What is truth?
Such is the question Pilate, governor of Judaea, posed to Jesus, the very person who shockingly claimed, ‘I am the Truth’.
History is full of sages who have grappled with the notion of truth:
Socrates: Lies are the greatest murderer. They kill the truth.
Buddha: Three things can not be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.
Gandhi: An error does not become truth by reason of multiplied propagation, nor does truth become error because nobody sees it. Truth stands, even if there be no public support. It is self-sustained.
I’ve been pondering truth lately and I’d venture to guess some of you have been as well. No matter where you land politically or what media sources you subscribe to, discerning what is true can be exhausting. You and I may have a different perspective on any given current issue, (and there are an exhausting number from which to choose) but we could probably find a little unity in the fact that we are just plain tired out. We are weary and wary of what the world holds up as ‘truth’. We want the truth, at least we think we do, but often it seems buried, hidden, hard to pin down. As I’ve been reading through 1 Kings, I’ve been both comforted and disheartened to see how the world has always been a tough place for truth.
Fraught with political drama, corruption, and reluctant prophets, 1 Kings ends with evil king Ahab obsessing over a vineyard, a vineyard that belongs to a guy called Naboth who, rightly so, wants to hang on to his property. To acquire the vineyard, Ahab’s evil queen Jezebel writes letters to various leaders and elders, (apparently already corrupt given how quickly they acquiesce) with a plan, to task (probably with a bribe) two ‘worthless men’ to publicly and falsely accuse Naboth of ‘cursing God and the king,’ and then let the mob take over. I confess, I didn’t remember how this story ended and I found myself hoping that God would sweep in and set things right and rescue poor Naboth.
He doesn’t. The horrific plan proceeds without a hitch. The leaders are unified in their corruption and the masses buy the lie. Mob mentality takes over and Naboth is stoned to death. The dogs lap up his innocent blood as it runs down the street.
I know. It’s sickening. The truth doesn’t seem to matter. The truth didn’t save Naboth.
Enter the prophet Elijah.
Ahab and Jezebel already hate him. Ever since the epic battle on Mt. Carmel when the Lord showed himself to be the true God (1 Kings 18), the devious duo has been actively trying to kill Elijah. Jezebel has already killed many of the Lord’s prophets, and now the blood of Naboth is on her hands. Elijah must have been shaking with righteous fury as he proclaims the Lord’s words to Ahab: “In the place where dogs licked up the blood of Naboth shall dogs lick your own blood… and the dogs shall eat Jezebel…”
For a while, nothing happens. In fact, it seems as if Ahab and Jezebel have, quite literally, gotten away with murder. Until they team up with Jehoshaphat to defeat the Syrians. Jehoshaphat suggests they ask the Lord, through the prophets, before engaging in warfare.
Enter about 400 prophets. Go for it, they all say. God will deliver the land into your hands, Ahab.
But Jehoshaphat is suspicious. History has proven that these ‘prophets’ aren’t really prophets at all; they don’t speak the truth. They only say what King Ahab wants to hear. Jehoshaphat asks, “Is there not still a prophet of the LORD here, that we may inquire of Him?”
Enter the prophet Micaiah.
King Ahab hates this guy, too. “I hate him, for he never prophesizes good concerning me, but evil”. (22:8)
The king’s assistants beg prophet Micaiah to go along with everyone else and just tell the king what he wants to hear. And at first Micaiah does. Go and prosper, for the LORD will deliver it into the hand of the king, he says.
But his tone is mocking. Flat. Perhaps it’s a bit like Willy Wonka, played by Gene Wilder, when he says without an ounce of emotion, “Stop. Don’t. Come back.” Words don’t matter when people aren’t listening.
Ahab detects Micaiah’s sarcasm and demands the truth.
So Micaiah gives it to him: “The Lord has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these prophets, the Lord has declared disaster for you [Ahab].”
Talk about going against the masses! 400 to 1 aren’t pretty odds. Ahab and the false prophets can’t handle the truth and Micaiah gets a swift slap by one of his ‘colleagues’. As he’s forced out the door, he calls out one last prove me wrong: “If you [Ahab] return in peace, the Lord has not spoken by me!”
And what happens? Exactly what the Lord, through the mouths of Micaiah and Elijah, said would happen. Defying the odds, an arrow ‘randomly’ strikes King Ahab between the scales of his armor and on the long chariot ride home he bleeds to death and the dogs lick up his blood. In time, Jezebel is pushed out of a window and devoured by dogs. (2 Kings 9:32-35)
Gandhi was right about one thing: Truth stands, even if there be no public support.
The Bible is full of harsh, historical accounts because the Bible tells the truth, even when the truth is ugly. One of these not so pretty truths concerns us, as humans, and our problem with the truth:
The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? ( Jer. 17:9)
If this was the only piece of scripture, this would be plain depressing. If you and I and everyone who has taken a breath is prone to deception, both deceiving and being deceived, what’s a soul to do? Where is the hope? What is the cure?
Enter Jesus. The fulfillment of the prophets.
I am the truth, he said.
He not only spoke the truth, he claimed to be the Truth. Nice teachers don’t say such things. Socrates, Buddha, and Gandhi for all their wisdom regarding truth, they never asserted to be truth.
Jesus did. And this turned the religious establishment on its head. Jesus, who paid our debt with his blood so that all peoples of all nations could be reconciled to God, was loved by some and hated by many. Jesus, The Truth, was mocked, killed, and buried. For three dark days The Truth lie motionless in a cave. But no amount of earth and dust can bury The Truth forever. Lies or deception can’t change what is truly true. And true to his word, true to the prophets, true to the will of his Father, Jesus truly rose from the dead.
A wild, even divisive claim? Yes. But this is the claim on which the entire Christian faith is hinged. Either Jesus rose from the dead or he didn’t. Either he is God, or he isn’t. Either he is Truth, or he’s the world’s most profane liar. The reason why Jesus is the Prince of Peace, and why we as believers can find rest for our weary souls and comfort for our troubled minds is because Jesus is The Truth who sees the hidden places and is sovereign over all things. Even now. Even in 2020.
He is The Truth who sets us free. may we recognize him as the source of truth and rest in his life-changing words: I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)
(To further investigate the resurrection, check out The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel)