Arriving at the Truth
In the eighteenth chapter of the Gospel of John, we read of a verbal exchange between Pilate and Jesus that ended thusly:
"You are a King then?" said Pilate
Jesus answered, " 'King' is your word. My Task is to bear witness to the truth. For this I was born; for this I came into the world, and all who are not deaf to truth listen to my voice."
Pilate said, 'What IS TRUTH?"
(John 18: 37,38)
Given the variety of truths claimed in the Name of Christ, this ancient rhetorical question of Pilate's would almost seem to be a premonition of what Christians must ask themselves in this day and age; especially, when it comes to truth.
We cannot begin to discuss what revelation is, until we define what truth is, or, even if there is any such thing. Some philosophers argue that even reality is not truth, but merely an illusion of some sort. For our purpose, we will accept that reality is truth, but that reality is always distorted by perception, which is ultimately influenced by knowledge, culture, and personal experience.
We can assume by Gospel accounts, where Jesus emphasizes the priority of his personal example and his outrage toward hypocrisy, that Jesus' definition of truth was: to live what you proclaim. This idea of truth being manifested in the reality of the way we live is very important to a theology that is striving to be truthful and responsible. In the first place, we must reiterate that words cannot be, of themselves, the truth. The truth to any word is in the actualization of that word symbol into reality.
For example, for one to say that they can fly an airplane doesn't make it the truth. If they have the expertise, then it might be the truth. But the only unmistakable way we know for sure that they know how to fly an airplane, is if we have experienced their flying one. Another way to look at this is, we understand what the word water symbolizes, only because we relate it to the reality of the existence of water. Words are only words, which are merely symbols that express a reality or actualization, which is the real truth of the symbol. If there is no reality or actualization, then the words are nothing more than an abstraction, which may, or may not, represent some truth that the words are symbolizing.
This idea of actualization is even more important when it comes to God's revelation than any other aspect of truth as we experience it. Too often, those proclaiming "God's Truth" fall far short of the standard that they are proclaiming as the truth.
In the first place, it would seem most logical that God would not ask more of Her creation than it was capable of doing; at least not if we consider God to be just. It should therefore follow, those proclaiming the word of God, should also be setting the example of how we might implement that word in the realities of our world. If such is not the case, than we must seriously question the validity of their claims.
Responsible theologians will strive to set the example as to the practical application of their speculations. It is not enough to reason their pronouncements; they must demonstrate the practicality of their teachings. Ideally, in the actualization of their opinions in their lives; and short of that, at least with empirical data that is relevant to the world in which we live.
This also brings to question, those who claim the Bible is the written word of God and then ignore much of what is written in it - as the ancient laws of the Old Testament for example.
Such logic takes us back full circle to the concept of the literalization of Scriptures as truth, as we discussed in the last chapter. Such cannot be the case, for if such were the truth, than the entire content would need to be truth. That includes the dietary laws of the Old Testament, the economic laws, and the social laws. It would include laws like:
Execution for a child who strikes his parents. (Exod. 21:15)
Execution for Blasphemy (Lev 24:16)
Intercourse banned during a woman's menstrual cycle (Lev )
You should not plant fields with two kinds of seed (Lev )
Don't cut your hair or shave your beard (Lev )
Do not eat meat with blood in it (Lev )
And while many sects do not cite these laws, claiming God has somehow rescinded them, they still cite others from the same text claiming them as their authority. For example, quoting Leviticus for the moral authority of their position on homosexuality (although Christ never mentioned it). Or, that you should not believe in fortunetellers, or that you should not tattoo yourself.
