The Hide and Seek of Truth
The internationally televised conversation had reached a point of combustion, and the heated exchange was much in keeping with the rhetoric of the "cold war" that had frozen relations between the two superpowers. The occasion was the downing of Korean Airlines flight 007 at the hands of the Soviet Air Force, and the verbal combatants in this postmortem encounter were Vladimir Posner of Pravda and William Safire, the syndicated columnist.Until this moment there had been a categoric insistence on the part of the Russian journalist that the commercial airliner, though ordered to do otherwise, had continued to keep its lights off. Now, however, the black box had been salvaged and the cockpit conversations told a different story.
"But Mr. Posner," said Safire, "your pilot does acknowledge in the taped conversation that the lights of the aircraft were on." Without hesitation Mr. Posner countered, "Yes, but he was referring to the lights of his comrade's aircraft, which was also hovering over KAL 007. With that simple rejoinder he thought he had explained away the glaring discrepancy.
But Safire, like a predator waiting for the kill, shot back.
"Mr. Posner, let me quote the exact wording from the tape.
Your pilot said, 'Target's lights are on.' Since when does one of your men refer to his comrade as 'target'?" There was a moment of discomforting silence, and as I watched the embarrassment painstakingly enshrouded by political rhetoric, I shook my head in dismay, reminding myself that the word pravda means truth.
Before we curl up in self-complimentary slumber and delude ourselves into thinking that this was an ideological battle ever stained by "red lies," let us awaken to the terrifying proliferation of lie after lie with which modern-day communication clutters our own lives. Malcolm Muggeridge picturesquely described this chronic presence of the lie as a fishbone stuck in the throat of the handheld microphone.
If one were to delve deeper into the blatant discrepancies between the real and the reported in the numerous stories that have made the headlines over the years, the tug of cynicism would seem irresistible.
Mired in this quicksand of falsehood, however, we have just been informed in a recent book that all is not lost, for the title alone brings hope: The Day America Told the Truth.
Authors Patterson and Kim give us a smorgasbord of self-disclosures, sharing the national taste on anything you can imagine. They do not warn us that the book is "adult reading" in all its negative connotations. Ironically, the title itself is a commentary, for it implies that truthtelling came as a 24-hour break in the weather amidst the climatic constancy of the lie.
The question, of course, arises: How do we know it is the truth, since one of the revelations is that 91 percent of us lie regularly? This resurrects the age-old philosophical problem that if a Cretan tells you all Cretans are liars.
Can you believe him? The authors, anticipating this conundrum, reassure us that the guarantee of anonymity held forth the possibility of truth. It was no surprise, therefore, that one leading thinker confessed utter panic after reading this book, saying that if all this be true, "I would like to run and hide in the hills."
A litany of lies how tragic a portrayal it is of our times that our lives are so enmeshed in deceit and falsehood; the lies from the professorial lectern, the lies on the screen, the lies of political rhetoric, the lies of false religions, the lies of promised utopias, the lies of broken vows.
The list is unending, and possibly the greatest lie of all is the lie that somehow, if God had just given US enough evidence, and if He would only turn stones into bread, more people would follow Him. Bertrand Russell was once asked what he would do as a professing atheist if he happened to find out after he died that there was a God. Said Russell, "I would tell Him that He did not give me enough evidence." Russell's theatrical arrogance and imperiousness notwithstanding, the Bible brands that presumption a delusion of the highest order, a risk of the greatest stakes. For the Scriptures remind us that man's problem is not the absence of evidence but the suppression of it.
Jesus' teaching repeatedly focused on the supreme value of truth in defining human nature and destiny. His assertion was that the loss of truth, in effect, trivialized existence and left the sanctities of life open to ridicule and vulgarity. I would like to underscore a few principle ideas He left us on the subject.
No Truth, No Freedom First, Jesus stated that there is no real freedom in life apart from the truth. A life that is built upon a lie is enslaved and on the road to self-destruction. It would do well for us as a nation, and for national leaders, to take note that freedom when severed from truth sets the time-bomb ticking to a countdown of catastrophic proportions. Without the knowledge and practice of truth, there is no *freedom, just an illusion of it.
