When we are asked what is “the truth”, what do we think of? Do we seek to be truthful in everything that we do, or is are there situations where it’s OK to tell a ‘white lie’ (e.g. Corrie Ten Boom under questioning from the Gestapo)?
23:1 Then the whole company of them arose and brought him before Pilate. 2 And they began to accuse him, saying, “We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that he himself is Christ, a king.” 3 And Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” And he answered him, “You have said so.” 4 Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no guilt in this man.” 5 But they were urgent, saying, “He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee even to this place.”
6 When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. 7 And when he learned that he belonged to Herod's jurisdiction, he sent him over to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time. 8 When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had long desired to see him, because he had heard about him, and he was hoping to see some sign done by him. 9 So he questioned him at some length, but he made no answer. 10 The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. 11 And Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him. Then, arraying him in splendid clothing, he sent him back to Pilate. 12 And Herod and Pilate became friends with each other that very day, for before this they had been at enmity with each other.
13 Pilate then called together the chief priests and the rulers and the people, 14 and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was misleading the people. And after examining him before you, behold, I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges against him. 15 Neither did Herod, for he sent him back to us. Look, nothing deserving death has been done by him.
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With Steve Holmes (academic researcher : classical and contemporary evangelical theology)
In the account of Jesus’ trial before Pilate in the Fourth Gospel, Pilate memorably pauses to ask, ‘What is truth?’ (Jn 18:38). It is a hard question to answer, at least for anything that matters.
Facts are easy: Barak Obama was elected president of the United States in 2008; Cambridge is just over fifty miles from London; an electron carries a negative charge of 1.6×10-19 coulombs (approximately!). Truth, however, is much more than facts; truth is (at least) about the meaning and significance of facts. This is what makes Wikipedia – which prides itself on being a collection of facts with no judgement made as to their significance – so regularly misleading. This is also what makes human relationships so difficult: ‘she said…’ Yes, she did; was it a slip of the tongue, a quotation of someone else’s words, an idle joke, or a window on her soul?
And, of course, human relationships matter – far more than dates, scientific constants, or matters of geography. Truth seems most elusive precisely where it is most important to us: ‘what did she mean?’ must always remain an unanswered question; even a window on her soul reveals only a small part of the truth of who she is.
In his reflections on the Narnia cycle (and, incidentally, on Shakespeare’s Othello) in our reading this week, Rowan Williams explores this problem of truth: he has just described (pp. 103-4) an episode in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader where Lucy has illicitly used magic to overhear a friend’s words about her; only when Aslan appears to re-narrate the event does she understand that the facts of what was said are a poor guide to the truth of her friend’s feelings. Aslan alone sees the heart – and Aslan alone is able to speak truth because Aslan alone has no need to distort his report to gain advantage.
Our Scripture text is Luke’s account of the trials of Jesus: in the words of his accusers there are many claims, claims that are factually accurate but untrue; their voices are never silent (v. 10), but they are lost from our ears as the story is told. Pilate twice passes judgement (vv. 4 & 13-14); we also hear of Herod’s eager questioning, and Jesus’ silence in response.
Indeed, with many words thrown around, Jesus is recorded as speaking only once: When Pilate asks, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ He responds with just two words, which might be translated as passive acquiescence, ‘So you say,’ or as a question ‘Do you say so?’ In the maelstrom of accusations and titles, truth appears unattainable, and so the one who is the Truth remains silent.
To hear the truth of any human life – supremely of our own – we need patience to hear a long story, a story that gives meaning and context to such slippery things as facts and titles. It takes four gospels to tell us what it means to say ‘the King of the Jews’ truly; it takes seven books to understand the simple claim that ‘Aslan is not a tame lion’; it takes a whole Bible to enable us to say, in truth, that ‘God is love’.
Lent is a time for repentance: for seeking reconciliation with those we have judged wrongly, mistaking fact for truth; and for reflecting on claims, perhaps particularly claims about God, that could be true, but that we have rendered false by making them too small, too easy.
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1) Think about when you’ve said “s/he said”, and how far you’ve thought about the meaning/context of how it may have been said.
2) Look at Luke 1-15 and consider how Jesus was presented with ‘facts’ but without ‘truth’. How easily is this done?
3) Rowan Williams (p106) refers to Lewis’s ability to give a sense it what meeting Aslan might be like if you have something to hide. “Left to yourself, Lewis says, you will always find good reasons for justifying what you have done. And if what you have done involves damage to another, your justification will bring with it at least some measure of denial of the other’s experience, the other’s reality.” How does this challenge make you feel?
4) Returning to the previous chapter, Rowan Williams (p78) says “The admission of responsibility does not bring punishment. It simply opens up the next stage in a conversation with Aslan that will not move forward until we have forced truth out of our mouths.” What does ‘true repentance’ look like?
5) Look back at p59 of the book, as we looked at ‘Aslan is not a tame lion’ last week. See how easy it was for Shift (the ape) to twist what was a fact, by taking part of the truth – enough to make people believe, largely unchallenged. How do we still see this with modern day spirituality?
Hot) Looking at p.75 of the book, we spend much time & energy looking at others and their failings, and in considering how things could have been. In The Horse and His Boy and elsewhere, when Aslan is asked about others, he replies “I tell no-one any story but his(her) own”. Discuss what that means in our day-to-day lives.
Cold) We often tell ourselves that our lives are difficult, marshalling supportive facts for this. Instead, undertake a thankfulness exercise, writing/drawing/listing the many small things that you have to be thankful for, recognising the ‘truth’ that in western society, we are some of the more fortunate creatures of this world.
To finish with: “God, we pray that we will care for others, and consider the effects that the way that we tell our stories upon them, but not pry into/judge their lives. We pray that we will seek to be truthful, and not just factual.”
1) Pick out a handful of newspaper stories, and seek to ‘read between the lines’ to see where the story may have been ‘twisted’ to gain advantage.
2) Sit in silence for a time that is a challenge for you. Giving yourself ‘headspace’ with no fixed agenda can give opportunities for those truths that we’ve ‘shunted down’ to arise. We can then think about what action those truths require.
3) Read one of the Gospels in full. Consider reading all 4 gospels over Easter. (We’re using Luke here, Mark is the shortest).