Can We Handle the Truth?

"Men stumble over the truth from time to time, but most pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing happened." - Winston Churchill

One of the books I am currently reading is I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist. The Churchill quote is taken from the first chapter, in which the authors are addressing the subject of truth and whether absolute truth is even possible.

As I read the beginning of this chapter, I could not help but think of situations I have witnessed where a person I once trusted lied and people I thought of as "good people" either denied it, excused it, euphemised it or flat out turned away from even looking at it honestly (presumably so they would not have to explain it even to themselves).

I don't find myself wanting to write on my blog about subjects I have already covered in my book these days. But reading these words this morning struck a nerve in me. And now, in the background as I am writing, I'm listening to my pastor on TV teaching on the importance of being people of truth, the whole truth. I was present to hear this sermon at church two weeks ago and I don't routinely listen to the broadcast of services I have already attended. I had momentarily stopped reading to listen to "the round table" discussing Israel and the Middle East. But I was glad I just happened to be on Channel 2 at 9:30 to hear this sermon again. Among the statements I've heard in the first fifteen minutes...

"Choose to be a person who honors the truth. It is one of the most profound ways to honor God."
"In the Bible, the Spirit of God is called the Spirit of Truth."
"Whenever we hide the truth, shade the truth, stretch the truth, demean the truth, diminish the truth, obscure the truth, make the truth less apparent...we cooperate with Satan."
"When we do not choose the truth, we oppose God's purposes."
"When we choose the truth, we invest ourselves and our lives in God's purposes."
"When we choose the truth, we cooperate with the Spirit of God."
"If you forfeit other things to keep the truth, keep the truth."

And this is what I had been reading...

On one hand, we demand truth in virtually every area of our lives. For example; we demand the truth from:
~loved ones (no one wants lies from a spouse or a child)
~doctors (we want the right medicine prescribed and the right operations performed)
~stock brokers (we demand that they tell us the truth about companies they recommend)
~courts (we want them to convict only the truly guilty)
~employers (we want them to tell us the truth and pay us fairly)
~airlines (we demand truly safe planes and truly sober pilots)

We also expect to be told the truth when we pick up a reference book, read an article, or watch a news story; we want the truth from advertisers, teachers, and politicians; we assume road signs, medicine bottles, and food labels reveal the truth. In fact, we demand the truth for almost every facet of life that affects our money, relationships, safety, or health.

On the other hand, despite our unwavering demands for truth in those areas, many of us say we aren't interested in truth when it comes to morality or religion. In fact, many downright reject the idea that any religion can be true.

As we're sure you've noticed, there's a huge contradiction here. Why do we demand truth in everything but morality and religion? Why do we say, "That's true for you but not for me," when we're talking about morality or religion, but we never even think of such nonsense when we're talking to a stock broker about our money or a doctor about our health?

Although few would admit it, our rejection of religious and moral truth is often on volitional rather than intellectual grounds--we just don't want to be held accountable to any moral standards or religious doctrine...Perhaps Augustine was right when he said that we love the truth when it enlightens us, but we hate it when it convicts us. Maybe we can't handle the truth.

I didn't write this post to condemn. We have all been guilty of not telling the whole truth at some point in our lives. But I don't want to ever take the truth lightly. I don't want to condone dishonesty in myself or in others. I don't want to justify it or excuse it with euphemisms. I want to call it what it is and determine to be a person of complete truth because I want to honor God.

I was taught to believe God required my perfection; a sinless life that equaled the sinless perfection of Jesus. Perfection was the dominant message I heard in church my entire life (up to the age of 43). But in this same group we did not tell the complete truth in many areas. I don't believe truth had a high enough value and I believe that has contributed to many "good people" not feeling deeply offended by a pastor lying under oath.

I see in hindsight that I once held the view that not telling the truth was okay when the ends justified the means. I remember feeling absolutely no conviction about telling what I considered little white lies. Without reservation I could tell a caller that someone wasn't there who actually was. I could tell a lie about how much money I'd spent on something or where I had actually been, if it helped me to avoid a consequence I wished to avoid or didn't think I deserved--or even if it would just complicate a relationship. I haven't always valued truth as highly as I do today. But I am truly thankful that I HAVE come to highly value the truth and I can't tell even the smallest lie without strong conviction today. And the reason I can't do it is because my desire to honor God has grown. The consequence of displeasing and dishonoring Him is more significant to me than any consequence I could avoid by telling a lie.

Someone close to me recently shared with me that people who have refused to openly stand up for her and for truth are now bestowing acts of kindness and making gestures of friendship toward her. It causes her a lot of inner turmoil and discomfort. She wants to respond in love (and has). But she also wants to say, "Where were you when I really needed you to be my friend?"

Perhaps the people who are making these gestures genuinely feel some conviction or would make different choices if they had it to do over again, knowing everything they know today. But she doesn't know that because nothing like that has been verbalized. There have been no apologies. It feels more like the Winston Churchill comment, " if nothing happened." And it adds to the pain she carries because now it feels like the burden is on her to respond as if nothing happened. But what has happened to her was/is life altering and, for her, cannot be swept under a rug.

I truly believe forgiveness is the only answer as a follower of Christ. With or without repentance, I believe we should always strive to be forgiving and loving because we have been the recipients of God's forgiveness and love. And every time we choose to forgive, we have the opportunity to honor God. But we also have that opportunity to honor Him when we repent and acknowledge that we took the wrong stand, lent credibility to dishonesty, or, at the very least, we remained silent when our voice mattered. If we have injured someone in doing any of those things, we should long for the opportunity to repent to them as a part of repenting to God.

When I began writing this post, I did not know exactly where it would take me. I didn't have the last three paragraphs in mind. But that is what flowed out of my heart and onto the web page.

I don't write any of this in malice or judgment or condemnation. These are things God has impressed on me that I have tried to take to heart and confront in my own life. I want to be a person of truth and integrity. I want to be someone who honors God--even when nobody but God is paying attention. And I want to be a person who repents rather than a person who "hurries past as if nothing happened."


Randy Shannon said…

Great thought invoking post...
especially loved Augustine reference:

"we love the truth when it enlightens us, but we hate it when it convicts us."

Shari said…
I love that quote, too, Randy. Actually, several of my recent posts have been inspired by great quotes that hit home with me.

Thanks for letting me know you enjoyed this one. I always enjoy hearing from you.

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