The truth about the truth…
“What is truth?” - Pilate
“If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” - Jesus
Sometimes I wonder if people want truth at all. Really…
‘Cause honestly, the truth usual sucks.
It’s just there.
Staring us down whether we like it or not.
Numbers on a scale, digits in a bank account, a flat tire, a screaming child.
If truth is the reality of what actually is, sometimes we simply don’t like it. In fact, we don’t like it so much we ignore it, deny it, and hope by pretending it’s not real, that it’s not the truth. That’s one of the many ways we treat the truth.
The other funny thing about truth is that everyone claims to love it, to know it and to own it. The realities of our lives that are tangible and undeniable? Those inconvenient truths are swept under the carpet. But big ideas about what is true? Concepts? Theories? Philosophies? Those things we own proudly and loudly.
We relish having the right ideas about things. We are not just willing but eager to fight about who has the right idea about things. We put on our armour of rhetoric and clever quips and wage bloody war against the offenders of truth. Our truth. Wait no, that can’t be right, I mean THE truth. There is only one truth afterall. And of all people I must have it. Of all religions, mine must have it. Of all denominations, mine must have it. Of all churches, mine. Of all people, me. And you too of course. You believe all the same things I do…. right? What’s that? I can feel a fight coming on…
Don’t get me wrong. I believe that there is truth. One very real truth. But like a true postmodern I suppose, I also think I’m limited in my ability to fully grasp that truth. I think we all are. Like a
postmodernist first century thinker I think we only know in part, and any big truths we do grasp we hold in fragile chipped clay jars. I think there is great diversity of ideas because of this, and we have to have humility and wisdom as we each try our turn at guessing the bigger picture.
A first century writer once described faith as confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. And as hard as it is, I have faith. Yet in many ways I feel like it would be easier not to. I do what no happy person ought ever to do too much of, and I think. I think about what might be truth. “Truth…What is truth?” said Pilate. I have dipped my toes in the pools of atheism and agnosticism and sometimes sat there for a while. Believe me - I have tried to run away from Christianity and leave it’s mystery and tensions and confusion behind me. But the love I see in a God that looks like Jesus haunts me, and heals me. And inevitably I can’t outrun it. And so, sometimes reluctantly, I have faith. Confidence in what I hope to be true. Assurance about something I cannot prove. I see the blurry edges of a big truth and I hold on.
For dear life.
And this truth really does matter to me.
I have ideas about what I think the details of this truth are. Ideas that grow, and shift and change as I ask questions, and learn, and read and pray. I am caught in the taunt balance of having confidence in something big and powerful that I hope to be true, and knowing like Socrates, that the one thing I actually know - is that I know nothing.
It is a balancing act like no other. And I need a lot more humility than actually have to walk it.
And so thinking about ‘truth’ is hard all on it’s own, yet there is something that makes all of this much harder…
In my honest search for life’s big truths, I sometimes feel like I am forced to hide the truth about what I think about the truth. (Let see how many times we can overuse a word, am I right?)
Sounds strange doesn’t it? No one is holding a gun to my head telling me to lie or keep silent. No one has threatened me… really…
But here’s the thing. Because I find hope and see truth in Jesus as God and his life, death and resurrection - I am a Christian, as un-hipster as the label is. And because I’m a Christian, I talk with, discuss, spend time around and am generally in relationship with other Christians. I’m part of the universal group of people who believe in this thing. These people are the Church.
The thing about the church is - it can be a scary place to hang out. Now it’s not supposed to be. It’s supposed to be a group of people known for a ridiculous love for everyone. People who show selfless love and open wide our arms to welcome the rejects of society, the poor and the tired, the hopeless, the bullied, the bruised, the stressed out. The church is supposed to be a bunch of people that look like Jesus. And sometimes the church is great at those things, while other times it’s not. I’m not faulting the church for not being perfect, mostly because I know that I’m not perfect. And if I want to see those things more in the church, I need to do those things more in my own life. I really do. I hope with time I will learn and am learning to grow more in loving others.
It’s hard work, and that’s why I need others who want to do that same thing. My family, the church. But again, the church is a scary place…
Why so scary?
