Many of us at times find ourselves living in the paradoxical tensions created between two seemingly opposite extremes. Like throwing a bowling ball toward the pins at the end of the alley, our goal is to avoid the gutters on either side.
One alley I find myself regularly bowling in involves compassion/conviction. I find more and more people assume compassion and conviction are incompatible. Compassion, it is implied, easily waters down conviction—to remain unwavering, we cannot let personal feelings erode our beliefs. Conviction, it is assumed, is ipso facto devoid of compassion—thus, when Christians express any type of conviction, we can be quickly labeled fundamentalist, legalistic, judgmental or worse.
Jesus is a master bowler with much to teach us. He was tough and challenging without being legalistic; he was also caring and compassionate without sacrificing truth. To the crowd ready to stone a woman caught in adultery, Jesus says: “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” When they all fade away, he privately speaks to the woman, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you; Go now and leave your life of sin” (John 8:7-11). Jesus is able to offer compassion (“neither do I condemn you”) with conviction (“leave your life of sin”).
Would the Jesus who welcomed tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners into his intimate fellowship (Matt. 21:31–32) not welcome homosexuals into his fellowship today? I am sure he would. If so, how can we in the church not offer the same compassion and human dignity to people Jesus would welcome? I believe we should. On the other hand, I also believe that Scripture does not support same-gender sexual relations. I somehow need to blend compassion with conviction. I find myself uncomfortably caught in the middle—often criticized by both sides as wishy-washy, as either lacking compassion or lacking biblical commitment.
How winsome is the simplicity of Jesus’ blend of compassion and conviction! Living within this tension is beyond me, like a balance beam I can walk on for only a step or two before falling off one side or the other. How do individuals, congregations, even denominations walk this fine line that came so effortlessly and naturally to Jesus? I have no idea.
But seeing it in Jesus gives me hope. Perhaps the simplicity of Jesus’ compassionate conviction and his convicting compassion will help us imagine a third way.
Question: Have you ever found yourself caught in the tension of expressing compassion while upholding your convictions? What was the issue? Please take a moment to write a comment to share it!