We are not addressing the moral
application of such laws here, but rather, the concept that if one word of the
Bible is the Written Word of God than the whole thing must be. This would also
imply that God sanctioned slavery at one point (Exodus ). That natural bodily functions like
menstruation or wet dreams are unclean (Lev ,16). That God ordered the Jews to slaughter
a whole people and steal their cattle, burn their cities, and allowed the men
to keep the virgins for themselves (Numbers 31). It
means that God gave us three different versions of the Commandments (Exodus 20,
Exodus 34, Deuteronomy, 5). It means that women could be construed as not being
in the Image of God (I Corn: 11:7-9). It means that even the youngest of
children in Sodom and Gomorrah were evil in the eyes of God, as there was no
one outside of Lot and his family that were worthy to be spared. It means that
If the Bible were the written word of God, it has to be entirely the truth. If that is the case, all these implications and questions which must accompany such truth are justified. Looking to revelation in Scripture, or any other source, for the literal truth, will give us nothing but contradictions and misinterpretations.
Responsible Theology will recognize that God's revelation is not about declaring truth; it's about the manifestation of truth in reality. "My task is to bear witness to the truth. For this I was born". Jesus' witness took the form of everything he did in life through his interactions with people. His examples of compassion, forgiveness; or his reaching out to the sick, the poor the homeless; his self-sacrifice, self-denial and lack of egotism; his non-violence, his simple life style - these were all the testimony of the truth of his message. It is his actions that cry out to us from these ancient tales, and without those actions the tales would be meaningless. Jesus could stand before Pilate and define truth by saying: 'It is what I live.' Too often, we are spending so much time pursuing the Divinity of Jesus; we are losing sight of the importance of his humanity. The stories in the Gospels are not about the Divine, they are about Jesus the man, a point so often lost by theology and religion. A point that when lost takes us away from truth into a world of empty words.
Human beings want to believe that God so loved us that he gave His Son. Nevertheless, no matter what we believe about Jesus, no matter how we feel about the Redemption, if we ignore the TRUTH of his message (the reality of what Christ lived): we miss the point of his coming. We miss the point of salvation, however we might define it. We can proclaim any belief in words, but our actions are the real truth of what we believe. We cannot proclaim to believe in Jesus if we do not hold ourselves to the standards he set for himself. In fact, it would do us well to remember these words of Jesus which are every bit as applicable today as when they were spoken:
Why do you keep calling me 'Lord, Lord' - AND NEVER DO WHAT I TELL YOU
Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: 'This People pays me LIP-SERVICE, but their heart is far from me: THEIR WORSHIP OF ME IS IN VAIN for they TEACH as DOCTRINES the COMMANDMENTS OF MEN."
And so this can be the testimony of any Revelation: the truth becomes what is done with it. We can use the Revelation of God to further the causes of justice, equality, and love; or, we can use it to divide ourselves and judge each other. A Responsible theology must ask - which seems to be more like God? We can use Revelation to promote the concepts of charity, brotherhood, peace, tolerance, and advance the human relationships in a world ever decreasing in size; or, we can use it to declare ourselves self-righteous, persecute those who do not meet our standards, or encourage isolation and division in our societies. We can use God's revelation and see God's symbol as expressed in all reality; or, we can try to literalize it, and thus, remove the Creator from the creation. We can hang on to God's revelation to better our world for the love of God; or, we can hope and pray that God create a paradise for us.
Responsible theology must ask, which of these choices seems to be responsible? Which of these choices are logical? And which of these choices would seem to be closer to truth as it would be expressed in the reality of our world? Which of these uses might seem closest to the one God might have intended?
Another factor entering into truth equation is the interpretation or individualization of the particular truth. If truth becomes experience or actualization, then in reality, even if the truth is universal the approach to it may differ from person to person. For Example: Snow is a truth under our definition because it is an actualization of nature many of us experience. But what we do in the snow; how we feel about it; has to do with how we perceive it rather then its truthfulness. If we like to ski, the snow will provide us with opportunity, excitement, and make us happy. If we drive a school bus, it might make us apprehensive, fearful or even cause us to loose a day's pay.
When we get into emotions and religion, this perception has an even greater effect upon truth. Like snow, love is something many of us experience so we might say it is a truth, but few of us would define the experience in the same way.
