Last fall I went to see Nadia Bolz Weber when she spoke at Davidson College – just up the road.
During her talk she said that Jesus never made a distinction between good and bad. She said that he made a distinction between that which was true and that which was untrue.
And it blew me away. What if God wasn’t about good and bad? What if he was here to show us what is true?
Philosophically, I will argue that we must somehow define absolute truth before we can define what is not. As Edgar Lee Masters wrote in Spoon River Anthology …”no one knows what is true, who knows not what is false…”
My own ideas about truth are rooted in my faith – so that’s what I have to talk about when I want to talk about truth.
In support of truth, Christians will often argue that God is true and that God’s truth does not change. He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. (Hebrews 13:8). The Christians who are most apt to point this out, in my experience, often do it in defense of some word or deed or political position that may be unpopular in modern society but which they insist is Biblically and immutably true.
For example, some Christians firmly believe that homosexuality is a sin. It is a sin, they say. The Bible says so, they say. I can’t help it, they say. I have no choice but to condemn it – God makes the rules. Like gayness is the only unforgivable sin….. Did you ever notice the Biblical loophole that most of these same people have created in order to get around the Bible’s clear condemnation of their own divorces? It’s pretty stunning when you look at it. That lady in Kentucky who’s deeply held religious beliefs about a Biblical definition of marriage prevented her from issuing gay marriage licenses in her capacity as an official employed by an earthly government – she’s been divorced three times. Moreover, her “deeply held religious beliefs” didn’t prevent her from issuing marriage licenses to straight non-believers, fellow divorcees, or to straight people who were only getting married for reasons that didn’t include love or commitment. Nope, the only applicants subject to her “sin test” were gay applicants. The same test has also been applied by the notorious wedding cake bakers out there who cannot find it within themselves to bake a cake for a gay marriage. Are they also turning away divorcees? Jews, Muslims, Druids, Wiccans, Atheists? Now, I’m not saying that the Kentucky clerk (and the cake bakers) don’t deserve forgiveness or aren’t entitled to their beliefs. I am saying that maybe they should be willing to offer up the same kind of tolerance, understanding, forgiveness and non-judgment to homosexuals that they offer to others and that they seem to have sought and accepted from God and others in their own lives. And I think that because that’s what the Bible tells us.
But, they tell us, it is God’s truth….
Personally, I am always a bit skeptical of those who use the Word to justify what I know in my own heart is a human prejudice. As some now use the Bible to justify being ugly and uncharitable to gay people, others formerly and perversely used the Bible to justify the morality of slavery, of sexism, of religious wars and killing those who believed differently in the name of God. Until 1967, the Bible was used as a justification to prohibit interracial marriage. (Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967)). For most of recorded Western history, white men who treated women and people of color like chattel did so on what they argued was God’s authority and God’s truth. They created an earthly lie and sanctified it as God’s holy truth. They created earthly governments and earthly laws to justify, reinforce and make holy their own positions of political, economic and sexual power on earth. And they did so in the name of “truth”. Hate and mistreatment and idolatry and lies wrapped in scripture and defined as truth.
But then we get back to it…. was any of that true? Or was it untrue? And if it was never true to begin with – isn’t it just as untrue now? When we use “truth” to hurt others is it really truth? And if hurting others isn’t the intent, then how to we remain faithful to truth and love at the same time. How do we express and embrace uncomfortable Biblical truth with love? How do we love each other as He has loved us – with truth and endless forgiveness?
God is immutable and God is true, we know that because the Bible tell us it is so and the Bible is the gateway to knowing God. That’s what we have. That’s what He gave us. You might think that you can find God in nature or music or art but, as C.S. Lewis told us, while you may be able to find expressions of God and His majesty in those places, you can’t find God there unless you already know Him to begin with. And the only way to know Him is to read the Bible.
So what does the Bible tell us about truth?
Jesus said “I am the way and the truth and the life.” (John 14:6). …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. (John 18:37) John also teaches us that God is Love ( 1 John 4:8). God is truth and God is love. Not loving. Not of Love. Not the source of truth. Not of truth. God is Love. God is truth. He is Love and He is truth.
Jesus “is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. And He is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything He might be preeminent. For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross.” (Colossians 1:15-20).
To me, this is the closest definition of God’s truth that I can find. “All things” were created by Him and For Him and through Him. In Him “all things” hold together. Through Him God reconciled Himself to “all things”. All things. All things are reconciled. All things hold together. Not just the convenient or the strong or the powerful or the easy things. Not just the pretty things, or the easy things, or the things that aren’t messy. Not just the things that we can understand. All things. On earth and in heaven. Visible and invisible. Thrones, dominions, rulers, authorities. All of it. All of it is and must be reconciled to God – who is truth and love. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17). God’s truth is good and perfect. It is our gift. It is the thing that reconciles us to God. And his truth does not change like the shadows….
