One of my professors at Wheaton, a pastor who taught part time, had just completed his Doctor of Ministry degree. His project was titled “Truth or Truthfulness.” It was my first introduction to systems theory which seemed way above my head at the time. His thesis was that the modern church has mastered the art of speaking the truth while avoiding being truthful in its relationships. The gospel requires the church to be a truthful expression of what it means to be alive in Christ. It is not enough to speak the truth we must live the truth. A couple of years after graduating I heard the he had an affair with his secretary and left his family. Truthfulness must be more than a theory.
I learned about truth from my Dad. Although he never verbalized the concept, he taught me that the essence of truth is integrity. This first dawned on me helping him with building projects. “Son, I need a 2X4 out of that stack. Make sure it is true.” I asked what it meant for a 2X4 to be true. He explained that it was straight, didn’t have knot holes, wasn’t broken, and was the same thickness and width all the way down. It was a true 2X4.
For my Dad truth was the defining characteristic of an honorable man. “Son my Pa always said, ‘if a man lies to you, you had better watch him. If he lies to you he will steal from you.’” Truth and truthfulness are inseparable. Integrity is the union of word and deed consistent with image and thereby exposing character. My dad was a true gentleman, with emphasis on “man.”
In my undergrad Greek class I discovered another flavor for truth and truthfulness. For the ancient Greeks truth, like for my Dad, was an ultimate good. Truth is that which conforms and expresses that which is real. Truth relates to aesthetics (beauty), ontology (being), and ethics. The word for “truth,” alethea, was sometimes used to convey “beauty.” That which is beautiful is that which reflects the good, the ideal, the really real. Before Cheryl and I got married I asked for a commitment that we would name our first daughter Alethea. She is a beautiful woman, true to her name.
There is of course an even better definition for truth. Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” Truth is a person, the person who brings grace, direction and life. Truth is God giving Himself to His creation. Thus truth can never be reduced to an idea or abstract concept. Neither can it be properly described as the absence of duplicity, deception and lies. It is always relational, always dynamic. Truth is the power of God establishing righteousness.
My grandfather was right. Liars are thieves. They steal, kill, and destroy, if not literally, relationally. Deception not only misleads the deceived, it robs him/her of the truth and reduces the capacity for fulfillment. But the truth sets us free; it empowers us to fulfill the beautiful design of God for His creation. I am thankful for the truth, the Truth incarnate, the truth revealed, the truth that overcomes darkness. Truth and truthfulness are inseperable, Truthfulness is but the evidence that the Truth abides within.
March 17, 2010