“Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
“What is truth?” retorted Pilate.
As humans, we long to know the answer to this most challenging of all questions, and Jesus indicated why it is so important. In John 8:31, Jesus declared to his listeners that if they continue in his word, you are truly my disciple. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free. Such an awareness of truth is a key to the fulfilment of life.
Various forms of the media have noted the leading new word added to the dictionary this year is “post Truth”. Politicians are those who get the greatest criticism because we expect so much more from our leaders. Even they must know we see through their self-serving bias, but they persist. We are equally cynical of journalism for we similarly see the bias of the writer. Advertising is genuinely regarded as disastrous for it is so much spin.
Months before his retirement, Archbishop Keith Rayner was invited to speak at the Mentone Grammar School Assembly. I was fortunately able to attend. He spoke of his reflections on a lifetime of ministry. One concern he held about the future was the increasing tendency to use ‘Spin’ in disseminating information. He was so right and it is now a big problem.
The means of communication have now expanded, with the emergence of the internet and the issue of truth has multiplied. The good that it has done in offering all people access to having their say, is that there is no way of verifying the accuracy of what is said. There are growing numbers of comments on the usual facebook, twitter, etc. which cannot be held to account for there is no claim to accountability. The internet is in its infancy and the means of determining the truth via it, is a long way from being established.
Sociologists are one group that have been interested in this phenomenom, and have reflected upon the gradual change that has taken place over past centuries. They speak of the way humanity searches for truth. Professor Bouma of Monash University and Canadian Professor and Catholic Priest, Charles Taylor are two who’ve described the changing pattern of the human search for truth.
1. They speak of how in the centuries leading up to the year 1500 people trusted in the King or his theological advisor as the authority of what was right or wrong.
2. With the increasing dependence upon reason in the following centuries, truth was believed to be ascertained by right reasoning.
3. But over the last half century with the decline of trust in authorities and institutions and now that we are inundated with so much new knowledge, truth is seen to be left to the individual to ascertain what they can personally discern and conclude.
This is the maelstrom of confusion we are now living within.
CHRISTIANS AND TRUTH
Religion has always regarded the pursuit of truth as a fundamental to spirituality. As already noted, Jesus saw it as a fundamental of life.
JOHN THE BAPTIST
In this season of Advent two of our weeks focus upon John the Baptist, regarded as the great prophet. They even thought of him as possibly the Messiah. Why we are reading about him is because he is regarded as a prophet, and was devoted to the quality of truth that surrounds the Christmas story. Going back to the centuries before Christ, the prophet was seen as the deeply spiritual person whose vision was such that he could put an explanation of life in its Godly perspective.
He could cut through the simple mundane events, discussions, or arguments of daily life to pin point a deeper notion of truth than that commonly perceived. The spiritual truth is grounded in the depth of being and speaks of greater perspective. It seeks to hear the whispering of the spirit, that gives purpose and meaning to daily life. He could do this because he was deeply sensitive to the life of spirit himself.
For John, this is reinforced by the records that suggest he spent a great deal of his earlier life wandering in the desert. Some commentators suggest he possibly lived in the religious community of the Essene community located at Qumran, where he studied his scriptures and practiced a disciplined life of prayer. More than seeing a dirty old man clothed in camel skin, a spirit of truth radiated from him. It was common knowledge and Jesus knew this.
He questions people on why they went out into the dessert. Not to see a fascinating sign of nature, the unlikely happening of a reed swaying in the breeze, or even the fine robes of a king. It was because they had heard of a uniquely godly man wandering nearby. When put to the test, this level of truth is a quality of life we will discard all else for.
Following his great life of calling people to embrace this depth of truth, by repenting and being baptised, he ended up in prison for challenging the king with his ungodly behaviour. But before he died, his own disciples reveal that as holy as John was, he was a normal human and he did have times of doubt.
John sent them to ask Jesus if he really was the one they were awaiting. This is an important part of the story, for declarations of Godly truth are one thing, but how do we recognise it. Jesus reveals this in his answer.
To John’s disciples he said...
‘Go tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame work, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the poor have good news brought to them.’
This great description of new life and healing, the fruit of a loving community, is the great sign of the Godly life. John would have known of this in his reading of the Old Testament. It remained the great sign of the foundation of all truth in Jesus day, and is still so in our own day.
THE HEART OF TRUTH
In our present world there is so much information that it is hard to ascertain its accuracy. Much is simply little more than information, opinion and spin. But the spiritual journey seeks a specific quality of truth that we are called to build our life upon.
To truly know truth, you must know the spirit of truth. This is at the heart of Johns call to repent.
We read of his life in these weeks preceding Christmas because the ability to perceive the truth must be grounded in the spirit of truth. It is the way of life, healing and love as Jesus told John and leads us to the great truth of life revealed at Bethlehem, that God is with us.