The Message of Truth

      Comments Off on The Message of Truth

Throughout the month of August, we’re taking a close look at 23 verses of the New Testament.  They comprise Ephesians chapter one, which paints one of the Bible’s most comprehensive pictures of what it means for ordinary people to be “in Christ.”  
In 1996, the United States Air Force published a paper describing the technological possibilities of controlling the weather.
It’s a decision they no doubt wish they could take back. 
Conspiracy theorists immediately floated the idea that the contrails streaming behind commercial jets aren’t water vapor condensation, but are actually “chemtrails” – toxic, mind-altering chemicals being deliberately sprayed on unsuspecting human populations by an unidentified governmental agency.  The airline industry found this notion to be ridiculous.  And they said so.  Their denials only deepened the convictions of chemtrail believers.  “They know the truth, and now they’re trying to hide it.” 
A few years later, the internet exploded with alleged photographic proof of the nefarious plot.  Conspiracy buffs posted photos of the interior of a jetliner.  The cabin was filled with large metal barrels, each of which was ominously connected to a long tube.  This was the evidence everyone had been seeking.
Aircraft designers patiently explained that the picture was innocent.  It depicted a standard test to evaluate jet performance.  Those were barrels of water, intended to simulate the weight of passengers. 
But as Mick West explains in his book Escaping the Rabbit Hole, many people found that explanation unconvincing.  West – who happens to be the world’s best-known chemtrail debunker – knows that even the presentation of rock-solid facts doesn’t always have the capacity to open closed minds.
The power of social media to rapidly disseminate ideas has made the first decades of the 21st century the golden age of conspiracy theories.  Old conspiracies have gained new life, such as the widely held belief that multiple shooters took down JFK.  The moon landings were faked.  The earth is flat, and the government is covering this up.
New conspiracies have rocketed to center stage.  Entire websites are devoted to the notion that the 9/11 terror attacks were an inside job.  The auto industry is hiding the existence of a car that runs on water.  Jewish satellites equipped with laser beams started last year’s devastating forest fires in California. 
Make no mistake: There really are conspiracies out there.  Key leaders at Enron conspired to manipulate their accounting procedures.  The Reagan administration conspired to hide international deals that were expressly forbidden by Congress.  LBJ managed to turn a questionable incident in the Gulf of Tonkin into an acceleration of the Vietnam War.  Subsequent investigations helped uncover the truths behind those chapters of history. 
But the danger we currently face is the growing sense that “truth” itself is an outdated idea, and that we live in a post-truth society in which facts have lost their relevance.
Near the beginning of the movie The Matrix, Morpheus offers Neo two pills.  If he takes the blue pill, he can go back to his boring, predictable, phony life.  If he takes the red pill, his mind will be opened to the reality that nothing is as it really seems.  He can “see how far the rabbit hole goes,” a reference to the reality-bending journey of Alice in Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland books. 
“Just remember,” Donald Trump once told a crowd during his presidency, “what you are seeing and what you are reading is not what’s happening.” 
If we lose the bedrock confidence that we can actually know what’s going on around us, then Christianity will be standing on wobbly legs.  Paul makes that clear in verse 13: “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation.” 
For followers of Jesus, truth matters. 
At the simplest level, we need to know whom we can trust.  If I am paying to have my roof repaired, I intend to hire someone who knows what he’s doing – not someone who believes in roofing with all of his heart.  We want money managers who know how to invest wisely, not men and women who have some interesting hunches as to how the market might perform next year.  
In the Bible, trust in God is always based on actual knowledge.  Biblically, there’s no such thing as a leap of faith.  Real faith is a commitment to action based on real knowledge of God and God’s ways.  And that is founded on “the message of truth” that Paul advertises in this verse.
It’s worth zeroing in on the verb that Paul uses: “when you heard the message of truth…”
In a contemporary Western culture like ours, “hearing” is chiefly a function of the ears.  I hear a sermon and think, “Those are interesting ideas that I should try to remember.”  I hear my doctor recommend that I should start exercising and lose some weight.  I say to myself, “I’ll take that under advisement.” 
Things were different for the Hebrews in Bible times.  Hearing was virtually synonymous with obedience.  “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one…” begins the most important prayer in all of Judaism (Deuteronomy 6:4-5).  It is called the Shema, which means “Hear.”  To pray the Shema is to affirm that God is God, and we are not.  Jesus declares, “My sheep hear my voice” (John 10:27).  That means far more than the registering of sound waves on the ears.  To hear Jesus in this context means to affirm that he is the Good Shepherd, and that I must run to him right now for security. 
When Paul tells his readers that they heard the message of truth, he means that they took it in and made it part of their life.
Lee McIntyre, a philosopher at Boston University and the author of Post-Truth, emphasizes the difference between skepticism and what he calls denialism.  Skepticism is healthy.  When someone makes a claim, we should pause and ask, “Is this really true?”  Skeptics who ask honest questions and are willing to do the hard work of discernment are often on their way to meeting Christ.
Denialism, on the other hand, is “really damaging,” according to McIntyre.  It’s “the idea that if you don’t want to believe something, you don’t have to believe it.”
A practitioner of denialism doesn’t have to listen to aviation experts.  “I know the real story.  Those are chemtrails.”  Denialists don’t have to believe public health experts, journalists, Bible teachers, scientists, intelligence agencies, election officials, or preachers.  They’re all selling something.  It’s all fake news.   
Denialism is becoming an acceptable approach to reality for millions of people. 
Trust in the truthfulness of truth, once it’s lost, is hard to restore.  McIntyre, for one, wonders if such trust will ever return to America’s public square. 
So where is our hope that future generations will always be able to “hear the message of truth”? 
It’s deeply rooted in God’s strategy to reveal himself to the world.  Physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer famously said that the best way to send a message is to wrap it up in a person.
God’s good news is wrapped up in Someone you can actually meet – the One who calls himself the Way, the Truth, and the Life.