One of my favorite lines from a movie is from A Few Good Men. Those of you who know me well won’t be surprised to learn that it comes from Jack Nicholson, who in the climactic courtroom scene shouts, “You can’t handle the truth!” Truer words have never been spoken. If I had a penny for every time I wanted to quote that line in my life in ministry, I would be a rich man many times over.
When is the truth not the truth? When should we keep the truth to ourselves? What is more important than the truth? The answer to those three questions appears below, but I would like to explore truth a bit more before jumping to the answer.
Recently I have had more than a few people assert to me that the truth should not be spoken if there is a chance it might hurt someones feelings. That sounds good, doesn’t it? The only problem is that it isn’t good at all. If you hold this position what you are really saying is that you are the kind of person who would let another make a fool of themselves rather than take a chance on hurting their feelings. You probably would let one of your friends walk around with a big green booger hanging from their nose and not tell them for fear they might feel bad about it. (As an aside, I consulted with my medical expert for an appropriate alternative to the word “booger” and she couldn’t stop laughing long enough to offer one up, so booger it is!) Or maybe you wouldn’t tell them they have toilet paper coming out from under their skirt as the exit the ladies’ room, or that their fly is open, or that they have a milk moustache, or that they have a large urine stain on the front of their stone washed jeans. (By the way, if Jay Lewis is reading this I apologize for not telling you about your jeans in high school.) Of course, those examples are relatively benign, but if you can’t tell someone about their bad breath how in the world are you going to tell them of more serious, possibly even life threatening, mistakes that are about to make?
The truth is, if you can’t tell a friend the truth, then you are an ass – nothing more, nothing less. If your friend can’t hear the truth from you, than they are an ass – nothing more, nothing less. You can spout all the altruistic crap about sparing feelings that you want, but anyone who lies to a friend isn’t a friend at all, and failing to tell the truth is lying – you ass!
There is one exception to the truth rule, of course. Nobody is compelled to give information to someone who is not entitled to that information. If someone approaches you on the street and asks you how much money you have with you, you are under no obligation to tell them. If somebody asks you where your sister is so they can kill her, you are under no obligation to tell them (although, if you sister failed to tell you about a big green booger dangling from your nose, you might consider telling them – which is why we should always tell the truth). Except for those rare situations:
When is the truth not the truth? Never.
When should we keep the truth to ourselves? Never.
What is more important than the truth? Nothing.