Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Being Spared the Truth

There is a scene from the film "A Few Good Men" in which Tom Cruise's character, Lt. Daniel Kaffee, spars with Jack Nicholson's character Col. Nathan R. Jessup. In that exchange, Lt. Kaffee attempts to elicit a confession from the tough old Colonel. Kaffee pleads that he simply wants the truth, to which the Colonel famously replies, "You can't handle the truth." I'm not certain if Lt. Kaffee could handle the truth or not, but I am certain that God spares us from the full brunt of the truth to keep from overwhelming us with sorrow or to keep us from exceeding pride.

Consider this statement of Jesus, "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now" (John 16:12). Why would Jesus hold back the truth from His disciples? Why couldn't they handle the truth?

The context of this saying is on the brink of Jesus' arrest and crucifixion. The reality that Jesus is about to 'go away' is sinking in on the disicples, and their hearts are nearly overcome with sorrow (John 16:6). Jesus knew that they were fragile, He knew their grief, and He knew that their faith was not strong enough to handle everything at that moment.

Can you imagine the patience of Jesus? Do you not think that He longed to share with them the glory that was to come? Do you suppose that He was tempted (as we know that He was tempted in every way) to rebuke them for their unbelief and sluggish hearts? Did they not trust Him to do what was right? In my mind, I can see them downcast and grieving as the truth of the loss of their friend and master dawned on them. The Lord saw their grief and thought, "It is enough on them. They can bear no more."

It is gracious of God to bring us along by degrees. Slowly conformed us to the pattern of holiness displayed so wonderfully in the Son of God. He will never lay more on a burdened soul than it can bear, nor will He allow us to see so much of our future glory or our current progress to sabotage our humility.

Consider Paul in this regard. He bears witness that he himself was caught up into paradise and heard things that cannot be told, which man may even speak about (2 Cor. 12:2-3). Because of these exceedingly glorious revelations, Paul was given a thorn in the flesh "to keep me from being too elated by the surpassing greatness of the revelations" (2 Cor. 12:7). Why did Paul receive and thorn in the flesh, and why did God refuse to remove it? Because Paul could not handle the truth.

The Lord handles us so tenderly, neither allowing too much or too little revelation to crush us under the sorrow of sin nor to allow us to become too proud over the progress of the saints. He is like a careful gardener who neither adds too much fertilizer or too little and who gives out water by measure. Too little fertilizer and the plant will lack nutrition, too much and it will wither. Too little water and it will dry up, too much and it will drown. He manages us carefully, each according to his own need.

As we grow in faith and are strengthened by the grace of God, the Lord brings us along into the truth. Jesus said, "When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come" (John 16:13). He will not withhold the greater things from us forever, but He will bring us along as we are able to follow.

We must take care then, those of us who believe ourselves mature, not to outpace God in the lives of others. Be discerning and wise and patient with others, knowing that God has worked patiently in you. Have you ever struggled with the truth of God's revelation? Did God reveal all your sin at once or did He bring you along by degree? If we will be merciful as God is merciful, we will see the fruit that the Lord, the greatest Gardener, entends.

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