Many people around us have given up on a search for 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. Many years ago, the world’s most famous human being 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 stop lying to 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 knowledge, 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 deeply admire the radical honesty and vulnerability of AA folk. They have a lot to teach many people in church. One of my relatives, who is a professional counsellor, has a poster at his office that says: ‘The truth will set you free but first it will make you miserable’. The truth really does hurt, but when the truth is spoken in love rather than in judgement, there is 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 personalities?
The problem with the truth is that it is most often deeply inconvenient, morally inconvenient, socially inconvenient, financially inconvenient, politically inconvenient. I remember how Mark Twain once said that it is not the parts of the Bible which 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 dictators hate the truth. Mussolini did, Hitler did, and Stalin did. But the truly great leaders 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 Canadians, we need to rediscover our forebears’ passionate commitment to truth and freedom. Democracy cannot survive without it. 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 the Good Book puts it, our hearts are deceitful above all things and beyond cure. We have an amazing ability to fool ourselves and hurt ourselves, yet the Spirit of Truth promises to lead us into all truth. My prayer for those reading this article 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. May each of us be able to say like Martin Luther King: ‘Free at last, free at last, Thank God Almighty, we are free at last.’
The Rev. Dr. Ed Hird, BSW, MDiv, DMin
-previously published in the Deep Cove Crier/North Shore News
-award-winning author of the book Battle for the Soul of Canada
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