Paul tells us to “speak the truth in love,” but what happens when we live in a culture fascinated by a hyper-romanticized notion of love while possessing ambivalence towards truth?
Despite the almost 3,000 year and 6,000 mile gap separating us from the Israel of King Ahab, his method of leadership hums the anthem of what is perhaps postmodernity’s most alluring anthem, “Tell me what I want to hear, don’t tell me what’s true.”
Ramoth-gilead was on the eastern frontier of Israelite’s territory, a fortress town from which the northern kingdom could both launch raids into Aram-Damacus (to the north) and control the trade route that ran from Damascus to the Arabian peninsula. Ramoth-gilead also functioned as one of the only topographically accessible regions for chariots traveling from Israel into Transjordan.
Naturally, Ahab wanted control of the frontier fortress, and so the offensively minded king called his counterpart Jehoshaphat (the Judean king) into battle with him. Jehoshaphat proved himself rather passive in the venture; however, he did manage to suggest, “Inquire first for the word of the LORD” (1 Kings 22:5). Being the kind of man Ahab was, he summed a multitude of love-talking prophets, and asked them,
Shall I go to battle against Ramoth-gilead, or shall I refrain?’ And they said, ‘Go up, for the Lord will give it into the hand of the king (22:6).
Jehoshaphat, seeing the absurdity in Ahab’s antics asks,
Is there not here another prophet of the LORD of whom we may inquire?’ And the king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, ‘There is yet one man by whom we may inquire of the LORD, Micaiah the son of Imlah, [insert whining tone here] but I hate him, for he never prophesies anything good concerning me, but evil (22:7-8).
My dad taught me how to hit a baseball, how to skate, play cribbage, scramble eggs and accept criticism. My mom taught me how to express kindness, authenticity and affection.
But my parents fell short. In a fallen world, all parents sin against their children. I love my parents. I think they did a great job raising me (I mean, obviously!), but they aren’t perfect. It takes more than a two adults to thrust an awkward, buck-toothed little boy into manhood.
As our bus rolled through the Arab villages that dot the chalky landscape of northern Jordan, I commented on how large the homes appeared. The abject poverty we were told to expect in Jordan seemed to conflict with the size of homes…until I realized: the Middle Eastern family structure is different than what we’ve come to understand as normative in the west. These homes that appeared so spacious from the confines of a coach bus likely provide to up to twenty family members: parents, children, uncles, aunts, grandparents—barely room to breathe.
Children are raised under the assumption that it takes a community to weave a young heart into the fabric of a functional community. The arthritic hands of frail grandmothers slowly wrap tiny minds around ancient truths while calloused fingers of weathering uncles show clumsy feet how to dance. For the people of Jordan (and most Middle Easterners) the communal input of generations is the norm. For us, it is generally something that must be sought after. Christianity is too often understood as an individual pursuit, a solo journey into the heart of God. This is not biblical Christianity.
Mentorship is a buzz word within the context of Christendom; however, I’ve learned it is an empty notion unless we’re willing to entrust others with authority over the broken places of our lives, which looks something like, “Hey there, I just want you to know that I admire they way you practice [insert an area of your brokenness here] in your life, and I would be honored if you would pray about leading me in this area.”
There’s a reason why the writer of 1 Kings feels the need to insert a commentary of Ahab’s life just prior to the flaccid king’s diatribe in chapter 22,
There was none who sold himself to do what was evil in the sight of the LORD like Ahab, whom Jezebel his wife incited. He acted very abominably in going after idols, as the Amorites had done, whom the LORD cast out before the people of Israel (11:25-26).
Ahab raced after idols that bent to his whim and caved into his frailties. Without establishing wise counsel around him, Ahab went the way of all men who unfettered by the bonds of love—because potent love is willing to say, “no.”
Walking through life without giving others permission to speak wisdom into our places of ignorance is like telling a parachute to stay shut during a 10,000 foot decent, like trying to chase the sunrise on roller skates.
Ahab sank into the mud at Ramoth-gilead, his body pieced by Syrian arrows, his kingdom fractured, and his legacy breathing back a compelling reminder of our need to be the kind people who invite those around us to “speak the truth in love.”