In "post-truth" societies the "father of lies" is having a field-day.
— Miroslav Volf (@MiroslavVolf) November 18, 2016
That phrase, “father of lies,” comes from Jesus in John 8 when he’s describing the devil. We live in a world where “truth” is a relative thing and a matter of experience. We often argue arguing about what it means, and the world often comes to the same pluralistic postmodern response. For many people, the truth is merely circumstantial. Truth is relative. Meaning is something that is up-for-grabs. God is a figment of our imagination.
Certainly truth and meaning are not given to us by God. We give them to ourselves, in the world of social construction. Much of this worldview was handed to us by the existential philosophers. It has affected our society so much, the post-truth syndrome has infiltrated the political sphere and now our leaders aren’t offering us the truth, but just a version of it. It’s not even a stretch to say one might be accused of prejudice if he or she is too “truthful.” Certainly if one assigns truth to God, prejudice will follow. It actually seems that to be truthful is to be biased, ignorant, and narrow-minded. Postmodernism has denuded our idea of truth and meaning. When coupled with capitalism and our latest demonstration of this so-called democracy, one assigns truth to the highest and the loudest bidder.
At best, in the social constructionist worldview, our faith is as much of a social construct as any other sociological category, just needing to be tolerated. The Bible is filled with passages that offer a deeper and better understanding of truth, though. Consider when Jesus says He is the Truth. Or when John writes that, “The truth will set you free.” Christians are truth-tellers, incisively pointing out the reality of the world and Who offers it hope.
Just because we follow the ultimate truth-teller though doesn’t mean we get to tell the truth in any way that we want. Our anger, in a time such as this, can lead us. I think that it’s true that a hard truth, spoken in a rude way, can be very divisive. I’m not sure that means we should hesitate to tell the truth, but rather become masters at doing it. As we master telling truth, though, we have to master love—which Paul calls the greatest of all gifts.
We can’t even tell the truth without love. Like our proverb goes: truth without love kills, love without truth lies.
The trouble comes in a world where love is as hard to come by as truth. I think we are also a “post-love” society. Full of hate, it seems. Not a good pairing, to have hate and lies lead the way. And that’s no coincidence. Without truth, our love is hollow, empty, and full of lies. Without love, though we may be armed with the truth, we can bring rage first. You may be right, but that doesn’t give you the right to express yourself however you want. We might further divide the world and bring conflict, not peace. I wonder if we can “love one another,” like Jesus instructs in John 15. I wonder if we can tell the truth in a loving way, and love people in a truthful way, and that we don’t hesitate to tell the truth, but we do so in a way that can be heard and understood.
Telling the truth to merely rally support and affirmation isn’t good enough. We actually have to use a vernacular that can win hearts and minds. One that is soft enough to convince someone to change their mind. This doesn’t mean we dilute the truth, but we offer it alongside of love. This isn’t just good strategy, it’s the way of Jesus. Three pieces of advice since this is bound to come up during Thanksgiving tomorrow.
- Start with empathy. Try to understand who you want to talk to. Think of your audience; only social media, that audience tends to be sprawling. On Facebook, crystallizing a message and catering it to a certain audience may be impossible—maybe we can also start by putting down our smartphones.
- Find common ground and build trust. Can we actually empathize to the point of beginning a relationship? No one who suspects your motives, or thinks you are just being “holier-than-thou,” will be willing to trust. Without a relational connection, I think our hope of truth-telling may be lost. Jesus did this very thing in his own incarnation (Happy Christmas, by the way!). Part of the common ground is developing the humility to learn from someone different than you. People differently convicted than us aren’t complete fools and they may hold a part of the truth that we don’t see yet. It’s not that truth is non-existent, it’s that I don’t have a monopoly on it.
- Speak for yourself, without casting dispersions. Finally, talk about your experience and your thoughts and your feelings first. You won’t get very far if you summarily make vague accusations. If you want to escalate a conflict, attack someone’s character. But if you want to be understood, represent yourself. Convincing someone they are wrong is a little harder than showing how you’ve come to see the world and follow Jesus.
Don’t let your anger or thirst for justice be the only thing that leads you. May forgiveness, grace, and empathy also. Don’t just offer your friends or enemies death or lies, give them life and truth. This Thanksgiving, pass the gravy and the peace.