Saint Macarius wrote that “The signs accompanying grace are much joy, peace, love and truth. Such truth impels man to seek truth. But the signs of sin are accompanied by turmoil, not joy and love toward God.”
In many ways we live in a time of turmoil, not one of joy and peace. I am not saying anything original when I point out that our “postmodern” era is one that often doesn’t even recognize the existence of objective truth. There is only “your truth” or “my truth.”
It seems that many people around us have given up on a search for real truth. It just seems too costly, too frustrating, too ethereal. Many fear that the truth, if we can ever find it, will trap us with rules and regulations, turning us into slaves.
Long ago Jesus said: “You shall know the truth and the truth will set you free.” A radical claim indeed.
The Roman governor Pontius Pilate replied to this claim by cynically saying: “What is truth?” He was probably so used as a politician to lying and being lied to that truth had become a meaningless commodity.
All of us crave for politicians that will tell us the truth and not mislead us. It is so easy to dismiss such yearnings as naïve fantasies. Yet if no one can be trusted in our society, then the foundations of our democratic culture are indeed fragile.
True democracy is based on the gift of freedom, and the gift of freedom comes from the knowledge of truth. “You shall know the truth” means that truth is attainable, truth is knowable, truth matters. “The truth shall set you free” means that truth is not abstract and irrelevant, but powerful and liberating. Truth changes everything. Lies kill everything.
The “Big Book” in Alcoholics Anonymous says that anyone can get well if they are willing to be totally honest and truthful with themselves, God and others. I very much admire the radical honesty and vulnerability of AA people. They have a lot to teach many of us in the church.
I once heard it said that: “The truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable,” and I believe that that is true. The truth really does hurt, but when the truth is spoken in love rather than in judgment, there is an amazing healing that can take place.
Jesus said: “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life.” He claimed to embody the essence of truth and meaning in his very person. To Pontius Pilate, he provocatively said: “Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
Many people want to patronize Jesus and say nice things about him. But how many of us really want to listen deeply to him and let his words impact the core of our lives and personalities?
The problem with the truth is that it is most often deeply inconvenient, morally inconvenient, socially inconvenient, financially inconvenient, politically inconvenient. Mark Twain once said that it is not the parts of the Bible that he doesn’t understand that trouble him, but rather the parts that he does understand.
The truth will set us free, if we are willing to pay the price. But the cost can be very high, indeed. The gift of democracy has been won again and again because many of our ancestors laid down their lives so that we might be free.
All would-be-dictators hate the truth. But the truly wise love truth, because they know that only the truth sets people free. Only the truth brings growth. Only the truth brings life, abundant and overflowing. As Americans, perhaps we need to rediscover our forebears’ passionate commitment to truth. Our republic cannot survive without it. Our families cannot survive without it.
Our society desperately needs a fresh infusion of the Spirit of Truth to stir up our consciences, soften our hearts, and enlighten our minds. As Scripture puts it, our hearts are deceitful above all things and beyond cure. We have an amazing ability to fool ourselves and hurt ourselves, yet God promises that His Spirit will lead us into all truth.
My prayer for those reading this is that Jesus, The Truth, may give to each of us a renewed hunger for truth, truth lived, truth felt, truth embraced. May each of us know the truth in a deep intimate way, and may the truth radically set each of us free.