This weekend, Christians around the world will celebrate Resurrection Sunday, a memorial of the day Christ rose from the grave as depicted in the gospels. Already, my social media feed is filled with images of crosses and caves with boulders rolled aside, most imprinted with a verse from the gospels.
One, particular, struck me: “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” – John 8:32
Truth is a thorny subject. It became the unspoken centerpiece of the 2016 presidential election, as voters on both sides questioned the truthfulness of the opposing candidate. Terms like fake news and alternative facts have become pop culture fodder. But 2016 was hardly the first time truth came into such scrutiny. Controversial subjects like climate change, 9/11 conspiracy theories, President Obama’s birth certificate, and even whether God exists or not have all been battlegrounds for truth in ways that most of us are probably very familiar with. More recently, ideas like whether the earth is flat or not have become new battlegrounds for truth.
In any argument, there is only one truth. There can only be one truth. Truth is absolute, it’s immutable. The sky is blue, grass is green. Yet, because truth exists, doesn’t mean that any side of a given argument even knows the truth. So, you get facts or quotes taken out of context, you get data manipulated, you have both sides digging in their heels to be right.
In court, whoever is on the side of truth is supposed to win. Sometimes, though, someone becomes so good at lying because they don’t want the truth to come out that everyone around them believes the lies. And then those people dig their heels in to support the liar. And in cases like that, the liars have power. The more they lie, the more power they seize for themselves.
It’s particularly infuriating when the liar-in-chief tries to pull off some kind of religious superiority, particularly in a role of Christian leadership, seeing as the Bible says all liars go to hell (Revelation 21:8) and that the devil is the father of all lies (John 8:44). Either that person doesn’t actually believe the Bible and they’re using religion as leverage to get what they really want — power, manipulation, money — or they’re too crazy to know what the truth is. Either way, they’re not fit for leadership, whatever role they’re claiming, whether it’s missionary, pastor, evangelist, or Sunday school teacher.
It’s interesting that Jesus says to his disciples that they will know the truth and the truth will set them free in the same chapter of John that he calls the devil the father of all lies, isn’t it?
For fuller context, here’s what Jesus says in verses 43-45: “ Why don’t you understand the language I use? Is it because you can’t understand the words I use? You come from your father, the devil, and you desire to do what your father wants you to do. The devil was a murderer from the beginning. He has never been truthful. He doesn’t know what the truth is. Whenever he tells a lie, he’s doing what comes naturally to him. He’s a liar and the father of lies. So you don’t believe me because I tell the truth.”
Who, exactly, is Jesus talking to here? The most religious of His day. In fact, in John 8:3 calls them “experts in Moses’s teachings and the Pharisees”. The chapter opens with Jesus teaching in the Jewish temple — the most holy place in Judaism. These religious leaders brought a woman to Jesus who had been caught in adultery, thinking that Jesus would condemn her and allow her to be stoned. Now, imagine, what was the motive here? To disrupt the teaching that Jesus was doing? To bring death into the most Holy place in their religion? To try to trick Jesus on some procedural error?
Imagine a modern church where a woman caught in the act of adultery — maybe she’s naked, maybe she’s in lingerie or a bathrobe — is dragged in front of everybody for judgement. Imagine the chaos, the confusion, the outrage.
The religious leaders brought Jesus a woman who should have died under their religious law. On any other day, in any other occasion, she would have been stoned to death. Yet, she was dragged to this holy place and presented to Jesus to pronounce judgement upon her and instead, Jesus writes on the ground and commands the person there with no sin to throw the first stone. Eventually, all these accusers leave. It’s just Jesus, his students, and the woman.
In John 8:10-12, Jesus asks her: “Where did they go? Has anyone condemned you?”
The woman answered, “No one, sir.”
Jesus said, “I don’t condemn you either. Go! From now on don’t sin.” After this, Jesus launches into a verbal assault on the religious people around him.
Imagine! The woman, caught dead to rights in her sin, released without so much as a verbal scolding, only the admonition to sin no more. And the religious people who thought they were so perfect, scolded ruthlessly. In the midst of scolding the religious, John 8:30-32 records this: “As Jesus was saying this, many people believed in him. So Jesus said to those Jews who believed in him, ‘If you live by what I say, you are truly my disciples. You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’” When the religious people asked Jesus how He could say that, he responded in verse 34: “Jesus answered them, ‘I can guarantee this truth: Whoever lives a sinful life is a slave to sin.'” And then things take an ugly turn. The chapter ends with these same religious people picking up rocks to stone Jesus, after letting the woman caught in adultery leave.