We (human beings) are the purveyors of untruth. Since God is incapable of untruth, then lies (no matter how pervasive or long-standing or accepted or axiomatic or even well intentioned) are not of God. And they can never turn out well. They aren’t holy, they aren’t loving, and they are, by definition, not Godly.
Not true. Not love. Not God.
Misery grows from lying about who you are, about what you want. Misery grows when we accept lies and turn our faces from the truth. Misery grows when we try to see the truth through our own, earthly lies. Misery grows when we accept the easy lie, the lie that does not require us to change or to struggle or to accept what we cannot understand.
When God gave us our Law, the Big Ten, we were told that we shall not bear false witness (Exodus 20:16). This means that we are not to lie – whether that means lying to your neighbor, spreading rumors on Facebook about elected officials or, as I am arguing here, lying about the truth of God. And yes, I think we lie about truth in order to maintain our own sense of righteousness, of order. We lie to justify our own uncharitable beliefs. We lie so that we can continue to rely on our view through the mirror that we can only see through darkly. We lie when we ignore our inability to see all now. (2 Corinthians: 12-13.) God’s truth doesn’t change but I think our understanding of that truth has to.
If we are living in a fallen world where the struggle is not first and foremost between good and bad, right and wrong, righteous and sinful – but instead where our earthly struggle lies first between truth and untruth – what does that mean to the way we follow God?
Now before you get all “She’s a heretic” or “She’s a Saint” (depending on your bent) remember that absolute truth cuts both ways. Nothing here should be interpreted to find that I am some liberal who is looking for an easy way out – as I have often faced this criticism. I am NOT arguing that God’s Word is “wrong”. I am saying that our understanding of it has been and may still be. No one can argue that God’s truth can or should be read in a way that makes it easier to sin. Sin separates us from God because it hurts us, it hurts others and it hurts Him. Truth exists to hold us firm – so I can’t argue for wiggle room here.
True discipleship is not easy. You can lie to yourself, you can lie to your Mama, and you can get a whole bunch of people who believe similarly to you and lie to each other but you can’t lie to God. He knows what’s in our hearts and you can’t dodge His truth. So if you examine your heart and find it easy or justifiable be uncharitable to someone because of their race or orientation or to argue that someone should be killed or mistreated (maybe because they happen to be Muslim) in the name of God and truth – I’ll argue to you that you missed something.
If I acknowledge God’s truth then I have to do what Jesus said and follow God’s commandments and love my neighbor and all that jazz – and loving your neighbor might seem like a pretty innocuous little commandment – but it’s not. God really knew what he was doing when he handed that one down. My earthly self is fine with the death penalty and frankly, that is just opposite of everything God teaches us about murder, about judgment, about forgiveness and about Love. So I struggle with it. Support of the death penalty is not a position that is consistent with Christianity or that I can justify on any other means than my own heart of stone and feelings that death is a fitting punishment for some.
Truth is not and cannot be easy and will not be without significant pain. Truth requires us to examine our own hearts and minds to find and accept our own deepest sins. Our own judgmental natures, our self-righteousness, our human prejudices. Our failure to love others, to forgive, to love without understanding. When seeking truth and God, we learn really quickly how easy it is to believe the lies because, let’s face it – when we confront immutable truth, lies are just easier.
Committing yourself to God’s will and dying to it – dying to truth and love – will not and cannot ever be without struggle. Love is not without struggle. Truth is not without struggle. We cannot ever truly love or truly understand without dying to our own selfishness. Dying to it. Christ laid down his life for truth. For love. And even He struggled to do this – He struggled and was afraid. “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me” (Luke 22:42.)
So we are left with Love and Truth and the narrow path and the Word – which is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. (Psalm 119: 105). Is it worth it? If it is so hard, why oh why do we still seek truth – whether to know God or to try to know anything else? What makes the truth so worth it, even when it is so hard? Why do we care about what’s true?
And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free – (John 8:32).
We might also say that “And ye shall know the love, and the love shall make you free.” or “And ye shall know God and the knowing shall make you free.”
Love and Truth and ultimately, Freedom. Perhaps salvation.
Have you ever noticed that when people come to the end – the end of a phone call, the end of a letter, when the heat of the burning World Trade Center was too much to bear any longer – the last words they had – the last thoughts – the last earthly message they had to convey was of their love. A phone call to a wife or a child – a hastily written message – the thing they had to express was that they loved. Loved.
God is Love and God is Truth and his Truth and Love are His perfect gifts to us. They set us free and they lead us to salvation. So fight for truth and fight for love – the things that can never be explained on this earth. They are the only things.
Think about it.