We live in an increasingly truth-absent culture. We don’t care if something is true anymore. Facts are soooooo yesterday. Nobodies into facts anymore. We just care if something fits our worldview or if we want it to be true.
In a culture which no longer cares about the truth, Christians have to be truth- tellers and lovers of truth, because there’s no one else left to do it. Oscar Wilde said, “In a time of deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”
Now, everyone says they “love the truth.” But we might be lying when we say that. Sometimes what we call “truth” is something else.
Sometimes what we call truth is something we hope. Sometimes it’s something we heard 3rd or 4th hand. Sometimes what we call truth is a worldview or a gut-instinct. Sometimes what we call the truth isn’t much more than the way we were raised.
Oscar Wilde also said, “The truth is rarely pure and never simple.”
Truth is not easy. Because as much as we like to say we “love truth,” we all at some point use “the truth” as a cover for other things that we actually love more than truth.
#1 The Lack of Our Own Spiritual Formation
The first way we use truth is as a cover for own lack of spiritual formation.
When Simon Cowell was a judge on American Idol and someone gave a bad performance, do you remember what he’d say? He’d say, “If I’m being honest…” and then he’d go on to totally devastate this young person. And people would say, “He’s just being honest. He’s truthful.”
No. He’s not. He’s being a jerk! He could have said, “that’s not what we’re looking for. Your performance wasn’t good enough.” That’s honest. Saying, “You’re the worst singer in America” or “You sounded like Dolly Parton on helium” is just mean.
A few months ago, Caitlyn Jenner, was featured on the cover of Vanity Fair as the first Trans-Gendered cover model. Many people lauded it. Others called it sinful and twisted. Fair enough: There’s a discussion there we should have.
What caught my attention, though, were people who called him/her “disgusting” and “repugnant” or who said, “Jenner looked like every P.E. teacher they’d ever had.” They felt they could use these words – which was really just their opinion in the first place – because they were “speaking the truth.”
This kind of conversation passes as “speaking the truth,” but it’s a dishonest truth. It’s dishonest because it works against the direct teaching of Jesus to “do not others as you would have them do to you (Luke 6:31).” NT Wright calls it “the dishonest honesty of truth meant to injure.”
It’s like seeing an obese woman in Wal-Mart, walking up to her and calling her “fat” just because it’s factual. It’s truthful, but it’s malicious.
You’ve known these people? People who will say the harshest things about other people who are made in the image of God and then try and whitewash it by saying, “Well, it’s true.” They act as if no other Christian ethic applies. They simply lack spiritual maturity.
#2 Propping Up Our Agenda
The second way we use truth is as a prop for other agendas.
Think about the picture below of Condolezza Rice. One of my friends who is very liberal politically posted this to his Facebook wall. Under the picture, the caption read, “They certainly never wanted this picture to get out.”
What they meant was that conservatives and the Bush Administration were somehow in league with Osama bin Laden. Now, anyone thinking about it knows
This picture is a fake. Why? Because Condoleezza Rice is a tall woman, she’s 5’8’’. But Osama bin Laden was 6’ 4’’. There’s 8-inches height difference.
The same is true about this picture (side right) of FLOTUS, Michelle Obama. In some circles this picture was circulated widely as evidence of the First Lady’s disdain for America. But they never showed the second picture (below left).
I own a DSLR camera. When it’s on the high shutter speed setting, it catches tons of pictures in less than 2-seconds. We use it because it’s the only way we can get family pictures of everyone smiling at once. It goes off like a machine gun.
Now when I look at these two pictures, I know how a camera can capture an image, but not the meaning if that moment. But one picture captures a preconceived narrative for some and the second pictures somewhat negates that narrative, Neither picture can tell us “the truth” about whether the First Lady loves America as much as whoever, wherever thinks she should. (And it says nothing of the long Christian tradition held by millions over centuries to not pledge to anything other than Jesus, but we can talk about that another day.)
What happens even more often, is that on issues that are highly volatile and tense, we only consider the evidence that supports our opinion and then we call that evidence “the truth.”
Truth can so easily not be about truthfulness, but becomes about enshrining our agenda.
Toward The Scriptures
Like Simon Cowell, some of us use the truth to camouflage the fact that we’re mean and malicious people.
Others of us, see only the truths that we want to be true.