It is here that responsible theology will have its most difficult problems, and it is because of this that dogma and literal interpretations become totally irresponsible. If we think about our example of love, it can be every bit as destructive as it can be positive. An overly possessive or jealous person will manifest love in completely different ways then a person who might be filled with compassion. This is why the "truth" of any revelation can only be presented in symbol or metaphor; so, when we are told to love we also might have a standard by which we can individualize the concept presented. The example given by the inspiration doesn't become the literal truth, but, more of a metaphor of an abstract concept, which we can use in an individual way to actualize the abstract. The inspirations such as in the Bible do not contain edicts for living, but examples of how we might approach life. They are metaphors to help us change our perception, which is what all that revelation can ever be about.
Despite what our theologies have told us, the principle message of the Gospels themselves is its message of salvation through loving one another. If we read the words of Christ without all the theology and Pauline influence, they can be read no other way. But Jesus offers us no edicts on how to love; rather, he sets an example. Now, this doesn't mean we have to imitate Christ verbatim; but rather, that we see what he did and try to adapt those ideals and concepts in our own individual way. It is only in this manner that the words of the Gospel become truth.
So the truth of revelation, be it the Gospels, or metaphors from the Old Testament, or in Eastern Sacred writings, or in a myth, a poem, or another form: is in the actualization of the concept that might be presented. It is up to theology to help us understand the concept presented in a manner which is most beneficial to us as individuals, balanced by its affect upon others. Responsible theology cannot declare truth; God's, or any other, but it can help us actualize the symbolisms expressed in the inspiration. It can help us look with a bigger scope so our perception does not become so narrow that we lose sight of the concept. Responsible theology needs to shift the emphasis from belief in the revealed word to an encouragement of the actualizations (individualized according to the diversity) of the concepts within those words.
In much of the present religious structure, the words are what become sacred, and thus, the truth unto themselves. We compound this ideal with an ideal that our words are sufficient to be the truth. Thus, we can profess to believe: we can say we are sorry: we can proclaim Jesus the savior of men: we can preach the "Word" to one another - but we really do not have to FEEL and LIVE the concepts behind what we say. There may be Christians who argue this, but given the message of the Gospels and the proclamations of belief in Christ, many of the social injustices we see should not exist. For example, if the message of Christ were actualized, there would be far less starving children. Christians in both church and the society would fight for equality, justice, and the elimination of dire poverty. In order for the Gospel to be truth in our societies every Christian owned business would pay decent and fair wages; would refrain from deceptive advertising; and would be concerned about the health, safety and the living conditions of their employees. A truly Christian society would be every bit as concerned about the standard of living for the already born as much as they are about the rights of the unborn. If the Gospels were lived in truth, we would be responding to the needs of each other instead of merely praying that God take care of things. We need to recognize that God's help is essential to our being, but at the same time, we must be careful not to project our personal responsibility upon Him.
And while all these things we stated should happen, responsible theology will realize there is no one set of rules which can bring them about. Laws and edicts cannot make them happen, for the root of truth ends up in the human heart -not in the declarations of men. The power of faith is not in our testimony; but in the change of heart that is necessary to actualize the faith in the reality of what we do. The job of theology is to help us see our personal responsibility in creating a real truth from inspiration instead of offering us projections and excuses (words) to avoid it.
If religion is to make a difference in the twenty-first century, it must quit emphasizing the importance of "words" which often seem so devoid of meaning in our societies of today, redirecting people toward the meanings and actualizations represented by the words. Our prayers to, our beliefs about and our worship of, God, are not in what we say. What we do to one another speaks the volumes of our prayers. The way we treat each other and world God placed us in, is the truth of our beliefs. And, our lives as we live them are the worship of our Creator.
As we move forward with this text, especially this chapter, we will try to offer advice as to possible meanings to the universal messages from all scripture. But no matter how correct these interpretations might be in what they postulate, the only truth contained in this text is in the actualization of the concepts by individuals. Theology that declares truth is irresponsible. Responsible Theology must help men make truth in themselves, for if it fails at this, it has no truth!
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