Because, honestly, sometimes I don’t feel welcomed there.
There. I’ve said it. This is my confession.
I feel unwelcome. I feel like an inconvenient truth. The type people want to sweep under the carpet and try to pretend isn’t real.
I feel this way because Christians can get pretty defensive about the truth. I get it - Jesus was all about truth. He claimed to embody truth, an awesome truth that sets people free. It’s a big deal. And when you really believe something is true, especially something great and good and amazing, you get defensive about it. I get defensive about it. I get it. Love delights in the truth. I’m not advocating dishonesty. I’m all for speaking the truth.
And the truth is, sometimes the church makes me feel unwelcome. Sometimes the church makes me feel like I need to hide who I am and what I really think because those things are not welcomed. And that saddens me, because as someone who has been in the church my whole life, I love the church. The church is my mother. And if as a child of the church I feel unwelcome, how much more so someone who isn’t?
No one tells me I’m not welcome. And I know that a lot of my hangups are probably all in my own insecure head. On the contrary, people welcome and say they want me among them. Especially as a young adult - an age range notoriously absent from the church. People come to me and ask me, where are the young adults? Why are they gone? And sometimes the tired cynic in my head replies, “Why am I here?”
At the end of the day, I’m just trying to be honest. I call myself a Christian, even though I am ashamed of so much of what is done in the name of Christianity, but I do so because I’m being honest about what I believe about Jesus. So I don’t disown the name. And I ask questions and I have opinions about God and the bible and theology because I’m just trying to honestly discover what God is like if there is a god. To find out what honestly makes sense to me. In life I just try to be honest about what I think is true… But I know I get it wrong. And I know other people have different opinions than I do about a lot of the details of what Truth is. And I am completely ok with that. Let’s figure it out together, let’s both please admit we don’t really know what the truth is at all we’re only kids trying to figure out a big puzzle and you might have one piece of the puzzle and I another and we might both be trying to put them in the wrong place. I’m happy to play with you. Honestly. But am I welcome? Really?
As a teenager I held to most ‘conservative evangelical/pentecostal’ views. And I felt welcome. But as I’ve grown I’ve changed, as we all do. And my honest search for what seems true to me has led me away from many of the ideas I used to hold. So am I still welcome? Because when you say that people can’t be a Christian and believe in evolution…I feel unwelcome, because I do. It’s not a belief or understanding I came to easily, and to have my relationship with God attacked over it hurts. When you talk about “liberals” as if they the enemy and feminists as if they are evil…I feel unwelcome. When you say that to vote for Marriage Equality is to vote against God. I feel unwelcome, because I think the church needs to radically rethink its view on homosexuality. I think so precisely because I care about how God wants us to treat people. (And I don’t deny that many who disagree with me do also!). When you call authors and teachers that share ideas you may disagree with heretics, you are calling me a heretic, because quite often I share the same thoughts and questions they do.
I understand you have a truth to protect. But how big does the truth you protect stretch, and are you certain of it’s edges? Historically Christians have disagreed about a lot a lot of things. And we have done so badly. Can we do better?
When Christians crack jokes about atheists as fools and idiots in their workplaces or on facebook, it makes me feel unwelcome. Because I sit alongside my agnostic friends who have to quietly keep their views to themselves for fear of the fight. For fear of the ridicule. It makes me feel unwelcome because I understand the feeling of just trying to search for truth and trying figure out what you honestly believe but feeling like you have to hide the conclusions you come to.
The feeling of being ‘in the closet’, afraid to come out. Tired of being so careful about who you will be honest with. Of hiding the truth for fear of a fight.
Is it ok to be honest? Will we still be welcomed? Is Jesus really enough?
If I say I think the church might be wrong about homosexuality…Is Jesus enough for me still to be welcomed? To feel welcomed?
Can I come out of the closet?
I don’t believe that a God of love would torment sinners for an eternity for a life of finite brokenness.
I don’t believe in “Penal Substitutionary Atonement” anymore. It doesn’t make sense to me. I think Jesus’ death was to appease our bloodthirsty ways and prove them wrong, not to appease a bloodthirsty God. God was on the cross in Jesus, and we were the killers. Not vice versa.
