Thursday, July 23, 2009

Ye Shall Know the Truth (Part 1 of 3)

In C.S. Lewis’ wonderful little book, The Great Divorce, residents of hell are allowed to take a trip to the outer fringes of heaven. There, each of them meets one of the redeemed, who tries to persuade the visitor to become a resident of heaven. Most of them, though, have other agendas more important to them. They aren’t willing to let go of their varying pieces of hell.

One of these visitors is an apostate Anglican bishop. His issue is that he is unwilling to face Truth. In fact, he is unwilling to accept that there even is any such thing as Truth. But even if there is, he is much more interested in perpetually looking for it than in actually finding it. Talking to an old friend of his named Dick about the prospect of acknowledging Truth, he says, “Well, really, you know, I am not aware of a thirst for some ready-made truth which puts an end to intellectual activity in the way you seem to be describing. Will it leave me the free play of mind, Dick? I must insist on that, you know.”

Dick replies, “You have gone far wrong. Thirst was made for water; inquiry, for truth. What you now call the free play of inquiry has neither more nor less to do with the ends for which intelligence was given you than masturbation has to do with marriage.”

In the end, the bishop goes back to hell, where he has a discussion group for the sharing of ideas. He would rather tickle his intellect than face up to Reality.

Our postmodern world is like that. Too many people believe, as an absolute truth, that there is no such thing as absolute truth. The assertion that there is comes across to them as laughable, and the claim to know Truth, as sheer arrogance. It seems to them far humbler, far more realistic, to be forever on a quest, or a journey. In this worldview, we are all on the path toward whatever truths we can discover or create for ourselves, but the path never arrives at “The Truth.” A phrase of St. Paul’s comes to mind: “Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:7).

For the Christian, The Truth = Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ = The Truth (John 14:6). He is God’s own enfleshed Intellect (Logos), the embodied Wisdom of God, the Dayspring from on high Who has visited us (Luke 1:78).

Christ has come and has revealed Himself, the Incarnate Truth, to the whole world. He healed the sick, cured the lame, made the blind to see, ruled the sea, rose from the grave, and appeared to hundreds of people alive and glorified. And then He poured down upon the world the Spirit of Truth, by Whom He still leads us into all Truth.

For us to deny that there is Truth and that we have encountered that Truth is to deny Christ, as Peter did. To deny that there is Truth would also require us to deny the Holy Spirit. For anyone who has met Christ or been led by the Holy Spirit to deny Truth is, in turn, to deny our conscience, to deny our deepest awareness of ourselves, to deny the ultimate meaning of our lives, to tear apart the fabric of our own being, to destroy ourselves. It is impossible.

But isn’t it pretty arrogant to say, “We know the Truth”?

And doesn’t that assertion set up a rather ugly, unloving “we-they” dichotomy, as in we who know the truth and ye who do not?

I hope to explore each of those questions in later posts.


elizabeth said...

Yes. In our culture any claims to truth are seen as suspect. Sad and complicated. I am still working this one out as well.

I think truth is known by its fruits; for years a dear friend's words about Orthodoxy have stayed with me - some he knew who proclaimed the Church as true were the most humble he had ever met.

I look forward to reading Part 2 and 3. Thanks - and I need to read Lewis' book again sometime...