Human beings have the unique ability to create fear and crisis from thin air. I think this a gift unique to our species. If there is no real threat to our lives, way of life, or ability to worship; we will find one, exploit it, and draw others toward the fear. For some reason, we seem happier when we’re afraid. If we tell others about our fears and they agree that our concerns are valid, even better. What are we afraid of? Our Methodist anxieties range from the innocuous as a bump in the night, or our understanding of traditional marriage, at other times it’s a caravan of migrants from Honduras.
Because an idea isn’t real doesn’t mean the concept can’t be shrouded in the garments of truth; especially if I want your vote, money, or to attend my church. It takes work to make a lousy lie seem respectable. Look at the political ads, rallies, and speeches over the past few months. They are full of outright lies, half-truths, and deception. Despite the apparent distortions, we allow ourselves to be lied to and consider lies as part of our rational political (and in some cases theological) discourse. Enough money, television airtime, and words spoken at the right time can make some lies seem accurate. We tolerate lies (“they all do it”) because no one expects to be told the truth. The truth is undermined at critical moments. Is there anywhere to go but down? Where do people of faith turn for the facts in a world full of willing distortion? What do we do if we’re sick of the lies?
First, we commit to living as truth-tellers. Then we turn to Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus’ description of himself as the “the way, the truth, and the life” in John 14:6 provides an appropriate benchmark. Jesus is our standard for truth, truth-telling, and truth-living. If something doesn’t measure up adequately with Jesus’ standard of truth, then we know we’re dealing with plans, propositions, and ideas which run counter to unfolding Kingdom of Heaven on Earth.
Jesus’ ideas about truth aren’t confined to the pages of the Gospels. They are to be applied to the pages of our life journey. Jesus’ truth should be a lived experience.
We read scripture to understand Jesus’ embodied truth. Jesus lived in an era before the Creeds and Ecumenical Councils. His truth was not a doctrinal statement of faith. Instead, his truth was built on relationships with those who could not read statements of faith, would never be allowed near altars, and lived on the margins of society. Jesus believed in the truth of economic justice and fair wages for lower-income workers in Galilee. Those closest to the land were closest to God. Subsistence farmers and local fisherman lived the parabolic truth that Jesus spoke into being. Jesus believed that the truth of God’s love could be best experienced by restoring the physical and mental health of hundreds upon hundreds of people. Jesus believed in the truth that said real wealth could not be measured by traditional means. The truth about prayer said Jesus, was nothing like it was done, taught, or practiced. Jesus’ truth taught that forgiveness is more significant than any distance perceived between humanity and the being we call God.
Next time someone has a plan, perhaps to start a new denomination or build a huge fence with beautiful barbed wire, ask yourself, “How do these plans measure up against the truth-telling, life-giving, all-loving, never Bible-waving Jesus?” Do you want to try and answer the question?
Richard Lowell Bryant