Twice recently I had the job of trying to find the truth. The first instance had to do with serious allegations made by one of our church members against another. Was the allegation nothing more than vicious gossip by “member A” who was upset with “member B” over a secondary issue? Or was “member A” telling the truth? If so, “member B” needed to repent of serious sin.
The second instance had to do with Priya, a Sri Lankan household servant and friend of our Sri Lankan church member. Priya had been admitted to a hospital’s psychiatric ward. I was asked to look into her situation because her Sri Lankan friends didn’t believe she had mental problems. She herself certainly denied any problems. Although Hong Kong hospitals are some of the best in the world, they do make mistakes from time to time. Was this a mistake?
Finding the truth mattered in both of these situations. In fact, it matters whatever the situation. Truth always matters. It matters because what we accept as true affects how we view the world and other people, and it affects the actions we decide to take and whether we will end up in Heaven.
God knows truth matters. And so does Satan. The evil one knew if he could get Eve and Adam to believe a lie, they would end up acting on it. And they did. As a result of that sin, the perfect world God created was ruined for all time. And it all started with a lie.
The God of Truth
Truth matters to God because he is the God of truth. And God wants truth to matter to us.
This point is made repeatedly in the Old Testament. God commanded the Israelites not to give false testimony against their neighbors (Exodus 20:16). Truth from two or three eyewitnesses, not hearsay, was used to determine the guilt or innocence of people (Deuteronomy 19:15). We are told to buy the truth and not to sell it (Proverbs 23:23). We are to get wisdom and discipline and understanding even though it costs all we have (Proverbs 4:7).
The New Testament makes the same point. Jesus is called the way, the truth, and the life. Many times he began his teaching with the phrase, “I tell you the truth.” Our spiritual armor includes the belt of truth (Ephesians 6:14). Two or three witnesses are required to prove an accusation against an elder (1 Timothy 5:19). We are to put off falsehood and speak truthfully (Ephesians 4:25).
Unfortunately, the Israelites in the Old Testament failed to obey God in the matter of truth. King Saul was telling lies to Samuel (1 Samuel 15) long before Jezebel used compliant officials and false witnesses to arrange the death of Naboth, By Isaiah’s time, truth had stumbled in the street and honesty couldn’t enter (Isaiah 59:14, 15). Before God sent the southern kingdom into captivity, he told Jeremiah that if there were but one person who dealt honestly and sought the truth, he would forgive Jerusalem. But truth had perished (Jeremiah 5:1; 7:28).
Truth was still in short supply during New Testament times. False witnesses testified against both Jesus and Stephen (Mark 14:55-59; Acts 6:12, 13). Many of Paul’s letters warn against gossip, slander, and false teachers. James and Peter give similar warnings.
‘We All Say So’
Today, truth still is too often a missing ingredient. Campaign promises, buyer beware warnings, and admissions of having “misspoken” rather than of having lied all point to a loss of truth. People no longer believe that truth matters. It’s been replaced by pragmatism. All that matters now is what we can get for ourselves or our group. We are like the monkey clan in Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book. They had a simple way of deciding what was true. “We all say so, so it must be so.”
Jeremiah faced this problem. In the matter of truth, he stood against the entire kingdom of Judah when he said that, unless they repented, big bad Babylon was coming (Jeremiah 25:1-11). Who turned out to be right?
Truth isn’t decided by a majority vote or by power politics. It isn’t decided by the people with the biggest bank accounts, or who talk the loudest, or who use language most creatively. Truth is decided by God.
Where Do We Start?
Few of us will have much opportunity to take a stand for truth in high places, as Jeremiah did. We still have plenty of opportunities to do so in our daily lives. Where do we start? I would suggest the following things.
• First, we shouldn’t automatically believe everything we hear. Proverbs 18:17 tells us the first to present his case seems right until another comes forward and questions him. There is always another side. Find it and check it out.
Also, how is a story presented? Is what we are told a plain presentation of facts? Or is it laced with emotional rhetoric? Legal trials deal in facts. Lynch mobs deal in emotions. The Jewish leaders had zeal without knowledge (Romans 10:1-3), and because they let their emotions rule, they crucified the Truth. We share their humanity. Unless we have a lot more humility and a greater desire to know the truth than they did, we can easily repeat the same mistake.
