A new word has just made its way into the Oxford English Dictionary: post-truth, meaning that “facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” The National Geographic featured as its cover story in June 2017, “Why We Lie: The Science Behind our Complicated Relationship with the Truth.” The author, Yudhiyit Shattacharjee, believes that “Being deceitful is woven into our very fabric, so much so that it would be truthful to say that to lie is human (p.38).” At one level, that may be the last word. But if we believe that we are oriented throughout life to the divine, then the deeper way of approaching the journey of life is as seekers after truth.
In short, truth-telling is at a premium in our national life. Conflicting accounts of an event make us wonder where the truth is. Advertising heralds the value of products, while hiding defects or problems the product can inspire (except for drugs which are required by law to state all the possible side effects.) And then there is fake news, a term which the President uses to reject the truth of journalism.
We are inundated in dishonesty which is clever as well as blatant. Recognizing truth, valuing and trusting it is a new work-in-progress in ourselves and for our children.
Followers of Christ understand that Jesus valued truth and lived by it. You will know the truth, he told his disciples, and the truth will set you free. I am the way, the truth and the life (John 14.6). He called the Holy Spirit “the Spirit of Truth” (John 14.17) and promised that the Holy Spirit would guide you into all truth.
Standing before Pilate, Jesus was clear: “For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice. (John18.37)” Do we – you and I – belong to the truth, or do we wonder, with Pilate “What is truth? (John 18.38)”
When we think of the crucifixion of Jesus, we are overwhelmed by the pain, the sheer brutality of it. But along the way of his public ministry and right on to his cross, Jesus became freer as he accepted the truth of who he was. We are free when we follow him into truth. That means following Him into the truth of life with its social, political, cultural everyday dimensions. It means searching for the truth, recognizing deceit and saying no to ways of thinking and acting that are deceitful.
True and lasting relationships and communities are built on truth which is shared, accepted, honored as life-giving. Lies in the foundation mean that the structure will crumble.
So often we say we can do little to change the world. One major thing we can do is to be truthful and to encourage truth-telling in others. Here are three ways how living can engender truth in the world:
- First, stay rooted in a faith community which preaches Jesus’ message of unity with God as essential for life.
- Secondly, speak the truth in love, even when it’s costly for us.
- Finally, spend some time in solitude, face-to-face with God in a way which inspires us to listen to the abiding truth which God offers.
~ Sister Joan Sobala