong temptations doesn’t mean we should endorse or support his decision to indulge them.
He might get really mad at us. He might sling insults and accuse us of being mean, or of trampling his freedom. And, sadly, sometimes he’ll be so caught-up in his own disordered desires that he’ll choose to turn his back on us so that he can cling to his sin instead. So be it. But the ones who tell him the truth—even at the risk of destroying the friendship or hurting his feelings—are the ones who really love him. The sycophants telling him what he wants to hear, on the other hand. . . .