For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.
2 Timothy 4:3 (NIV)
Would you rather someone agree with you or be honest with you? Don’t answer that question too quickly. Sit with it for a while. Let it bug you, like it has bugged me over the past several weeks.
We are all familiar with the political turmoil of the past year–and with how that turmoil has revealed a certain willingness on the part of some people in our society to ignore, manipulate, or even fabricate the truth to achieve their own ends. We in the church have not been immune to this social malody. Indeed, some of our leaders have been its chief perpetuators.
Not surprisingly, this reckless disregard for the truth, which has permeated our public discourse for at least three decades, has had disastrous consequences for our political life as a nation. It has accelerated the growth of mistrust for institutions and social structures, and it has stifled the kind of critical feedback every political theory needs to improve.
As such, people have become even more convinced of the utter moral rectitude of their own position and of the utter moral bankruptcy of those who oppose it. And this means, when there really is a point of view that is noxious to the public good, no one can say so without their criticisms being drowned out by a cacophony of other, sometimes unrelated, vitriol.
The process of reconstructing truth in our own image is also toxic in our private lives. It is not just that we do not have anyone around us who will tell us when we are making a terrible mistake. That is certainly part of it, but the problems run much deeper.
You see, truth is not merely the rudder we use to steer “the ship of state” or the guidance system for our own voyage through this world. It is our best defense against the predators that walk among us.
Why is that? Because these predators play upon our weaknesses and exploit our needs in order to satisfy their own desires. And the good ones can do it without us even being aware of it.
Moreover, truth helps us to retain our integrity (as individuals, as congregations, and as a nation). There always seems to be powerful internal and external forces that pull us in opposite directions. These forces have very tangible effects on our lives, but their origins are often in the spiritual realm. They will bend us all out of shape–or even tear us apart–if we let them.
A ruthless commitment to honesty is what will allow us to thwart these processes of deception and disintegration. We’re not talking about being mean, either to others or to ourselves. We’re talking about being people who value honesty above our own comfort, happiness, or self-esteem. We’re talking about being people who have the courage to stand up to those “on our side” who are messing up and to fairly evaluate the good points, as well as the bad, made by those who don’t agree with us. We’re talking about having the courage to change our minds when new facts come in–and the insight to know when someone is trying to play us for a fool.
Look, I get it if you are feeling condemned. My long, bony finger is pointing at me, too. But I’m tired of watching my country destroy itself. I’m tired of seeing Protestant pastors stumble all over themselves to prop up a heathen political figure. I’m tired of standing by while family members and friends flush their lives down the toilet. And I have become convinced that our inability to discern truth, and our unwillingness to embrace it no matter how much it hurts, is at the root of many of our problems. I hope you’ll join me in renewing our acquaintance with truth–and in rejuvenating our devotion to its Author.