There’s a Bible verse that some self-identified Christians love to recite when the mood is right: “The truth will set you free!” These folks draw the words like a weapon, a sort of Word Sword used to shut down an argument they fear they’re losing. When they have nothing left to counter someone’s point, there is always the pious promise that, “Well, one day you will know the truth. And. The. Truth. Will. Set. You. Free.”
But does it always? If the answer is an absolute, no wiggle room “Yes, always!” then tell me what truth, exactly? And free from what, exactly?
First let’s be honest. It’s not really your freedom from anything that concerns these kinds of Christians. (It’s like the Southern “well, bless your heart,” which, in case you’re not Southern, usually is not really meant as a blessing.) It’s more like a mic drop. A Christian high-five. A victory lap without the victory. When someone uses this verse as proof that they are right about anything, I have a hard time hearing what they say afterwards.
Oh sure, we all say we cherish the truth. We want it. We need it. Truth matters. The whole truth and nothing but the truth so help us God, truth. But do we rejoice when the truth is revealed and it’s our own lie that’s exposed? We’re voyeuristic when wanting the curtain pulled back so we can shame the nakedness of others, but when it turns out to be our own nude selfie behind the curtain we recoil and cover ourselves with fig leaves.
The Age of Nefarious
Here we are at the dawn of a new year and I can’t help but reflect on the absolute weirdness of the last year (actually, the last two), especially in my country. Our opinions are now more important than facts. Truth is what we want to believe, even if we have to close our eyes and plug our ears in order to defend lies that have become important to us. Truth that stands in strict opposition to our sacred opinions is not a mechanism for freeing us but an obstacle to be overcome.
Truth exposes and opposes. And that’s what it always does, regardless whether it sets us free.
We have a tweeting snake-oil salesman who claims there’s a border crisis when his own agencies report otherwise. We also have a large evangelical bloc that not only believes him but worse, they believe in him. They use the Bible to cover him and excuse their own naked, white nationalism. The truth of Jesus’s command to love our neighbor because God is love, is an obstacle to their fear-fueled hate. The truth does not set them free. It corners them until they finally turn defensive and come out biting.
All of us can justify anything we want to justify. Christians are particularly good at this game of throw-downs because, you know, the Bible is ripe for cherry picking. Today’s evangelicals can draw a Word Sword in a single eye-blink and slice through facts like the mighty Brienne of Tarth.
Some Christians argue with Jesus himself.
Yes, they do.
And when they say they don’t, ask them:
Do you love everyone? (And by “love,” I figure Jesus meant, you know, love. Not tolerate. Not peacefully ignore. Not live and let live. Not love the sinner, hate the sin. Not “in Christian love” or “spiritual love.” Just plain but extraordinary love.) Do they welcome the stranger, the foreigner, the “other”? Do they feed the hungry without demanding proof that they deserve to be fed? Do they call out injustice and hypocrisy or do they defend them? Do they care about the least of these or demand drug tests and a job? Do they believe in grace for all or do they fling Bible verses like Chinese stars?
Do they live in the Kingdom of God or the kingdom of man?
These are hard truths and I don’t claim that they are always easy to consistently and persistently live by, but they do not free us from anything. In fact, they obligate us.
Yes, Jesus is recorded as having said “the truth will set you free.” But context matters. John 8 in its entirety matters, but even if we only look at verse 32 we still see something profound and precious beyond a Word Sword.
“If you hold to my teaching, you are truly my disciples,” Jesus said. “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
It’s not enough to hear the truth. We hear truths every day that we reject. It’s not even enough to know the truth. We reject that, too. In fact, take a second look at what Jesus said and notice that knowing the truth is not the first step to being “set free.”
It’s an if/then proposition. If we “hold to” (accept, follow, obey) what Jesus taught, then we will know the truth, then it will set us free.
As for free from what, I’ll leave that to you to read and discover.
What do you think?