Speaking of Truth

For Christmas, my friend gave each of his grown grandchildren a book on Christian faith. He hoped they would read it; he communicated how important he believed this matter to be. One of his grandchildren wrote back, very thoughtfully but sadly. He admitted that every time he received his grandfather’s Christmas letters, which inevitably communicated about faith, it made him feel bad. He was unsure what message his grandfather meant to convey. If it was a matter of ethical living, then implicitly he felt judged as not good enough, whereas he believed that he was a good person. If, on the other hand, his grandfather was concerned about religion, didn’t he understand that there are different ways? He didn’t hold it against his grandfather that he was a Christian; why should his grandfather hold it against him that he wasn’t?

It was a classic misunderstanding, endemic in our era. Faith is understood to be about ethical living or about spirituality. It’s almost unimaginable that faith has anything to do with truth. That it might be a matter of urgent news.

David Brooks gets at the same concern in a recent column in which he writes of meaning. Meaning goes beyond material success or happiness, and is undoubtedly a proper object in life. But the quest for meaningfulness has devolved into a warm feeling devoid of meaningful standards. You get meaningfulness from doing something that you deem meaningful. There is no lesson for anybody else. You couldn’t argue about the right way to find meaning. You could only share what you find meaningful.

My generation of Christians certainly has contributed to this state, for we have communicated a message that is fundamentally individualistic and utilitarian. We have not said: we must answer to the God who made us, who has revealed himself in Jesus. We have said: come to faith, you will feel better.

As C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity, God is humble enough to take us on our own terms. If our motives for coming to him are selfish and short-sighted, he welcomes us nonetheless. That doesn’t mean, however, that there are no consequences for speaking of the gospel as though it were centered on our desires.

Does Christian faith makes you feel better? Does it teach you ethics? Yes and yes, but only because it announces truth. This truth is that we did not make ourselves but were created by a Power and a Personality to whom we owe gratefulness, if nothing else. Furthermore, that Power has shown himself. He has indeed offered to be in relationship with us. And so we can find peace with our very nature and with the nature of the universe of which we are part. And so we can know how to live meaningfully.

A Roman governor in the first century asked, “What is truth?” That’s a difficult question, and always has been. But it’s something even grandparents and grandchildren can discuss.

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3 Responses to “Speaking of Truth”

  1. Lesley Van Dordrecht Says:

    I am reminded of so many of us who encounter difficulties when faith DOESN’T “solve” our problems, and creates more theological dilemmas, or when our God apparently, mysteriously, acts with a “severe mercy.” If God is God, there are difficult realities to face. However, that such a Sovereign loves us is the ultimate GOOD NEWS.

    Thanks, Tim, for pointing us to David Brooks’ good essay, and helping us make it our (Christian) own. It is a “terrible thing to fall into the hands” of a God who, as you say, “Made us and has revealed himself in Jesus.” Especially terrible if one ignores the truth revealed, or hides it in oneself, in a small, Gollum-ish “Precious” way! But not to have fallen into These Hands is a much worse, sadder, and empty fate!

  2. Bill Reichert Says:

    Very insightful, Tim. Many, of course, say that the faith doesn’t make them feel better, from which they conclude it must be untrue, or at least unnecessary. I always emphasized truth first to my kids. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that they are still Christians as adults.

  3. David Graham Says:

    Some things stay the same, others change. No doubt it IS endemic to our modern era that (especially in the west) faith is understood to be about ethical living or about spirituality, rather than truth. On the other hand, well over a century ago, William James pointed out that “If a creed makes a man feel happy, he almost inevitably adopts it.” Almost four centuries ago, Blaise Pascal pointed out that ““People almost invariably arrive at their beliefs not on the basis of proof but on the basis of what they find attractive.” So happiness has been competing with evaluation of truth claims for quite some time. This is especially evident in the history of eastern religions, where truth claims have long taken a back seat to mystery, spirituality, and balanced living.

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