Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Gimme Some Truth

Ah, I’m sick and tired of hearing things
From uptight, short-sighted, narrow-minded hypocrites
All I want is the truth now
Just gimme some truth

John Lennon, from the song "Gimme Some Truth"

A recent book by reporter Dave Shifflett (Exodus: Why Americans are Fleeing Liberal Churches for Conservative Christianity) chronicles the exodus of Christians from liberal denominations and into conservative ones. The reason for this exodus, he explains, is that "Most people go to church to get something they cannot get elsewhere. This consuming public--people who already believe, or who are attempting to believe, who want their children to believe--go to church to learn about the mysterious Truth on which the Christian religion is built. They want the Good News, not the minister's political views or intellectual coaching. The latter creates sprawling vacancies in the pews. Indeed, those empty pews can be considered the earthly reward for abandoning heaven, traditionally understood."

If Shifflett is right in his analysis, and I believe he is, there is a hunger among many to find answers-- truth-- in a world that is increasingly violent, chaotic and seemingly devoid of principle. With the identity of "Deep Throat" revealed recently, we are reminded of the political spectacle of Watergate and the changes in the social and political landscape that followed in its wake. Post-Watergate, we have lived in an age extremely suspicious of power and authority, an age that doubts that any one group, be it church, political party or the media, can be trusted to give us the Truth.

This cynicism has been reflected in the way media and the arts have been relentless in presenting stories of moral failure, with exposes of failed preachers, dirty politicians, and drug-addicted superstars. Few today are lifted up as heroes or examples to follow, and the public image of even those few considered recent American heroes, men like John F. Kennedy or Martin Luther King, have been tarnished by many reports of their pecadillos.

What I think many today want to know is, "Can anyone be trusted?" Is there a politician that we can say is a good man, who isn't covering up some dark secret? Is there a genuine religious leader we can look up to with confidence? Is there a sports star or athlete who isn't just out for himself, who plays for love of the game?

Yes, there are men and women in these arenas who live with integrity and pursue their vocations honorably. But for the most part, we hear more about moral failures-- athletes who take steroids or cocaine, actors who get into repeated fights, adulterous preachers and lying politicians. It's almost as if there is an expectation that secretly everyone is not really what he or she claims to be-- that no one is good (but then again, it's not really their fault)!

Well it is true that not one of us is good-- the Bible teaches that "there is no one who does good, not even one" (Psalm 14:3). This simply means that every human being experiences moral failure, that is the result, not primarily of our parent's failures or a lousy social environment, but mainly because of flawed human nature. On the other hand, the Bible also teaches that Jesus challenges all to "love our neighbor as ourself" and that this means in part that we ought to look for the best in others. "Love is never glad about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance (1 Corinthians 6-7).

So we're a bit confused. We hunger for truth, but we're not sure it can be found anywhere, whether in people or institutions. We long for answers to the timeless questions of life-- who am I, where did I come from, where am I going, why is there suffering, etc., but we're not so sure there are clear answers. Is it presumptous for Christians to say that we have found the Answer? After all, what is true for one person may not be true for another, right? Might it not be better to make a commitment to seek for knowledge, rather than "Answers", making adjustments as we get new information, and stay faithful on the never-ending path of seeking?

This sounds perhaps democratic, an enlightened way to live. If all paths ultimately lead to the same destination, why not glean from the wisdom of all kinds of traditions, and connect all my understandings together in a way that makes most sense to me? It sounds great, but there's a problem with this approach--it makes me the arbiter of truth. I pick and choose this idea or that principle, put it all together and pronounce-- "this is my truth." But is there any objectivity to this process? How can I be sure that the things I have chosen to believe are not merely ideas with personal appeal to me, but are indeed True? One might object, what does it matter, so long as it works for that individual?

Well, if you're one who says that, then at least be honest-- you're not looking for Truth, you're looking for something that suits you. Because truth, by definition, stands over against what is false. But if truth is only what happens to suit a person, then it isn't truth, it's just preference.

Truth is universal; it applies to all, it stands over against the false. If I were to assert for example, that John Lennon was not murdered by gunshots in 1980--that in fact, tired of touring and fame, he secretly left the Beatles back in 1967, married his lover Brian Epstein, staged Brian's death and had a look-a-like take over for him in the Beatles and marry Yoko-- you would say that's preposterous! Because there are facts known about Lennon, who was in the public eye for many years, and these simply do not bear out such an insane story. Yes, I agree, this story is not true.

But today people want to say truth is relative and subjective and can't be found out through observation. I say hogwash. We all live as if truth is something that can be ascertained--albeit imperfectly, but nevertheless we do our best to find it, because we believe it's out there. For example, what is the truth in the Michael Jackson case? Did he molest those children or not? Well, I don't know because I wasn't there (now if I had been I would know the truth, right?) but that's what the trial was all about. Arguments and evidence were presented by those who assert that he did molest a particular child, and counter-arguments and evidence presented by those who believe and assert that he didn't. A jury then decided the "truth", based on the presented evidence. Now, has the real truth been revealed? Jackson was acquitted on all counts, but even some members of the jury who voted him innocent now say that they believe that he has molested children, just not the child who was accusing him in this case.

I would argue that most everyone believes that the truth of what really happened in the Michael Jackson case exists, it's just that it's pretty hard to determine, what with all the expert lawyers, and all the media coverage and the determination of many to hide it. But if someone had set up, unbeknownst to Jackson, video cameras that recorded virtually everything that had taken place in his home, his innocence or guilt could probably be proven conclusively in this matter (that is, if such evidence was allowed to presented in court).

My point is that we yearn for truth and instinctively know that it means more than just personal opinion, but a part of us is also afraid of the Truth. We don't want to be nailed down, to be committed to accepting truth, for fear of then having to live according to the truth that has been revealed. The truth is often unpleasant.

And yet, like the many who are returning to the conservative churches that offer the revealed Truth of the Word of God, people are drawn to someone who can offer them definite answers to the burning questions of life. We want something or someone that offers hope and meaning to live by.

Those who are flocking to the churches are on the right track, because the message of salvation that is in the gospel may be found there. Still the follower of Christ must remember that truth is more than merely facts and principles and abstractions; Truth is a Person, Jesus Christ. And if we want to become men and women who can reveal truth to others, we must become more and more like Him. He lived what he preached, He spoke of things He knew, He modeled the Way of Truth for us.

We ought not to be "hypocrites" like John Lennon's song condemns, or like the Pharisees of old, but rather men and women for whom truth is a way of life, a means of expressing the love that God generates within us. And we ought to be humble, knowing that without the gracious light of truth that came through Jesus Christ, we would have no real understanding. The Bible says that the Law came through Moses, but grace and truth came to us by Jesus Christ. So as we share truth, let's do it with all the grace that God gives.

And if you are not a follower of Christ, but you hunger for truth, consider that Jesus said of Himself "I am the Way, and the Truth and the Life, and no one comes to the Father, except through me"? Doesn't sound very democratic, does it? But what if it's true?...

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