We then have to figure out a way to dismiss or diminish the evidence that doesn’t support our truth. The people on the other side are liars or ill-educated or stupid. The other side’s evidence is tainted somehow. Or we just keep asking for more proof. If our opponents offer 6 examples, we’ll ask for 7. They come up with 7, then we need 8. We figure out ways to keep upping the ante so we can keep saying we have “the truth.”
But to love God, we cannot be this carefree about “the truth.” 2 Thessalonians captures why this is so vitally important:
Still the rebellious one arrives with all sorts of power, performing signs and fake miracles sanctioned by Satan; he employs every manner of wicked deception to wile away those who are destined for eternal death because they reject the love of the truth that leads to salvation.
2 Thessalonians 2:9-10
Every word, every Tweet, every Facebook status, every post, every step we take away from what is actually true, is a move away from God.
2 Thessalonians says that “the love of truth” leads to salvation. If that’s true, where does rejecting truth or encouraging what is untrue or clicking “Like” on something that is false lead to?
There’s a reason why the love of truth leads to salvation. In John 14 Jesus says this:
Jesus: I am the path, the truth, and the energy of life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.
Jesus is the truth. And this is what we desperately need to get inside our bones: “If we don’t love truth, we can’t love God.”
What We Have To Know
So, we have to understand some things about truth. Because truth places demands on how we conduct ourselves in the world.
Truth requires virtues. If you are a person who is spiteful and vindictive; if you’re oozing pain that you won’t deal with, you will struggle to be a truthful person. You will struggle to be truthful because you cannot speak without speaking your spite. You will lie and deceive and fabricate. Truth will be an antiseptic to your pain and it’ll always hurt.
Jesus teaches in the SOTM that “the mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart,” (Luke 6:45) and if you’re brimming with malice, envy, hatred, judgment, and contempt, when you try to speak the truth, you will mix a poisonous cocktail with your words.
That’s why you and I know people who can say things that are factually accurate but everyone hears the contempt behind them. They lack virtues and it shows.
Truth, also, won’t always fit your agenda. It just can’t! Not everyone who wants what you want is truthful. Not everyone who agrees with you about politics or family life or money-management or sports or whatever you’re interested in shares your commitment that Jesus is truth. So they will lie to get what you both want. They will cheat. They will even lie to you in order to keep your devotion.
You can only give them your allegiance by exchanging it for your allegiance to Christ.
We have to love truth more than we love getting what we want!
Truth requires humility. Have you ever known anyone who completely lacks the ability to say, “I may be wrong”? Those are not wise people. They may be smart. Argumentative. Well-informed. They are not wise.
Socrates is considered by some as the founder of Western Philosophy. He was widely considered the wisest man alive during his lifetime. Everyone thought Socrates was the wisest, except for Socrates. He wondered why so many people thought he was so wise. So Socrates set out to discover why. Do you know what he discovered? Socrates decided that he was the wisest because he knew what he didn’t know. Socrates was willing to say, “I don’t know” or – and this is radical in the 21st Century – he was willing to say, “I might be wrong.”
One of my favorite two-word phrases is “epistemological humility.” It’s a long way to say, having humility about what we think we know. When football analyst Peter King wrote for Sports Illustrated, his column had the best title: 5 Things I Think I Think. That’s a good perspective to have.
Nothing to Fear
As I’ve thought more and more about the love of truth, I’ve asked myself why we don’t love truth more than we do; why we’re so prone to merely use truth, why we lie.
I was taken back to my childhood, when I might be tempted to lie to my parents. I thought about what motivates people to lie and be untruthful and it’s all very simple. We lie because we fear the consequences of the truth.
We lie out of fear. We are untruthful out of fear. But this is antithetical to the express teachings of Jesus.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled.”
If Jesus is “the Truth” then you have no reason for your heart to be troubled. You should never be afraid of the truth. You should never be afraid to search for truth. And you should never be afraid to embrace new truths when they are discovered. You should not fear when the truth doesn’t match your existing agenda and you should trust that the truth will transform your heart for the better.
It doesn’t matter if truth makes us look at scripture or the world differently. It doesn’t matter if truth means we have to rearrange our work life or personal life. Christians can be lovers of Truth because the search for truth need not scare us. “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” Jesus is the truth. And “Love of truth is love of God.”
The search for truth will always lead us back to God.