Socrates once said, “Sin is ignorance.” Meaning, if only people understood the “way things really are,” they wouldn’t do the wrong thing. We do bad things because we don’t know any better, we don’t know “the Truth.”
Now, Christians are often vocally opposed to Socrates’ statement. They say that sin is a heart problem, not a head problem. They point to Scriptures like James 2:19 that says “19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder” or to Matthew 4 where Satan himself quotes Scripture to Jesus. The point is well taken. It seems that even if we have the right information (that is, the “truth”), that doesn’t mean we act on it. Yes, the problem seems deeper than ignorance about facts.
And the opposite is also true. I was raised on inspiring stories about missionaries who only had 1 torn and faded page of the Bible yet were leading thousands to discipleship. In those stories the implicit message was clear: you don’t need all the correct information about God to be used by God.
Both of these seem to point to the reality that knowing the “Truth” is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for transformation. So my question is: why does the Church often hold “Truth” as the goal of Christian practice & witness? This again seems a great irony.
Our structures and rhythms seem to operate under the impression that the real problem in our world is a lack of accurate information about God. Our Sunday morning worship gatherings have their climactic moment in the delivery of accurate information about God. Our public debates on abortion, gun control, immigration, and gay rights revolve around batting information back and forth to each side, as though convincing people of my arguments is the best way to go about the problems we face. As Evangelicals, our “witnessing” to people is about delivering accurate information about God to another person. Christians on the progressive side seem to think that the real reason why people are leaving the Church is because of conservative theology. And conservative Christians seem to think that the real reason why people are leaving the Church is because of liberal theology.
Am I saying that truth isn’t important? Of course not. But I am saying that it’s not nearly as important as our structures and rhythms as a Church seem to make it. Yes, truth is important. But it’s not the goal. Yes, truth is helpful, but there’s more to it than just that. Often, “the truth about God” replaces God, becomes an idol that replaces God.
In my mind, we could learn a lot from the scientific community, learning to treat the truth as a means to a much greater goal. Scientists don’t care if their theory gets trumped by a better one. Why? Because the goal isn’t to find “the way things really are” as though that in itself will bring change, but to get as close to “the way things really are” as they need to in order to find a cure for this disease, help people eat healthier, live longer, etc. They use truth for some other purpose.
As such, sometimes we blow right past the opportunities we have to make disciples of Jesus, to build bridges between denominations of Christians, or to transform our communities, on our way to make sure people understand the truth, as though the understanding itself will make disciples or transform communities. My contention is that our obsession and idolization of truth leads to division, disunity, and arrogance, rather than unity, humility, and community. May we lay down the idol of truth and learn to trust the Truth.