Truth Is a Person Second, Jesus reminded us that ultimately truth is not merely propositional. It is absolutely personified in God.
"In the beginning was the Word . . . and the Word was God . . . full of grace and truth" (John 1:1). In clear distinction to all other ideas and systems, Christianity stands unique.
The world of religions points to platitudes or paths; the Scriptures point to Christ. In Him alone is the embodiment of Truth. Thus, in seeking the solid ground of existence, we reach out not merely to a teaching but to a Teacher; not only to a salvation but to a Savior; not so much to a path as to a Paraclete; not just for guidance, but to the Guide who is God Himself, for in that relationship we understand reality.
The Skeptic's Question Finally, Jesus Himself stood face-to-face with Pilate and heard him raise the oft repeated and most important question to come down in history: "What is truth?" The context of the question gives a clue to the answer. The religious legalists of the day, ever inverted in their priorities, stood well outside Pilate's residence lest they be ceremonially polluted at this worship season of their religious calendar.
All they wanted was to manipulate the facts and get on with the execution. Pilate, a pawn in their hands, was trapped between the soft whisper of his conscience and the strong voice of pragmatism that said guilt could be washed off in a basin with job security guaranteed.
Exasperated at this predicament inflicted upon him, he inquired of Jesus, "Are you a king?" Jesus, knowing all that was in the heart of man, responded, "Are you asking this yourself, or has someone else put you up to this?" Angered by this intrusion into his inner sanctum of motivational insincerity, Pilate began a momentary exchange. ending with those climactic words of Jesus: "They that are on the side of Truth listen to me." It is most instructive as one rereads this passage to learn a poignant fact about life as it encounters information.
Just as absolute truth is personified in God, so truthfulness is Found in a person before it is found in propositions. Truthfulness in the heart is all indispensable prerequisite to knowing what is true in the world of ideas.
The lie most rampant in our sophisticated academic halls and in bastions of power is that people who live duplicitous lives are somehow interested in the truth. The stark and distressing reality is that if the world were a library and each individual a book, fiction would be coextensive with history.
"You shall search for me and find me," Jesus said, "when you search for me with all your heart." The undertakers of our time, then, have not so much buried God as they have buried Truth. How great, therefore, is the darkness indeed. It is little wonder that our Brave New World is full of hollow people, and the "great abyss" is not merely a nautical term but may well be a word in a psychologist's lexicon descriptive of the endemic fear that permeates our alienated lives without direction or compass. The cold war has ended.
In fact, Posner is now one of America's talk show hosts, a part of the "expert" offerings on television every week. So next time we witness the prowling cameraman with the roving microphone, it will be easier to understand why truth is stranger than fiction, for "we have made fiction to suit ourselves," says G.K. Chesterton. What is more, we can better understand why some would want to hide in the hills, for amid the deafening sounds of human lies, the stones in silence tell the greater truth, making the still small voice more audible.
Here Luther Stood But that is not the call of the deep. I go back five centuries and picture in my mind that day in 1517 when a young monk, clearly recognizing the need of the hour, posted 95 theses on the door of the castle church at Wittenburg. The opening lines said, "Out of the zeal and love for the elucidation of the truth the following theses will be debated." A man impassioned with a non-negotiable conviction of God's Word, Martin Luther took on the world. "The whole world is against you," said a friend. "Put it down," Luther replied, "I'm against the whole world." Four years later the nation waited on edge as the imperial powers, with all their self aggrandizing pomp and selfserving circumstance, tried to get this monk to knuckle under and recant. Luther's reply was historic: "My conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen." He said it first in German and then in Latin. The earliest version added the words, "Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise." The rest is history—the world was changed.
Here We Stand This is our moment, for the lie returns in its seductive allurement in every generation, seeking a fresh perversion.
We had dare not run; we must stand for truth—we cannot do otherwise. It is not in defense of the black box but of the Great Book, which reveals the hearts of mankind and points to the Way, the Truth, and the Life.—