In 2016, the Oxford Dictionaries word of the year was “post-truth,” because that’s when the word began showing up in multiple articles about political movements in the United States and Europe. The official definition reads: relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.
In a post-truth world, feelings trump facts, and personal subjectivity matters more than objective reality. Six years later, we’re swimming in post-truth cultural waters and trying, with increasing difficulty, to hold society together when even basic agreements over the nature of truth and reality become contested.
The paradox of fallen humanity is that we both love and hate the truth. We long for the truth, as beggars hungry for something of substance, even while we despise the truth, as mini-tyrants who chafe at any notion there might be someone or something that exerts authority over us. Our longing for truth leads to the easy embrace of lies.
Why do we resist the truth? Because deep in our souls is the desire to be the masters of our own destiny, and truth too often gets in the way. Truth stands outside and above us. Truth doesn’t bow the knee to our preferences, no matter what Orwellian language we adopt, euphemisms we deploy, or pronouns we insist upon.
As John Webster wrote:
“The truth about the world is something over against us, something that we cannot subdue. Truth cannot be commanded; instead, it commands us. It forces us to acknowledge that the world and we within the world are what they are, independent of us. Truth blocks invention; when we reach the truth, we reach the limits of our wills. And it’s because truth is that kind of barrier against us that we have to find ways of circumventing it. We have to flee from the truth.”
In today’s world, we see two common strategies for fleeing from the truth.
Strategy #1: Relativize the Truth
One way we circumvent the truth is by relativizing it based on our experiences. That’s why we hear a lot these days about “speaking your truth” or “living your truth,” as if the word “truth” is now just a synonym for “perspective” or “experience.”
Yes, we should make room for sharing our perspectives and recounting our experiences. But if our tendency is to adorn “truth” with adjectives like my and your, and never the, we’re violating the very definition of “truth” to begin with. “Truth” is what’s right regardless of time, situation, or circumstance. It’s as valid for the young as it is for the old, for today as it is for yesterday.
Furthermore, when we think about truth in exclusively personal terms, we miss the adventure of seeking and finding something beyond the depths of our heart. The greater adventure comes when you find something beyond the realm of my perspective and your experience—truths we didn’t invent or adapt to suit ourselves, but truths we discovered, to which we adapt.
Strategy #2: Spin the Truth
A second way of fleeing from the truth is by massaging the truth until it no longer poses a threat to the way we want to live.
And so, we turn the truth to our own ends, instrumentalizing it for our purposes. We spin words until the truth serves our own kingdom-building projects.
In a social media–dominated world, image is everything. Perception is reality, we say, except that it isn’t. And the more we replace substance with show, the more vulnerable we are to the lie that truth can be massaged and managed, safely kept at a distance from our day-to-day choices.
Christ the Truth
Christianity rejects any attempt to relativize or spin the truth, just as it rejects any proposal that would reduce truth to a law, an image, a proposition, or some objective force in nature without reference to God. Christianity confronts us with a Person, the One who claims to be the Truth, not just one truth of many, but the living embodiment of the truth we seek, the One who is the foundation for all other truth.
In a world full of illusions, under the sway of the Evil One—the father of lies—the Son of God witnesses to the truth. He unmasks all human pretension, sounds the death knell for hypocrisy, and exposes the forces of destruction that wreak havoc and spoil God’s good world. His words shock. His voice awakens. He comes to save sinners who, in varying ways, are both deceivers and deceived. The Son does not bear false witness, but by the power of the Spirit displays the glories of his Father.
Jesus of Nazareth is the Truth who gives life. And this Savior speaks and has spoken through the Word that bears testimony to his identity. “Sanctify them in the truth,” he prayed for his disciples; “your word is truth” (John 17:17). This is the truth that sets us free.
Bear Witness to the Truth
To carry the name of Christ is to bear witness to the truth in a world bent on believing lies.
- We bear witness to the beauty of the imago Dei in every human being, no matter their ethnicity, age, country of origin, or social status.
- We bear witness to the sacredness of all human life, including growing life enclosed in a woman’s womb.
- We bear witness to the goodness of the created order, opposing the wanton destruction of God’s good earth just as we stand against philosophies and ideologies that do harm to male and female bodies under the guise of “inclusivity” or “freedom.”
- We bear witness to the truth when we call political parties to account for their pretensions and falsehoods, no matter how noble their causes might be.
- We bear witness to the truth when we submit our scholarship to the beauty and authority of God as the author of Scripture, even when it’d be easy to wriggle out of the Bible’s difficult commands and become, in the words of Kierkegaard, “kissing Judases”—followers who betray Christ with an interpretation.
- We bear witness to the truth when we seek to sort truth from error—refraining from slandering brothers and sisters in Christ and from spreading falsehoods like fire through our lips in conversation or our fingers online.
No Post-truth World
Bearing witness to the truth can be exhausting in a world that piles lie upon lie. But Alexandyr Solzenhitsyn was right: One word of truth outweighs the entire world.
Falsehoods will fall. Reality will resurge.
The Oxford Dictionaries may have made “post-truth” the word of the year in 2016, but there’s no such thing as a “post-truth world” or a “post-truth society.” There are only those who ignore the truth and those who seek to bring themselves in line with it. And so, more than ever, we must pray for the grace to bear witness to the truth of Christ with the love of Christ, with faithful hope in an outcome secured by the Savior whose heel crushed the father of lies.
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