Deception and truth

December 4th, 2019

Bias or truth?

Each week I receive a weekly digest of the top news stories delivered to my email. The digest is called “Story of the Week” and is published by the website AllSides. As stated on its website, AllSides seeks to “expose people to information and ideas from all sides of the political spectrum so they can better understand the world — and each other.” The publishers of the site believe that unbiased news doesn’t exist, and in response they seek to provide balanced coverage. Their goal is to strengthen democracy through diverse perspectives and real conversation.

For example, in its November 14 digest, AllSides reviewed news coverage of oral arguments before the Supreme Court about Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Sample headlines were shown from the center (“DACA Recipients Look to the Supreme Court for Hope” — NPR), the left (“Don’t Count on the Senate to Save Dreamers from SCOTUS” — Politico), and the right (“Overturning DACA Would Be a Win for the Constitution” — National Review). Following each headline was a short summary of how the story was presented. Unsurprisingly, each contained differing opinions and views.  Same facts, different presentation — which prompts the obvious question: What is truth?

How we see the truth doesn’t just affect today; it also affects how that truth gets recorded in our history books. In the revised and updated version of the book Exclusion & Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation, Miroslav Volf examines the difference between memory and history. In the chapter titled “Deception and Truth,” Volf reminds us that history should be “a critical reconstruction of the past,” while memory is more often an “identity shaping remembrance of the past.” Volf writes that these boundaries are fluid, because all historical reconstructions are shaped by “particular identities and interests.”

For instance, when we think about the truth of something like the birth narratives of Jesus, as we often do this time of year, we have to consider that they too were shaped by the identity, politics, and personal memories of those involved. Nevertheless, those of us who love and respect Scripture find truth in these stories year after year. 

Grace and truth

The Gospel of John mentions the word truth numerous times. Some of the most quoted verses in the Bible come from this book, such as when Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you have really known me, you will also know the Father. From now on you know him and have seen him” (14:6-7). In the opening words of this Gospel, the writer introduces some beautifully poetic themes: union of the Word (Christ) with God from the beginning, life that comes from the Word, light that overcomes darkness, and, most importantly, a Christ who became flesh and “pitched his tent” to dwell with humans (1:1-18).

In 2006, N. T. Wright gave a sermon titled “Full of Grace and Truth” based off words found in John 1:14. In the sermon, Wright connects this phrase back to Psalm 85:10-11, which says, “Faithful love and truth have met; righteousness and peace have kissed. Truth springs up from the ground; righteousness gazes down from heaven.” Psalm 85 is essentially a prayer for restoration and mercy during Israel’s exile, and John’s words echo the longing for this renewed vision.

According to Wright, “Grace is the fresh love of God coming from beyond our world, and truth is the plant which springs up, strong and tall and resilient, from within our world.” Wright says that while Christmas is about a birth, “in another sense it is about a wedding: the marriage of grace and truth, which is in fact the marriage of heaven and earth.” In Jesus, we see the fulfillment of the psalmist’s longing. Free, unmerited grace meets truth, and we’re invited into this new reality where God is both with us and for us. 

Who can you trust?

Whether it’s related to our interactions with the media, politicians, family or coworkers, we all struggle with trust. Discerning deception from truth is exhausting, but it’s a daily task. To trust someone is to know they will tell you the truth. We’re constantly searching for a trustworthy person who has no ulterior motives or behaviors that they hide in the shadows. The writer of Proverbs advises, “People long for trustworthiness; it is better to be poor than a liar” (19:22).

I recently became part of a new community filled with its own preexisting trust issues. It’s hard to walk into a new place with unfamiliar people and not know who you can trust. Everyone has their own agendas and viewpoints, and it’s been a struggle to figure out how to navigate this new terrain as I try to be an example of trustworthiness myself. During this process, Scripture has become a source of strength and direction as I remember that God is truth and God is faithful.

No amount of deception or darkness can overcome the light, but we must continue to actively seek that light. In discussing truth, Volf shares a simple but often overlooked point: “Before you can search for truth you must be interested in finding it.” In order to see Christ, we must constantly look for God’s grace and truth in our daily lives. 

Be sure to check out FaithLink, a weekly downloadable discussion guide for classes and small groups.

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