The last chapter of my forthcoming book is titled “Tying up the loose ends”. Here I discuss truth.
“What is truth” was the question that Pontius Pilate asked Jesus, although it is doubtful he was too anxious to find the answer, for shortly after he condemned this innocent man to death and released a notorious murderer in his stead, in order to placate the crowd. I get the impression that many try to claim the moral high ground by claiming they are beholden to truth and it seems to me this includes outright liars who try to get one over those who are seekers after the truth. Putting aside the notion of relative truth (what is true for you may not be for me etc.) or alternative truths for a moment, all of us fall short even if we are not like Pilate and allow expediency to override nobler goals. We are subject to our own prejudices and axioms and even if we try to see other viewpoints, and try to find out the relevant facts, we often fall short. There is also a tendency to confuse opinion with truth, and given opinions differ, they can’t all be true.
Jesus claimed He is the Truth; it was said of Him, He is full of Truth; He spoke about the truth setting us free. Of all people, Christians should be those who place truth very high on their list of priorities, if only because that is what the Bible tells us to do. Before I go on about something that is bugging me and one of the key triggers behind writing this book, which was trying to figure out what was going on in the world so I can work out how best respond, and be one that leads people toward truth and away from error, I should make some personal statements. Truth has been a principle driving forces behind my community activism and Christian service. It is not an academic exercise, because dealing with the real world, and the messy situations I am confronted with all the time, means I don’t always have the luxury to pontificate over philosophical niceties.
I do not set myself up as a paragon of virtue, and admit sometimes to being a hypocrite. After all, if we are serious about truth it should affect all our relationships, especially our family and those close to us, and govern how we live. Truth can be found in many places, besides the Bible. I am intrigued by the sign inscribed over the Cavendish Laboratories, Cambridge: “the works of the Lord are great, sought out of all them that have pleasure therein”, Psalm 111v2, suggesting scientific endeavour is one way of discovering truth; one might add many other fields of human endeavour. The last point is truth needs to be coupled with things like grace, love and humility (as it was with Jesus) and a realization that there is a lot we don’t know for sure.
If asked who my sources of inspirations are in the Bible, I would be spoiled for choice but if pressed I might say Jeremiah, and add: the sons of Issachar, of who it was written “were men who understood the times, with knowledge of what Israel should do” (1Chronicles 12:32). It seems quite obvious that people like that are rarities, yet if I were to take Jesus words “watch and pray” seriously then this is something to at least aspire toward. Sadly, such is the state of the church, it is hard to identify modern day sons of Issachar as too often leaders do not address the issues of the times as they ought, have their own agendas that make not be God’s and, rather than take a lead, follow the ways of the world.
As I look back over fifty years of being a Christian, I have seen a shift on things that bother Christians. Back in the day: whether or not to take the Bible literally, free will or predestination, the gifts of the Spirit, believers baptism or infant baptism, creation or evolution, pre-, post- or a-millenialism, social activism or evangelism, versions of the Bible, women ministry, church government, which church to belong to, these were all issues that were keenly debated among Christians, and to a lesser extent still are. Besides a drift from some sort of consensus, there is a new list, items I don’t recall being discussed much back in the day. Brexit, Islam, Race, LBGT issues, climate change, immigration, globalism, popularism, socialism, have all become contentious issues, including among Christians. If I can be more specific: whether or not Donald Trump is good for the world and the whys and wherefores of Covid-19 and responses, are two issues for the present time. Should we take a view and what should that be?
And there is another of the elephants in the room – how much store do we give to conspiracy theories, as the answer to that may determine one’s approach? Another change, at least for me (but I know there are many others) is that fifty years ago we trusted mainstream media, especially the quality press and even more so the BBC; we trusted the government, even when not our choice, to a significant extent and in general we trusted academia and authority figures. That is no longer the case. The temptation is to look elsewhere; conspiracy theories is one such place. I am not going to be drawn much further into this other than to say I do believe there are evil forces afoot and many have a spiritual dimension.
I am inclined to question everything and counsel people to do the same. I am still learning when to speak and when to keep silence, and being careful not to get side tracked from things that matter. For this wisdom is needed. We are privileged, unlike our forefathers, of being allowed (at least in the UK, but for how much longer as restrictions get imposed) of saying what we believe is true. While there is lots we don’t know, we have access to a lot more information. As for conspiracy theories, these may be false or unproven and yet over time some have been proven true and often more credible than the official narrative. My own watchword, besides watch and pray (and trust and obey), is to test and weigh. If I have a parting word on the matter, it is: “Buy the truth, and sell it not; also wisdom, and instruction, and understanding” Proverbs 23:23.