When I consider all the hell that has been unleashed in the name of "truth," it is easy to understand how some people are unnerved by the very idea. The Crusades. Witch trials. Segregation. All had their prophets claiming to represent the truth.
Perhaps these sad reflections on history offer some explanation for why our culture is so truth-averse. The postmodern philosophy that reigns on college campuses today tells us that truth is defined by communities. What is true for my circle of friends may not be true for yours. Thus no one can say his way is the true way, and to suggest otherwise is to offend the god of tolerance.
It is impossible to understand Jesus or his teaching apart from the reality of truth. To believe in Christ is to believe everyone else should, and that they would be far better off if they did. And lest anyone think this is the work of fanatics who have hijacked the faith, consider what Christ himself said: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6, TNIV). “I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am he, you will indeed die in your sins" (John 8:24, TNIV). Let’s face it. Jesus said some things that are hard on our culturally sensitive ears. And the disciples who followed only echoed their teacher. “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given under heaven by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12, TNIV).
One might object, “But that’s so narrow-minded! If those statements are true, then there is only one truth! How intolerant! How arrogant!” And I confess I have felt the same. I have known the struggle of both believing and resenting what Jesus says. Jesus himself anticipates the trouble when he says, “And blessed is he who does not take offense at me” (Matthew 11:6, NASB). But there is no way around it. Jesus said what he said.
Suppose Jesus was telling the truth about himself. How do I embrace what he said? And how can I expect others to embrace what he said? I think the problem is not as difficult as it seems. Over two thousand years, we have retained the words of Christ but have lost his heart. When Jesus says, “I am the only way,” what is his motive? Is he a despot bent on stamping out the competition? Is he a master of religious bigotry? Does he thirst for power like a scraping politician? Does a truly humble person proclaim himself the only way to God? I can only offer an analogy.
If a doctor tells me I have only one chance of a cure, only one medicine that can save my life, what is my response? Do I resent his assessment? Assume he lusts for the control he holds over my health? Think him a medical bigot for refusing to consider the possibility of other remedies? Or do I bless him for his help that has saved my life? Thank him for showing me the only hope I have?
Why would Jesus say things that can be precieved as culturally offensive (and surely they were no less offensive in his day than in ours)? Because he is the good doctor. Because he knows better than his patients what is best for them. It was Jesus himself who said he came for the sick, not the healthy. Jesus said what he said because he loves! In fact, if Jesus had kept his silence, knowing we had only one hope of heaven, then he would be a most unloving God. His concern for us prompts him to say tough things. His compassion does not permit ambiguity. He will not risk being misunderstood. He will love the truth, and bid us love it.
For those of us who have accepted Jesus’ message, we need not shrink from telling the truth. There is no need to hold back or water down what Jesus said. No need to sand off the rough edges or in any way lessen the sting. To do so is not compassion, but a monumental act of unlove.
Second—and this may seem to be at odds with what I have just said—we must be careful what we say and how we say it. We must be sensitive to the honest skepticism of others. And we need to remember that with Jesus came truth, but also grace. Before we ever speak a word of truth, let us make sure our hearts are so filled with love that the motive behind our message is clear.
For the soul who finds all this truth talk hard to swallow, dare to ask honest questions. Is it really logical that truth does not exist? Why do I discount the claims of Christ? Do I even know what they are? What if Jesus did get it right? Have I dismissed Christ because I believe he is not the person he claimed, or because I fear what it means if he is?
Make the necessary distinction between truth and truth-bearer. We rightly expect people who believe something to act in accordance with that belief. But we are all terribly imperfect, and that guarantees there will be failures. At such times it is important to remember that I am the contradiction, not God. I may have proven myself a hypocrite, but I’ve proven nothing about God.
Finally—and this is for us all—Jesus holds out a promise to those who will take his dare. He says, “Anyone chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own” (John 7:17, TNIV). Jesus seems to say that if we really want him, we need not worry about finding him. He’ll find us.