I don’t believe that the Bible is the perfect word of God. I believe that Jesus is the perfect word of God whom all of the bible points to. Jesus showed us what God is like perfectly.
I believe in progressive revelation, not infallibility.
I believe that love fulfills the law.
Is better than the law.
It is the spirit of the law.
And love gives life.
And it’s possible far more than we are willing to believe.
I believe that love is not just a characteristic of God but the core identity of God.
I believe love and fear don’t mix and messages of fear and intimidation aren’t from God.
I don’t believe God has favorite countries. Or people.
I believe people are inherently good - in our core being. Made in the ‘image of God’, made to love and be loved. But we are broken. Sometimes very broken. Total depravity is not our natural state. Jesus showed us what it meant to be truly human.
I believe God is big and cannot be boxed in or understood fully. Our best guesses are just guesses. I believe he is present in churches, and gardens and temples and living rooms and mosques and wherever people who are really looking for him are.
And there’s a lot more…
But like Socrates,I really know one thing: that I know nothing. Like Paul, I know nothing but Jesus and his death.
None of these are new ideas, and I’m not alone in believing them. I know people will disagree with many of them…
So is Jesus enough?
Because I’m tired of hiding what I believe. But I’m also tired of defending what I believe. I don’t mind talking about it. I do talk happily about it with people who want to talk - other kids with pieces of the puzzle and a curiosity about the bigger picture. But if you’ve got the complete picture already sorted out, and I’m just messing it up… If I “can’t be a Christian and believe x” around you, if I am a heretic or false teacher, I’m sorry. I’m a messy puzzle player, I can’t help it. I don’t see the finished picture you see. I just can’t hide the truth anymore. And I don’t want to fight or defend anymore. If I am not welcome, I will go.
If I can’t believe X and be a Christian, I won’t. I don’t need to have the label. And I can’t pretend in order to fit in. It’s exhausting. I’ll love God and Jesus and keep doing my best. And if the church feels threatened by me, that’s ok. Church is not found in four walls but in friendships and dinners and laughter and conversations with people who don’t mind my messy ways.
So this is my confession of feeling tired and a bit unwelcome. A bit cynical and a bit scared. And it probably has a lot more to do with me and my hang ups and insecurities than it does with anyone else. But it’s how I feel…the reality of what actually is. The truth.
Mind your words…
It’s funny how specific stories from your childhood stick with you through the years. I often recall a conversation that happened as my mother was driving my younger brother and I home from school, slowly easing through afternoon traffic. I couldn’t have been older than 9 or so and my brother a couple of years younger. Ever inquisitive, my brother spotted some contraption along the way and needed to find out more;
“Mom, what’s that?”
“That thing, mom, what is it?”
“Je ne sais pas”, my mother casually replied.
“What does that mean?”
“I don’t know”, she responded.
Bewildered and frustrated my brother protested, “Whyyy would you saaay that if you don’t know what it means!?!”
It took a lot of stifled laughter and careful wording to explain to him that she did in fact know what it meant, and it meant, that she didn’t know. It never helped him figure out what the contraption was but his protest of frustration has stuck with me over the years.
“Why would you say that if you don’t know what it means?”
Raise your hand if you’ve ever been taught or heard the phrase that “sin separates us from God” ?
Yeah me too.
Like many other things, I was also told how to understand this saying.
…But the dangers of believing in a God whom we cannot but regard as evil, and then, in mere terrified flattery calling Him ‘good’ and worshiping Him, is still greater danger. The ultimate question is whether the doctrine of the goodness of God or that of the inerrancy of Scriptures is to prevail when they conflict. I think the doctrine of the goodness of God is the more certain of the two. Indeed, only that doctrine renders this worship of Him obligatory or even permissible.
To this some will reply ‘ah, but we are fallen and don’t recognize good when we see it.’ But God Himself does not say that we are as fallen at all that. He constantly, in Scripture, appeals to our conscience: ‘Why do ye not of yourselves judge what is right?’ — ‘What fault hath my people found in me?’ And so on.
