Truth is Life
I. Last Sunday, at 7:30 in the morning, a family of six set out on a mission to serve God. With bombs hidden in their clothes, the father, mother, sons and daughters parted in three separate groups. They had listened to their spiritual teachers. They had devoted their lives to their God and to the betterment of humanity, as they saw it. With such zealous intentions, each stepped into a Christian church. One by one, the bombs ignited. 13 were killed. 40 were injured.
“An hour is coming,” Jesus Christ told the disciples, “when those who kill you will think that by doing so they are offering worship to God. And they will do this because they have not known the Father or me” (John 16:2).
You need only turn on the news to learn about religious terrorism. This family in Indonesia is anything but unique. Christianity is persecuted all over the world by similar, pious radicals. Christians in the Middle East, parts of Africa, and communist nations, take for granted the risk of worshipping together. Christ’s commandment to “die to self” means a wholly different thing to people outside of first-world countries.
The boys were aged 16 and 18; the girls were 9 and 12. What were the parents thinking? How can we understand this kind of behavior? It’s very easy, actually. In St. Paul’s words, they had a “zeal for God, but not according to knowledge” (Romans 10:1-3). He described his own behavior in a similar light. Before his conversion, he too hunted down Christians with eagerness, all ‘for God’s sake.’ But his knowledge of God was incomplete. He believed, but he believed falsely. The family in Indonesia believed too, and they also believed falsely.
II. Truth matters.
Nowadays, it’s rare to find someone who takes truth seriously.
There’s a lot of talk about compassion, as there should be. There are a lot of soup kitchens and charity wards. Tolerance and equality are on the lips of everyone. Though you won’t learn it in public schools, the Church has been the forerunner of social justice in every period of history, including ours today. This is all good and noble.
But you don’t hear many people talking about Truth. Dogma and doctrine are old-fashioned. Even their mention makes a Christian blush in a public setting. If you grew up in the south you’ll be able to picture a dinner conversation about the gospel that becomes rather heated. Voices rise. Hands fly up. Eventually, someone says, “Why can’t we just get along?!” Truly, we should be able to get along, but not at the expense of Truth. No one can deny that we do, sometimes…oftentimes…get caught up in trifles. But does that mean we jettison it all?
Truth be told, truth does matter. All ethics are grounded in doctrine. Every action begins with belief.
When I went to school in Santa Fe, I discovered an interesting pattern. I came to realize that the people who were most opposed to dogma were often the most dogmatic. Secularists and feminists alike were quick to dismiss ‘antiquated doctrines’ and immediately pontificated their own modern doctrines. We forget that human rights, equality, and tolerance are not written in the clouds. These too are doctrines. Not everyone believes in them. In a post-Christian society, we take for granted that one ought to love one’s neighbor. In other societies (far from here, thank goodness), people take for granted that one ought to eat one’s neighbors. If a relativist encounters a cannibal, you can be sure he or she will convert quickly. Truth matters.
III. Here’s another story.
In the sixteenth century, the radical preacher Thomas Muntzer led a peasant revolt in Germany. Muntzer was passionate and silver-tongued, and had gathered a huge following of devotees. On the morning before battle, Muntzer inspired them with the heartiest speech. God was on their side. Whosoever followed him would be unscathed by their enemies’ weapons. The peasants were exhilarated and ran forward in shouts. The result was a catastrophe. Six thousand died in battle, and six hundred were captured. Truth isn’t relative. Truth matters.
IV. But let’s bring this to our own lives.
We said before that the Church is persecuted all over the world. But we’d be fools to turn our eyes to the persecution close to home. We aren’t locked away in Wichita Falls, Texas, for being Christian. It might come to that one day, and if our country doesn’t repent we should expect it. But the persecution in America is much more subtle, perhaps more destructive. The Church is attacked in the guise of ideas.
From one direction, the message is pumped through our television shows: moral relativity, indiscriminate affairs, tolerance to everything but traditional values...We soak in the spirit of the times like a frog in a pond. We never even realize the change in us until we hear our own voice repeating the same message.
From another direction, that message trickles down from the enlightened academia. Professors dismiss Christianity with a casual wave of the hand. I remember the day I heard my religious professor say Jesus never claimed to be divine and the resurrection was merely symbolic…while the students took notes and applauded. Just the other day, I spoke with a professor in town who informed me: “there is evidence to believe the historical Jesus lived 150 years before Christians date him.” Why there’s more evidence for Jesus Christ than any figures in ancient history. You might as well say Thomas Jefferson was born in Renaissance Italy or that Benjamin Franklin was a Turk. But today, we are eager to find any evidence, however slight, which runs against traditional thinking.
We’ve lost the ability to think. Or at least, we’ve stopped caring enough to think.
V. I spend hours every week discussing life with people from various denominations and worldviews. I like to hear what people think and why they think it. But if you ask most people to defend their position they almost always retreat and say, “Why, but that’s what I believe.” It almost feels like a personal attack to ask someone to justify his thoughts. This is just as common in Christian circles too. Each man or woman defines truth as he or she wants to, as though what someone wants has anything to do with truth.
Jesus Christ didn’t say, “Believe whatever you want. Truth doesn’t matter. Just be nice and get along.” Our Lord and Savior said, “I am in the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). The Orthodox world was scandalized when the bishop of Rome declared himself infallible. One pope is bad enough. Today, nearly every Christian believes he’s infallible. Nearly every individual deems himself a pope.
As Christians, we ought to be utterly concerned with this question: What is Truth?
VI. “An hour is coming,” Jesus Christ told the disciples, “when those who kill you will think that by doing so they are offering worship to God. And they will do this because they have not known the Father or me” (John 16:2).
So where is the truth?
The Gospel is clear. “The Church is the pillar and foundation of truth” (I Tim. 3:15). Jesus Christ promised the Church that the Holy Spirit would guide it “into all truth” (John 16:13) and at His ascension promised them, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations…teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:18-20). And this is exactly what they did. “As they were passing through the cities, they were delivering the doctrines which had been decided upon by the apostles” (Acts 16:4). They taught us Christians, in St. Paul’s own words, “to stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by epistle” (2 Thess. 2:15).
The moment we became Christian we gave up every right to be an arbiter of truth. Our opinions about truth don’t really matter. They were never worth much anyway. Truth is handed to us by Jesus Christ, through His body, the Church.
“Tradition is witness of the Spirit…the Spirit’s unceasing revelation and preaching of good things,” Fr. Florovsky used to explain. “To accept and understand Tradition we must live within the Church, we must be conscious of the grace-giving presence of the Lord in it; we must feel the breath of the Holy Spirit in it…Tradition is not only a protective, conservative principle; it is, primarily, the principle of growth and regeneration.”
The road to hell is not paved with good intentions. The road to hell is paved with no intentions. It’s paved with indifference. It’s paved with apathy. If you ignore truth you will lose everything. If you seek truth you will find it and it will save you.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.