Truth, Authority and Loyalty

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
John 14:1-6 (ESV)

Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world – to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” After he had said this, he went back outside to the Jews and told them,”I find no guilt in him.”
John 18:37-38

Ecce Homo (1871) by Antonio Ciseri

Ecce Homo (1871) by Antonio Ciseri

One of the more interesting battles throughout all of human history is not being fought for the conquest of land, honor, or wealth, but rather for what exactly is meant when we use the word, “Truth.” Judging solely by the two passages above from the Gospel of John, it would seem that Jesus has His own ideas about what that word means. He even goes so far as to claim that He – alone in all of human history – is Truth, a claim that completely overturns our notion that truth is a virtue to be pursued. Truth, according to Jesus, is Himself.

All of which makes life (and personal decision-making) in a post-modern culture that much more interesting. Two seemingly-random observations:

  • On Jan. 20, 2017, U.S. President Donald Trump took the oath of office with his hand on not one, but two Bibles. The insertion of Judeo-Christian values and tradition into political ceremonies is nothing new to Trump, of course; rather, it has been the standard for presidential inaugurations ever since our nation was founded. Swear in a president or a cabinet member, be chosen for jury duty or receive your commission in the military…at some point, you may well be asked to make an oath before God. Those on hand to witness the event will assume that you really are telling the truth when you put your hand on a Bible and raise your right hand toward Heaven. How, living as we do in a culture that largely denies the claims of Christ, are we expected to invest any level of solemnity or validity into a promise made while touching a book from a faith tradition that most of us no longer regard as being, well…true?
  • Also last week, the New York Times began an ad campaign designed to have you believe that truth – lowercase “T,” one assumes – is to be found within its pages…to the exclusion, perhaps, of all other pages. (?) Not “facts,” mind you, something any good newspaper ought to be hotly pursuing, but “truth.” The idea behind this new campaign seems to be that the Times somehow provides its readers with the proper interpretation of all relevant facts. Not “one interpretation among many,” but instead the correct interpretation. This is a pretty bold claim for any publication, let alone one that on May 11, 2003 – less than 14 years ago – published a 7,239-word front-page story entitled, “Times Reporter Who Resigned Leaves Long Trail of Deception,” explaining (to its credit) how one of its reporters, Jayson Blair, had built his journalistic career on a series of lies and fabrications.
A Post-Modern, Post-Truth Tryptych

A Post-Modern, Post-Truth Tryptych

Writing in his blog dated Jan. 22, 2017, Trevin Wax, managing editor of The Gospel Project, weighs in on our current obsession with censoring fake news sites and demonizing those who dare to present what is being called “alternative facts” in a “post-truth” culture:

But many Christians believe the word “post-truth” has shown up late. We’ve been speaking out about postmodern philosophy in the university, biased media coverage, and “post-truth” tendencies for years. It’s only now, after Election 2016 trafficked in post-truth news stories on the right that everyone seems to have woken up to the problem.
“Alternative Facts” and Christians as Gullible Skeptics (Jan. 22, 2017)

Despite the escalating confusion as to who is actually telling the truth these days, I’m hopeful that the current outrage over “alternative facts” will collide in a big way with the standing dogma of our age, namely that we ourselves are the source of truth. “Truth comes from within” is a shopworn (and demonstrably untrue) cliche that we like to use a lot, primarily to justify our own ideas and (perhaps more pointedly) our actions. Any lifestyle, any idea, any outworking of personal truth seems to be on the table as a valid choice, yet we really don’t seem to like it when anyone, on either side, takes this “cultural truth” and really runs with it.

For your consideration, here are some questions I routinely ask myself when trying to decide if something is actually true. On my better days, I will reflect on these questions prior to acting upon a “truth” that sounds right to me but, just like everyone else, I can be led astray and respond in an ill-advised fashion.

  • Have I already prayed about this matter, specifically asking God to guide me?
  • Where, and with Whom, does ultimate Truth reside?
  • Who commands authority in my life?
    • Do any adjustments need to be made?
  • When and where exactly is Jesus “getting in the way” of my allegiances to other people and institutions?
  • Am I fully prepared to be considered “weird” or otherwise out-of-step for the larger cause of Christ?
  • Should I speak up, or should I leave this particular matter in the hands of Christ?
  • Am I willing to go wherever the Truth of Christ leads me?
    • Am I being driven to a decision by fear or faithlessness?

God calls us to worship Him with our heart, soul, mind and strength, and one of the ways we do that is by actually using our minds to think clearly. What makes Christians throughout all of history unique is that those who truly understand the gospel message are not content to set themselves up as a wellspring of everything true. We are, rather, filled with humility and deep, deep gratitude that the Author of all Truth (uppercase “T”) has drawn near to us and is willing, by His Spirit, to lead us into the Truth we truly need and our hearts most deeply desire.

The heart is deceitful above all things,
and desperately sick;
who can understand it?
“I the Lord search the heart
and test the mind,
to give every man according to his ways,
according to the fruit of his deeds.”
Jeremiah 17:9-10 (ESV)

“In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.”
Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

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