Socrates’ answer to Euthyphro is used in Christian form by Hooker. Things are not good because God commands them; God commands certain things because he sees them to be good. (In other words, the Divine Will is the obedient servant to the Divine Reason.) The opposite view (Ockham’s, Paley’s) leads to an absurdity. If ‘good’ means ‘what God wills’ then to say ‘God is good’ can mean only ‘God wills what he wills.’ Which is equally true of you or me or Judas or Satan.
C.S. Lewis’s in a letter to ‘Mr. Beversluis’
“Some things which seem bad to us may be good. But we must not corrupt our consciences by trying to feel a thing as good when it seems totally evil.”*
*from The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis: volume 3, 1436-37
The Cross – Wrath or Love?
Da Vinci and the Bible (without the Code)
We have a tendency to perceive our view as right, and others’ views as wrong. We are very quick to say, “can you believe the things those people actually think”, when truthfully, our view may be just as off base.
Maybe the majority of views hold elements of truth.
I can’t speak for my coreligionists, but, personally, I wish they’d break the bad habit of making supposedly authoritative scientific truth claims from the standpoints of theological orthodoxy and devotion to doctrine. The religious mind–which conceives the world in terms of myth, mystery, ritual and wonder–has its own value apart from the rational endeavors of the scientists and the philosophers. The religious mind seeks a unique truth, even when its truth discloses a reality also pursued in other disciplines. Its methods of inquiry and verification are different than those of science and philosophy. Let them dialogue, but let’s not confuse them. Because each has its own truth to offer, religious faith and reason have much to say to one another. In my opinion, we benefit from listening to both and from cultivating a mind informed by both religiosity and reason.
Human beings may separate things into as many piles as we wish - separating spirit from flesh, sacred from secular, church from world. But we should not be surprised when God does not recognize the distinctions we make between the two. Earth is so thick with divine possibility that it is a wonder we can walk anywhere without cracking our shins on altars.
When Paul refers to ‘the gospel’, he is not referring to a system of salvation, though of course the gospel implies and contains this, nor even to the good news that there now is a way of salvation open to all, but rather to the proclamation that the crucified Jesus of Nazareth has been raised from the dead and thereby demonstrated to be both Israel’s Messiah and the world’s true Lord. ‘The gospel’ is not ‘you can be saved, and here’s how’; the gospel, for Paul, is ‘Jesus Christ is Lord’.
…since the word ‘gospel’ was in public use to designate the message that Caesar was the Lord of the whole world, Paul’s message could not escape being confrontative: Jesus, not Caesar, is Lord, and at his name, not that of the Emperor, every knee shall bow.
We, and our opinions and perspectives do not dictate what the Church is now and certainly not what it has been, and the experience of this loss of control is itself salutary. We are not the hub, the spring of significance, the norm of interpretation in the Church, and neither is any other one segment of the body. The Church was clearly blasphemously wrong for the greater part of two millenia on the subject of slavery; many would add that it has been no less wrong for even longer about the status of women. To be ‘catholic’ now means to resist the temptation to blot out and forget this past and the equally powerful temptation to condemn from a superior vantage-point. This kind of catholicity obliges us to recognize the Church’s continuing liability to failure and betrayal … We can only be grateful that even a slave-owning church had just enough sensitivity to the challenge of the gospel for a protest to be generated (however slowly) and a new awareness - of which we are the direct beneficiaries - to come into being. This is a catholicity which may weep over the universal liability to error, yet rejoice at the universal pressure towards truth, penitence, and transformation.
…language can be a window through which one glimpses God, but never a box in which God can be contained.
In a controversy the instant we feel anger we have already ceased striving for the truth, and have begun striving for ourselves.
I think we ought always to entertain our opinions with some measure of doubt. I shouldn’t wish people dogmatically to believe any philosophy, not even mine.
Does love conquer all?
“Ever since Nietzsche it has been customary to sneer at the apparently wimpish vision of human life in the Beatitudes: the meek, the mourners, the merciful, and so on – when surely everyone knows that the people who make the world go round are the arrogant, the go-getters, the people with sharp swords or at least sharp elbows, the pushy, the proud.
Actually, all Nietzsche did was to articulate what many people, including many would-be Christians, had believed de facto for centuries, but the point is that they, and he, were wrong.
I cannot teach anybody anything. I can only make them think.