An advertisement for a trip to Yellowstone National Park

“What is truth?”

Pilate did not seem to know. Jesus did.

I have been thinking a lot about truth these last few weeks. Reading quotes on websites and in newspapers and listening to people suggest the “sky is falling” have caused me to think about how truth is influenced by context and speaker bias.

Sometimes we tell the truth that isn’t true. I love the old quote from Scripture (three different verses): “And Judas went out and hanged himself. Go thou and do likewise. What thou doest do thou quickly.”

Of course, we chuckle and know phrases have been pulled from different contexts and stringed together in a way that doesn’t really tell the truth. Each phrase is “true” in its own context.

Yet, taken together and put in the same quote they tell a story that is profoundly wrong. Just because all the details are accurate does not mean the whole is correct.

Every time I talk with a newspaper reporter, I have this feeling the story will tell the truth without being true. Accurate facts or quotes say nothing about whether the story has truthfully represented a person’s opinion or fairly presented the essential parts of a story.

Sometimes one detail changes everything. Often when we describe a situation or a story, we get one thing wrong and it makes all the difference.

A local newspaper in Virginia ran a front-page story about a man who had been arrested on a felony charge, with a picture of the wrong guy with a very similar name (same first and last name, but a different middle name).

So a Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond student’s picture shows up on the front page, with the other guy’s story.

One of life’s great challenges is presenting the critical details to provide a balanced picture of reality. Frankly, we all do poorly at this critical function. “Our view” tends to leave out import “details.”

Sometimes the truth does not matter. Are you a half-full or half-empty glass person? Personally, I’m not sure I have ever seen a glass half empty; I am an incurable optimist.

I’m amazed at how many people jump to conclusions before they know a single fact. Even when you show them facts, they have trouble embracing what most of us would call reality.

Of course, this is not revelation for ministers. Ministers of all stripes struggle with people who look into the sun and say, “So where is the light?”

It’s really important to know yourself – all your fears, trauma, anxiety and stories from yesterday – because it’s really hard to embrace truth if you live with a false sense of self.

In the end, truth will set us all free. I have heard it all my life: “Pastor, that new program will not work.” “We cannot raise that much money.” “That is a really bad idea.”

I still remember the conversation with a church member in December 1999: “Now pastor, we know all computers are going to stop at midnight December 31, 1999.” His thought (along with a lot of people at the time) was that changing the calendar to the year 2000 would throw every computer in the world into a tailspin.

Well, Jan. 1, 2000, told the truth: Computers still worked fine; maybe it was a miracle!

In due season, truth will be revealed and we all will know if we labored in vain. Until then? Give it your best shot.

Ron Crawford is president of the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. This column first appeared on his blog.

Share This