The Arrogance of Truth

I’d better begin by saying that I believe in truth.

I admit that it’s a bit of a silly statement.  Of course I believe in truth.  Everyone does.  If you believe something, you believe that that something is true—even if it is a lie. Even if it is that truth doesn’t exist. If you believe something, you believe it to be truth.

Perhaps it would be better to say that I believe in absolute, knowable, objective truth.  I believe some things are true, and some things are false.  Some things are right, and some things are wrong. Things that are true cannot be changed by popular opinion.  Something that is objectively true cannot be just truth for me, but not for you. Truth is truth, independent of what we think about it, and even if every human on earth is blind to it.

This is part of what we espouse as Christians, that there is real truth, and that that truth is knowable.

We believe that there is one true God in a world of false gods.  We believe that Jesus is the way and the truth and the life, and that he was full of grace and truth.  We believe that Jesus sent the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, to be with us and guide us into all truth.

We believe that not only are the Gospel stories about Jesus true, but that Jesus himself is The Truth. If you want to know truth—about how to live, about what reality is, about who God is—you look at Jesus.

We believe that when Jesus was questioned by Pilate, he said that he came to earth for one reason: to testify to the truth.  He said that whoever is on the side of truth listens to his voice.  When Pilate heard this, Pilate asked, “What is truth?”  He didn’t realize that Truth was sitting across the room from him, bloody and beaten, but still Truth.

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So why did I need to let you know from the outset that I believe in this truth?  It’s because I also believe that there is a problem with truth.  Or maybe more accurately, I believe that we have a problem with how we handle truth.

More often than we’d like to admit, Christians confuse possessing truth with being an insufferable know-it-all.  We confuse truth lived with truth loudly proclaimed.

And this is easy to do, since truth in its very essence is arrogant.  Because I know truth, I’m right, and you’re not.  I’m smart, I’m saved, I’m enlightened, whatever.  Claims to truth always elevate some over others.

But what else can we do? Truth is truth, regardless of whether it hurts feelings, right?  Our job as Christians is to bear witness to the truth, whether the world wants to hear it or not, right?

Well, yes and no. (How’s that for squirming around truth?)

My concern is not that the arrogance of truth will offend someone.  Truth will always offend, and there is no getting around that.  My concern, however, is that the arrogance of truth will misrepresent Jesus, that the manner in which Christians communicate truth obscures the picture of truth that the world needs most to see.

I’m afraid that this happens every time a Christian acts like they came across truth all on their own, as if truth is ‘self-evident’, and that only a moron couldn’t see truth this way.  It happens every time the truth you hold causes you to judge others who don’t hold that truth.  They may be wrong, and you may be right, but what do you have to be proud of?  What do you have to boast about?

Gandhi is quoted as saying, “Truth without humility would be an arrogant caricature.”

Every time we communicate the truth about Christ without accompanying humility, we present to the world an arrogant, distorted, gross caricature of Jesus, a Jesus they don’t want to have in their lives.

What, then, does humble, undistorted truth look like?  It looks like a cross.

Truth is most clearly seen in a God-become-man nailed to a cross.  Truth is most clearly seen in radical self-sacrifice.  There is no room for arrogance on the cross.

If that isn’t your standard of truth, if you are more concerned with being right than with being sacrificed, then you don’t know truth.  You are an arrogant caricature.

I readily admit that I am just as bad as anyone at this.  I have been the arrogant caricature of truth on far too many occasions, and in doing so I have obscured the truth of who Jesus is.  I have turned the truth in me into a lie.  And I didn’t even have to believe anything wrong.  I simply was wrong.  My arrogance was wrong.

Let me give you an example from my life.

Smoking cigarettes is bad for you.  This is truth.  It’s a truth I’ve always known, though not always known humbly.  Several years ago, I held this truth arrogantly, assuming that anyone who smoked must be willfully ignorant or just a moron.  I said terrible, unhelpful things about people who smoked.  I was an arrogant caricature of truth, even though I wanted to save people from the consequences of smoking.

Let us not be such arrogant caricatures of the gospel.  We believe that there is one true God.  But let’s hold this truth humbly.  Let’s not assume that people who disagree with us are willfully ignorant or morons. Let’s be humble enough to hear them.  Let’s be humble enough to offer truth as a gift, not swing it as a club.

We did not acquire truth. We did not claim it or find it or win it.  Truth was given to us, by grace, and we believe it by faith.  We have nothing to be proud of, nothing to boast about.  Our only task is to speak truth in humble love and lay down our lives for others.

There are many lies in the world that obscure truth.  Don’t let the way you hold truth become one of them.

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