Reader Writes, February 2017
When Jesus said at his trial “for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth”, the worldly and cynical Pilate countered rhetorically “What is truth?” That is all very understandable and perhaps wearily familiar. After all, the Governor of Judea has grave responsibilities and serious ambitions to worry about; above all he must suppress rebellion and raise taxes. Who cares about truth when power is the arbiter and the currency of empire? After the startling political earthquakes of 2016 when truth was often competing with stories, we should be asking what truth really means. America and the UK have reason to ponder whether a 'post-truth' society should be embraced or rejected, feared or admired.
It was well said that “you are entitled to your own opinion but not to your own facts”. That seems simple and clear. Yet I am haunted by the dismissal of such overwhelming evidence as climate change by the claim that “nobody really knows”; so it's OK to carry on drilling, fracking and digging up carbon until we really do know. Did some devilishly clever Russian intelligence agency hack into Democrat emails and tilt the American election field? Well, “no one really knows”. Evidence places high confidence levels on the answers to those questions.
Facts, evidence, expert reckoning of probabilities clearly matter to all of us. If a consultant tells me that I have a cancerous tumour, I won't dismiss the information as only the opinion of a medical elite. I'll be first in line to have the time-bomb defused, if I'm lucky enough. But more important and much more ambiguous is the quality of truthfulness and honesty. Here we move from the clear issue of fact and evidence to behaviour, including recognising values we do not share. The Reader's friend Will suggests the idea of sin, which has the sense of a 'falling short' or missing the mark. If I lie to you, I am missing the mark in my life and in yours. You expect honesty from me, but you suddenly discover that I am not trustworthy, or dependable, I would let you down if it furthered my own interests.
So if we live in a 'post-truth' world, surely we also live in a post-moral universe? Does this sound a bit like Game of Thrones? We are playing poker for high stakes and with few rules. At least shame shouldn't be necessary; unless you lose. So I ask the question of us all, does truth matter? More specifically, do honesty and the quality of dependability matter? My contention is that truth should matter to us, personally and in relationships and in society. Inevitably I must bring it back to God. Since everything we know shows that truth matters to God, then truth must matter to us.
Jesus refers to truth repeatedly, especially in John's Gospel, and most famously with “I am the way, the truth and the life”. The facts of Christ's life, his miraculous signs, his witness to the truth, his resurrection from the dead all testify to his claim and his mission as Son of God, God-with-us, Redeemer. Truth is essentially about our manner and how we deal with life. With God's help we shall be courageous in defending truth and defending those we love from the effects of untruth.