Better is an open rebuke than hidden love. Proverbs 27, verse 5.
Let me ask you a personal question: have you ever had a crush on someone but didn’t tell them? It’s tough, isn’t it? I mean, it can really be agony, to care, to want someone, to know you two could be electric, to be in love with them and to keep it a secret, to keep it hidden.
We’ve all had crushes, haven’t we? Let’s take that a step further: we’ve all been in love, really in love, and sometimes it hasn’t been with who we thought it would be. Maybe the timing wasn’t right; perhaps it was unrequited (or like the verse implies, unknown); it could have been just circumstances and choices that prevented it from growing into more. Tennyson was right, you know: it really is “better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” He was right because to have not loved at all would be to miss out on the greatest feeling in the universe.
Imagine how it would feel to possess that feeling and not be able to share it, either by choice or because of fears. Even more, don’t just imagine it: remember it from when it has happened to you. Chances are it has, whether it was a school-kid crush or hidden love you kept secret from the other person. It is real, and it really can hurt to not share it. Love will expand and grow only so much if it isn’t given to another being, and to love is a choice, an action. To love and be loved is our strongest desire. It’s why we’re made because we were made from and by true love Himself.
Perhaps that’s one reason why God’s love is so compelling. It’s so powerful, life-changing, fulfilling and deep that we can’t keep it hidden. At any cost, at any price, we are simply moved to share it with others, even with total strangers. The other night I watched a movie, “The Mission,” about Catholic missionaries in 1700s South America. They risked harm and death and all they had just to share God’s love with strangers. That’s compelling. They simply couldn’t keep it hidden.
So is the verse saying we should always go for broke and confess our hidden love? Actually, I don’t read it that way. Is it saying that we should freely rebuke someone when we see they are about to get hurt? No. Is the verse telling us that we should never keep love hidden? No, it isn’t saying that either. Just what is this cryptic verse really saying we should do about the most important feeling, emotion, and force in our lives?
Ready for the answer? Nothing. The verse says nothing about what we should do, gives no command or directive. It’s simply making an observation. I picture Solomon standing on a portico, overlooking Jerusalem at sunset, his heart heavy with responsibility and love. I picture him saying these words to a scribe, making a wise observation about the feeling he knows can only originate from God. He is stating a truth, and an undeniably painful one at that.
What’s more is that he is contrasting real love with how it is better to have a loving rebuke, a purposeful hurt, than to keep that true love a secret. My study Bible adds a comment about this verse, saying that the original version of the “open rebuke” was called a “life-giving rebuke.” People who rebuke us don’t do so for revenge or to inflict hurt. They do so to correct, to make us better so that we might live fully. I imagine the rebuke to which the verse alludes to be a sharp, stinging rebuke from someone very dear. I think of it as a good friend bringing us up short, or a loved one standing toe to toe with me firing back responses to my charges. It is the best friend who tells you “they aren’t interested.” It is Nathan telling David, “you have sinned.”
It’s better to have such life-giving rebukes, given in the discipline of love, than to live with the pain of not sharing real love with someone. That’s what Solomon knew, and that’s what the Spirit motivated his heart to record for all time in a verse that holds just as true now as it did 3000 years ago when it was first revealed. Solomon knew real wisdom, and he knew the story of Nathan rebuking his own father. Don’t forget too that, in a later book, Solomon was also inspired to say “there is nothing new under the sun.” Amen to that.
I remember my very first crush. I was in first grade and her name was Ellen. We were in a blended first and second grade classroom, and Ellen was a second grader who befriended me on the Fuller playground. We talked and bounced the four-square ball; we played after school and she egged me on one day to even break the window in the door of her house because she was teasing me about something I don’t even remember. I didn’t ever get a kiss from my friend on whom I had a hopeless young romantic crush; a few months later I switched schools. But I remember well the feeling of keeping my feelings hidden, how I used to look across the room at her long, pretty brown hair and her fair skin and blue eyes and thought she was just an angel. I never told her how I felt; in fact, in nearly forty years, this is the first time I have even mentioned it.
But the feeling was real. It felt like love to a seven year old boy who didn’t know whether it was, but only knew that he thought the girl was a dream come true. In the ensuing years, I’ve felt other crushes, some powerful, and some that grew into real love. Some I confessed; others I kept hidden. In those hiding times, I would rather have felt the stinging rebuke of my closest friend – and sometimes I did – than keep the feeling hidden any longer, knowing my fear kept it from sharing, knowing my fear sentenced it to lonely desolation. To become something of meaning, love must be shared. It must be shared as God would share it, properly in His ways without agenda, or sin, and with purpose. Going forward, I choose love.