Could it be that Jesus dared to tell people that they should live by what He said, not what the experts in Moses’s teachings and the Pharisees said? For those people, in that place, on that day, Jesus’s words challenged the whole paradigm of their life. And they did not like it one bit.
I mean, think about it. You had this woman dead to rights and whatever Jesus wrote on the ground and whatever authority he carried when he said “Let whoever is without sin cast the first stone” was so powerful that they let her go. Yet the same people pick up stones to kill the same Jesus who persuaded them to let the adulteress go.
People like to distort the truth. Distortion gives them power. Truth brings freedom, but it also destroys the power that comes from lies. Those who have built their power based on lies will do anything to prevent the truth from coming out.
Here’s an example of what truth can do. When an elephant is a baby, handlers will chain it up to a stake in the ground. The baby elephant is too small to pull the stake free. Eventually, it stops trying. When that elephant grows up, it can be held in place by a stake and a chain. The truth is, that elephant is big and strong enough to yank that stake up and go wherever it wants, but the elephant doesn’t know that truth.
What Jesus told those people was the equivalent of telling them that they can yank up the stakes that were holding them in place and go wherever they wanted. Instead of being grateful, they became enraged. They refused to believe the truth Jesus told them. They couldn’t recognize the truth.
How does one recognize the truth? That’s a philosophical question that could go on for days.
In industry, the key to recreating the same part time after time is to reduce the amount of variation in the process. Put another way, simplicity creates consistency. The same can be said for truth.
People are becoming intoxicated with the idea that they’ve discovered some long-hidden truth that’s been kept from the world. Anyone who finds such hidden truth is special, unique. Better than everyone else. It becomes a matter of pride.
For example, one who believes that the earth is flat and the idea of a round earth is part of a complicated conspiracy going back hundreds of years that involves the complacency of all the governments of the world will feel as though they’re free from the lie of a round earth. They will feel as though they’ve been liberated from the Matrix, that they have special knowledge and that they must be special themselves because they rejected the lie of round earth. When confronted with arguments such as, “What about pictures from space?” they will argue that NASA is fake and all those pictures are forgeries. When asked “How can someone fly or sail around the world?” they respond with special maps that “prove” their claims or, in some cases, deny that such world crossings are even possible. When asked what keeps the water from falling off the edge, they’ll respond that there’s an ice wall — and if asked why no pictures of the ice wall exist, they’ll claim that soldiers are stationed on the ice wall to prevent anyone from getting close enough to take pictures of it. And on, and on, and on it goes.
Why do people believe these things? Because it makes them feel special, and the idea that they’re special becomes so engrained into their core personality that they’ll do whatever they have to in order to protect it. Lie, or willingly believe lies. Destroy the character of those trying to help them. Attack anyone who presents any argument they don’t want to believe.
How solid can any claims that require a vast, complicated conspiracy in order to be true really be? Occam’s Razor says that the simplest explanation is usually the truth.
Truth is like gold. It can be used to cover lies made of lead. One has to know where to find truth, how to recognize it, and how to filter out everything that’s not true.
And our feelings can be our worst enemies. Things can feel true when they’re not, and truth can feel lie lies. We have to move past our feelings and find some concrete, absolute, rock-solid foundation upon which to weigh truth.
Sometimes the truth means realizing and admitting that we’re wrong. Sometimes the truth means giving up power we have over others. Sometimes the truth has consequences we don’t want to face. Sometimes, people love their sin too much to stop lying and embrace truth.
When you know someone is lying about something — anything — don’t believe them about things they claim are true. If someone will lie to make themselves look better, they’ll lie to gain control over others. They’ll lie to manipulate and take from others. They’ll lie just for the fun of it. Jesus said they’ll lie because they’re under the influence of their father, the devil.
When we live in lies, we know it. It’s like a fog that permeates everything. We can’t shake it off, we can’t see past it. We just know and we can either chose to ignore it and pretend everything is okay, or we can look for the source of truth.
Truth is very precious and rare. Sadly, it’s not rare because of vast conspiracies. It’s rare because of human nature. When Jesus said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free”, He’s promising a life free from sin, free from lies and the manipulation of those who tell lies. He’s promising that we will know truth when we hear it. And, perhaps, He’s promising a resurrection of our own lives — that once we embrace the truth and live in the truth, we can start over again, freed from the lies that held us down before.
On this resurrection weekend, it’s important to look back at what Jesus did on the cross, but it’s also important that we renew our commitment to do what Jesus asked of His followers, to obey Him, and to live by the truth of what He said, not what other people have told us is true. It’s a personal journey. Too many people are content to let others tell them what Jesus said instead of finding out for themselves.
Also published on Medium.