“I am the Way and the Truth and the Life” -- the words of Jesus in John 14:6
In the wake of all the hub-bub surrounding the Brexit and the 2016 US election, the Oxford Dictionary has chosen their “word of the year” for 2016. And that word is “post-truth.” It is a word that refers to a kind of political maneuvering, or more sadly, to a new era that some see we are entering. By choosing this as the year’s most important word, they are really warning us about where our world may be headed. They are trying to tell us that the world may soon care less about what’s true and what’s not.
Messing with the truth is nothing new, of course. We’ve heard it said that “truth is in the eye of the beholder,” so we imagine anyone can just make up their own version of reality. We’ve heard slogans used to overpower reasoning and watched people change the subject when confronted with facts. We’ve heard dialog devolve into dissension. We’ve seen debates that are no such thing. Of course there is nothing new about public figures ignoring the points of their opponents and falling back on quips and accusations. But when the words people say fly in the face of the truth we all know, we start to question the methods and the motives behind those words and the one who is speaking them. Or at least we should.
Martin Luther had a healthy distrust for human reason and saw the dangerous side of “facts.” After all, people in his time seemed convinced of the so-called obvious “facts” that good people go to heaven, that you become a good person by doing good deeds, and that the good leaders of the church were just the right people to tell you what good deeds you are to do. Few people questioned the catchy slogans of the fundraising friars who called out, “When a coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs.” Once the lie within those long-trusted beliefs was revealed, all of society was shaken. While the educated elite and religious leaders clung to their doctrines and traditions, the peasants took to the streets in outright rebellion. Luther proclaimed that neither way would lead us to truth.
As Christians, we understand that the only one we can trust completely is God. As for the rest of us, “no one is righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10). We are all a mish-mash of good and evil motives, love, fear and prejudice, truth and untruth. We know that “if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8) and that “love does not rejoice in evil, but rejoices in the truth” (1 Corinthians 13:6). We understand that speaking untruth against another violates God’s 8th commandment (Exodus 20:16). The small catechism tells us what this commandment requires:
“We should fear and love God so that we may not deceitfully contradict, slander, or defame our neighbors, but defend them, think and speak well of them, and put the best construction on everything.”
In other words, it’s about love – about respecting each other enough to be honest with everyone, and speak about them with love. God’s truth cannot be contained in slogans or revealed by facts. It is not an assertion or a prescription – it is a relationship. It is not an opinion or an attitude; it is the Way, the Truth and the Life of the world. Anything less is death.
Into a dark world that is lost in lies, a light has shined. It is the light of a new Way, a post post-truth mind-set that brings us to our knees beside friends and enemies, gathered around the manger of Jesus. There we trade in our personal truths and opinions for the Truth that is Life. There we stop hoping in our own gods and glories and place all our hope in love. There God shows Himself as a child, trusting and open to all the world. It is there that we find what we’ve always looked for, where we know the Truth and the Truth sets us free (John 8:32).