The Truth About Truth
A leading Christian thinker, Dr. Perry Downs, is known for an important but surprising quote: “Truth-telling is an act of violence.”
Regarding violence, anyone who has ever been victimized and that has suffered the resultant trauma knows its resonant results. It is like the proverbial pebble which causes a disproportionate effect– rows of ripples that circumnavigate far from the point of impact, long after the rock has settled in the silt below.
In this sense, violence forever affects those it touches. It should not be confused with a momentary, punctiliar event… violence is the initiation of an altered and completely re-arranged reality for all those it touches, be it directly or indirectly. Violence changes people’s lives. Some of that change is painful… and some of it, ultimately, can bring redemptive meaning and hope.
Now back to the central idea– truth.
Truth-telling can be a blunt object. I’ll never forget the words of a physician to me in the winter of 2006 when my mother was ailing in a Knoxville, Tennessee hospital. “Freddy, your mother is dead.” No mastery of language could ever help me communicate the thoughts and emotions I experienced in that moment. The statement, however true, was horribly blunt. Cold. Hurtful. Awful. That shows what is meant by the violence of truth. That statement forever affected my life and the lives of so many others.
The death of my mother caused profound hurt, but as the gaping wound has slowly begun to heal, God has used it to bring ephiphanies and moments of meaning that, apparently, I would have been unable to perceive otherwise. Does that mean that mom’s passing was ‘for the best?’ I don’t know if I could ever utter such a thing– it seems inconceivable. But since death is an irrevocable and necessary evil since the Fall (Genesis 3), the meaning and insights I’ve received are at least a modest consolation. And, at least for my mom, this discussion is academic. She wouldn’t return even if given the chance. If that’s good enough for her, it’s good enough for me.
With these broad and sketchy ideas strewn about, I return to my original concept. The Violence of Truth.
Jesus said, “I came to bring a sword” (Matthew 10:34). The truth of God, like violence, affects everything. It impacts people to different degrees, depending on their proximity to it. The effects of truth continue on and on. Truth alters and dictates reality. And though it can be painful, once it does its important work, truth brings intuitive insights and meaning. For those reasons, however painful truth sometimes is, knowing it is better than ignorance– because only the truth can set us free.
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