At one point in his letter, Paul tells the Galatians:
Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth? (Gal 4:16).
His experience is not unfamiliar to many of us. The one thing that a person ought to hear is exactly that which she finds most repulsive, most objectionable, and she transfers all of her aversion on to you for being the unwelcome messenger of an unfavorable truth. For this reason, it takes a certain strength of character to be willing to tell another the truth in spite of the potential backlash and unfavorable consequences. It demonstrates strength and rectitude of character, since no friendship is, strictly speaking, worth more than the truth. (On the contrary, I should think that a genuine friendship would be one in which the truth is held in highest regard.)
Why is it that sometimes we do not want to hear the truth? Perhaps it is because we are not fundamentally aligned with reality; we do not care about what’s true, about what’s really good, but only about what seems good to us, about what desires we already have. Alasdair MacIntyre discusses two opposed perspectives on the good in his seminal work Whose Justice? Which Rationality? (1988). The problem can perhaps be formulated in the following way. Are there certain things which are good for us regardless of the whether we desire them, and likewise certain things which are bad for us regardless of whether we find them desirable? Or are goodness and badness simply a matter of desire and aversion, so that a thing is only good for me if I desire it? In other words, are there some objective axiological realities “out there” in the world, to which my desires must be conformed, or do I take my desires, whatever they might be, as a starting point and construct my life around them?
(Incidentally, I think it is obvious enough that things are good for us regardless of whether we desire them, and the mere fact of my desiring a thing does not make it good. If I desire to live underwater, that would not make it good for me to do so. Indeed, it is not good for me to live underwater because it is not compatible with the sort of thing I am as a human being. My nature as a human defines my being and establishes my axiological horizons, so that not just everything will be good or bad for me. There is a fact of the matter about what is good for me, something that is connected intimately with my definition as a human being, and I ought to put my desires into conformity with that fact of the matter — at least, if I care about being rational.
If a person doesn’t think there are facts about what is good or bad for us that are grounded in our nature, then I suggest she live underwater or only ever eat grass. She will refuse if she is not stupid, and that shows that she realizes there are limits to the sorts of things we can reasonably and rationally desire as human beings. Certain forms of life are not going to be good for us, regardless of whether we desire them or not, because our nature as humans rules them out.)
When we don’t want to hear the truth, I suppose that we are embodying something like the second picture. We take our desires and preferences and the rest to be our proper starting points; the world must conform to them or else we will be upset. But a person who is willing to speak even an unwelcome truth instead opts for the view that our desires must be conformed to reality, that we ought to ask the question of what is really good, so that we can learn to desire the right things.
Christ is the greatest lover of truth who is willing to tell sinners what they do not want to hear. The things they desire are bad, regardless of the fact that they desire them with their whole hearts, and so Christ steps in their way. In this way, as Origen says in Commentary on Romans 7, 19, 8-9, Christ is a “stumbling block” to people — because He trips them up as they walk on the path to destruction by His admonitions and warnings, trying to stop them and motivate them to turn around.
Of course, the Christian life means becoming like Christ. We can do this not only by becoming wise, just as Christ is wisdom, and by becoming loving, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, but also by becoming stumbling blocks to sinners. You can do this by preferring the truth to lies, by upholding even the uncomfortable truths which are scandals to sinners, and by becoming their “enemy” through telling them the truth out of true friendship. And the Church cannot be the Bride of Christ unless she similarly loves truth and does not compromise, even if this should lose her friendship with the world.