Truth or Consequences?
Some of you may have noticed that the theme for this year’s Lenten messages has been “A Journey of Truth”. I have sought out scriptures which deal with truth and its opposite, deceit, in order to discover the pathway God wishes us to take toward fulfillment of his Kingdom.The underlying scripture for this Lenten season is from John 8:32:
“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
In today’s pragmatic society we often confuse truth with facts. Simply having all the correct information doesn’t add up to real truth. As philosopher Mortimer Adler declared, “The telephone book is full of facts, but it doesn’t contain a single idea.” Truth is an idea that gives validity to facts, not a collection of statistics that supports a pre-established idea. We can look at facts as being the building blocks of knowledge; however, truth is the grand design or blueprint which determines what will be built. Without that grand design we end up building something that is not needed or is even counterproductive.
Jesus told the Samaritan woman, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. 24 God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”.
In today’s world we seek truth that supports our earthly needs. Facts are compiled in such a way that reveals false knowledge and thus false truth, which causes us to “ worship what you do not know;”. They are not truths born from the gospel of Jesus, but from the accretion of cultural dogma and human interaction. This leads to a separation from, rather than bringing us closer to, God’s grace. Isaiah declared:
“ In transgressing and lying against the Lord, And departing from our God, Speaking oppression and revolt, Conceiving and uttering from the heart words of falsehood. 14 Justice is turned back, And righteousness stands afar off; For truth is fallen in the street, And equity cannot enter. 15 So truth fails, And he who departs from evil makes himself a prey. (Isaiah 59:13-15)
Though the Gospel of Jesus is intentionally used by some to further earthly gains, most Christians seek to comprehend Jesus’ teachings to achieve spiritual fulfillment. They understand that “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”. The problem is that we humans are a corporeal creature with both physical and emotional needs. Therefore we seek human reality which often conflicts with the spiritual truth that Jesus taught. Anger, intolerance, hate and animosity are ingrained in our human nature and while we struggle to overcome these traits spiritually they remain an unyielding aspect of our character. When we attempt to live our lives by the Gospel, then we quantify spiritual truth in terms of prosperity, moral social behavior, lawful obedience, self righteous judgment and conformity to accepted cultural standards. These criterion should not be the standard of measurement for the scriptures. Instead they should be established by the spiritual truth of the scriptures.
There are times when we think we have overcome human pride and broken the bounds of social judgment. It is when we are convinced we have been elevated to a higher spiritual plain, Jesus reminds us that we are still subject to human passions. When Peter declared in Matthew 16,“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus praised his disciple, saying; “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven”. Peter’s awareness was spiritually inspired and not a result of pragmatic logic. Empowered by this insight and believing he now had special authority from Christ, Peter admonished Jesus for predicting his own death, “Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!” Doubtless Peter felt he was speaking from a higher spiritual truth that he did not possess before, yet Jesus rebuked him for his human-centered understanding, “But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”
In these words to Peter lies the understanding between the murky truth of human interpretation and the transformational truth of spiritual enlightenment. We want so badly to make sense of this world yet we cannot shed the corporal mindset through which we interpret spiritual truths. When those truths become corrupted by cultural and societal realities the “truth” becomes secondary to the hard and pragmatic “facts” we deal with each day. We understand spiritual truth only through worldly fears.
There is so much deceit that passes as “truth “in our world today. The modern media, and social communications are filled with vague information that makes it difficult to sift the truth and be objectively informed about the our world. And when we seek an enlightened spiritual understanding through the Gospel it is strained through denominational, cultural, political and nationalistic filters. Even when we search the scriptures with open hearts and minds the meaning is comprehended through our own personal experiences.
What then, as Pontius Pilate asked, “is truth”? Since truth is what we want it to be then this is a futile question to ask, even of Jesus. Neither Pilate, nor us living today would believe it. We deem that truth is a single goal or objective to be achieved by either the accumulation of knowledge or attaining a specific secret understanding, a key which unlocks all other awareness, an awareness we already accept as genuine.
In fact truth is a journey which leads us toward God’s Kingdom. It is not a solo journey or a self-guided one. Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to lead us and the truth is that we cannot make this journey without the spirit of truth. And the greatest lie is that we can. In Isaiah we are reminded that ” …he who departs from evil makes himself a prey.” To take this journey means we will be blinded by deceit, corrupted by power and crippled by ignorance. These things are obstacles and barriers which impede our journey and stop many from completing it. Along that same path, like a pool of water in the desert, a shade tree in the hot sun or a shelter in the tempest, lies wisdom, charity, justice, faith, hope and love. We need to recognize these things, seek them out, be renewed by them and share them with others on the journey. Otherwise the lies and mendacity of worldly values will stop us from being disciples of Christ. And that is where the journey of truth leads, from the things of men to the things of God.
But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. (John 16:13)