The truth hurts, doesn’t it? Yes, sometimes it does, but if it is really the truth, the pain that follows does not lack purpose. A real revelation of truth corrects wrong thinking and direction, and brings forth life in its wake.
The Apostle Paul, writing to his protegee Timothy, encouraged him to hold fast to the truth of faith, for his sake, and for the sake of those he cared for. He wrote, “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.” (2 Timothy 4:1-5 NRSV)
It is so easy to fall victim to our itching ears, to surround ourselves with people who will always tell us we are right, leaving our thoughts and actions unchallenged. The comfort such a position brings is unmatched, but it also leaves us open to great deception. Navigating our path through life requires more than cheerleaders, it depends upon truth that allows us to see clearly.
A friend, who was a serious smoker, began to see the negative effects on her health. Her doctor began to point out the damage she was doing to her body, and continued to encourage her to take steps to break her harmful habit. Her response to the doctor’s concerns was a search for a new physician. After several attempts, she found one who was also a smoker and unwilling to confront the habit that continued to ravage her health.
That response is far from uncommon. It is all too easy to surround ourselves with people who think like we do, and distance ourselves from those who do not. Today, many join online groups, attend events, and surround themselves with voices that support their position, while unfriending and avoiding anyone who says what they do not want to hear. It seems that we would often rather think that we are right than to be right.
Jesus said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (John 8:32 NRSV) Real freedom does not come from believing what we want to believe, but from aligning our lives with the truth. Unfortunately, real truth will challenge our beliefs and behaviors. It will make us uncomfortable and direct us to change. It will not be easy on us, and may likely cause us to address places in our lives that are much deeper, and more substantial, than a bad habit. The truth will hurt, but it will also set us free.
As I recently told my congregation, if you are reading the Scripture, listening to sermons, and reading inspirational material, and you are never offended or uncomfortable, you are doing it wrongly. God loves us enough to tell us the truth, even when it hurts; maybe especially when it hurts. God does not take pleasure in our pain, but loves us so much that he is willing to lead us through that pain to the liberty that awaits on the other side of it.
Our itching ears may long to hear what we want to hear, but the real cure is the truth, and that truth will do more than heal the itch, it will set us free from what actually restrains us from living fully.