In the midst of moral or cultural controversies, there is a tendency for many Christians to justify unpopular stances on issues by saying “we teach this out of love.” Even though some things they say may cause emotional pain, frustration, or guilt in their audience, they assert that ultimately, people need to experience these feelings in order to repent of sinful behavior and save their souls.
It sounds good enough, but we need to consider where this rationale could lead. Envision a hypothetical religion. Suppose that this hypothetical religion teaches that it is noble to physically beat random people. Adherents believe that by doing this, you are beating the evil out of them. Practitioners cry before doing the beatings, and they emphasize how in their flesh, they wish they did not have to do it. But they motivate themselves by picturing the victim burning in hell due to the evil residing inside of them, and they muster up the courage to beat the person in attempt to drive the evil out. When practitioners get in trouble with the law, they say that the world is morally degenerate and cares only about physical comfort. They say that the world only sees love through the lenses of mushy, romantic feelings.
Any reasonable person would see the insanity of such a religion. The rationale of “tough love” is not going to convince anyone who has sincere concern for others. The hypothetical religion I described shows what could happen if our belief systems are completely detached from normal, human sensibilities.
That said, in a healthy belief system, is there any room for “hard truths” or “tough love?” I believe there can be.
Consider the process in which you yourself came to know Christ. I think it might be safe to assume that you did not simply wake up one morning and say, “You know what, I’m really happy with my life right now. I am going to utilize my own free will to become a believer in Christ,” and then sail smoothly forever after.
If you are currently a believer in Christ, and if this faith is very important to you, then most likely this faith resulted from many complex, and often painful or frustrating circumstances. Even if people were raised as Christians, the process of building a personal connection with one’s faith is usually not a cakewalk.
So then, suppose you write to me saying, “Please, Samuel, give me a framework so that I can live a Christian life without ever feeling worried or anxious about anything, and to be a perfect peace with myself all the time.”
Well, I would have to say that I cannot grant that request. I suppose you could call that denial “tough love” if you wanted to. If I tried to cook up the answer you’re looking for, I would be deceiving you.
However, I would be perfectly happy to share ideas about what God might be showing us through our circumstances. I believe that in some way or another, the Holy Spirit is always present in our thoughts and emotional reactions. If we are struggling to live with certain beliefs, or straining in some pursuit, and always ending up frustrated, then maybe that frustration is the Holy Spirit’s way of leading us out of the failing endeavors.
Maybe we have an attachment to certain endeavors that makes it hard to give them up. Maybe we have erroneous tied our sense of self-worth to personal pursuits, whether religious, academic, or recreational. If I suggested that a certain endeavor may be causing more frustration than good, and that maybe it is time to find a new direction despite your current attachments, is that “tough love”?