• Second, remember that truth and love work together. God is a God of truth and also a God of love. He didn’t use truth like a club for beating his enemies over the head. He wooed them, pleaded with them, and grieved over them when they refused to accept the truth (Matthew 23:37). He spoke the truth in love and commands us to do the same (Ephesians 4:15).
Jesus and Hitler have been named as two of the most influential men in history because they had the power to motivate unprecedented numbers of people to action. Jesus’ followers, motivated by love and self-sacrifice even toward their enemies, conquered the Roman Empire. Hitler’s followers, motivated by self-righteousness and fear and hatred of their perceived enemies, lost their “empire,” but not before they destroyed countless millions through war and genocide.
The battle between truth and lies is also a battle between right emotions and wrong ones. What kind of emotions does a story stir up in us? Concerned love, or fear and hate? Remember, God deals in truth and love. Satan deals in lies, fear, and hate.
• Third, we must love the truth and speak the truth. We are all aware that telling lies, spreading slander and gossip, encouraging discord and divisions, and giving in to rage and anger are unacceptable behavior. But in Matthew 12:36, 37, Jesus says we also will have to give account for every careless word. So even our careless words matter to God.
In Jesus’ day, words were spoken and words were written on parchment and carried by hand to the recipient. Both truth and lies traveled more slowly then. Thanks to advances in technology, today our words can travel from one continent to another in a split second via phones, text messaging, and the Internet. They can also reach a much wider audience than ever before. But are the words any better? Are we transmitting truth or gossip? What careless word did we text to someone because we were upset?
We especially need to be on our guard when forwarding e-mails we receive that are written by people we don’t know personally. To avoid libel suits, magazines and newspapers make sure what they publish is correct. The Internet provides no such safeguard. Anyone can post anything with no accountability. If we pass along some article we’ve received without making sure it is true, we may be forwarding lies.
Over the course of a week, my husband receives any number of forwarded e-mails from U.S. friends concerned that we be kept up to date. When he checks out the truthfulness of the forwarded messages, a large percentage turn out to be false.
One such article quoted a renowned economist who had written a book that supposedly denounced the current leadership. When my husband checked, he discovered the book had been published during a former president’s time in office. The writer had simply replaced the name of the previous leader with the current one. The writer grossly misrepresented the economist and produced a lie. It appears his dislike for the current leadership is stronger than his love for the truth.
• My final suggestion is to use the brains God gave us. My husband recently received a forwarded e-mail listing all the reasons people of another religion couldn’t be patriotic American citizens. The first reason was that they give their primary loyalty to their god. In other words, anyone who puts loyalty to a god before loyalty to our country can’t be a patriotic citizen. Did the person who wrote that e-mail realize that, by the same reasoning, Christians who give God first loyalty can’t be patriotic American citizens? What about the committed Christian who sent it on to my husband? What was he thinking? Was he thinking?
A Cosmic Battle
Whether we are dealing with people close at hand, as I was in my opening examples, or with people far away, as my husband often does with the e-mails, truth matters. If we are truly people of God, it will matter to us as well. We must be willing to speak up for the truth whatever it costs us personally. Jeremiah did, and God was pleased with him.
Without truth spoken in love, we have no solid foundation on which to build anything of value. If we compromise on the truth and ignore love to defend our country, our group, our family, or ourselves, we are doing grave damage to the moral fabric of the very thing we’re trying to defend. The citizens of the southern kingdom learned this when Babylon swept in and carried the people away. We can’t fight a battle for good and for God using the weapons of Satan.
Since the day Adam and Eve believed the wrong person, we humans have been foot soldiers in the cosmic battle between truth and lies, between God and Satan. The final outcome of this battle has already been decided. God and truth will win over Satan and his lies. Only one question remains. Which side are we fighting on?
Karen Rees and her husband, Benjamin, have been doing multicultural mission work in Hong Kong since 1975.