12. Loving actions are not necessarily nice; nice actions are not necessarily loving.

Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses. {Proverbs 27:6}

On October 14, 1987, 18-month old Jessica McClure fell down a water well in Midland, Texas. For the next 55 hours, nearly the entire world watched and waited to see what would happen to the little girl. After digging a parallel shaft down next to the mine and digging a tunnel over to where she was, rescuers were dismayed to find that—though they were pulling with all their might—she wouldn’t budge. Jessica was wedged so tightly in the well that they couldn’t move her.

The first rescue attempt failed. When the paramedic came back to the surface to talk to the doctor, it was obvious that he was a little squeamish about hurting her. But the doctor was adamant that Jessica was out of time. The doctor told him to do whatever it took to get her out of the well. She said, “You may have to break her legs, her hips, her feet. But as long as her head, neck, and back are intact, we can fix the rest. This is it. Do whatever it takes. Break her bones if you have to, but get her out.” The second rescue attempt was successful and Jessica made it out of the well alive.

Nobody is going to go around telling people that it’s okay to intentionally break children’s bones as a matter of course. In fact, lots of people are in jail today because they have intentionally broken a child’s bones! What made the difference in this situation was the motivation. At that time, breaking Jessica’s bones was actually the loving thing to do, given the alternative.

We often define something as “loving” if it is nice, doesn’t hurt someone, or doesn’t offend their feelings. By contrast, our society is increasingly labeling words and deeds as “unloving” if they cause offense or uncomfortable feelings. But the Bible warns us to think a little more deeply than this, for it says that enemies may treat us “nicely” for nefarious reasons and that hurtful things may sometimes come from true friends.

That’s why we cannot determine whether an action is loving unless we are able to ascertain the motive. Loving actions aren’t necessarily nice, and nice actions aren’t necessarily loving.

If you want to dig deeper—
Leviticus 19:17-18
Psalm 30:5
Proverbs 3:11-12
1 John 2:15