Ugly Truth


God loves us as we are, but loves us too much to leave us as we are. If we can handle it, the truth will set us free.

In the movie A Few Good Men, we get the iconic line from Colonel Nathan Jessup (Jack Nicholson) under cross examination in a trial by Lieutenant Lionel Kaffee (Tom Cruise): “You can’t handle the truth!” The phrase jars us even as it resonates. In John’s gospel, Jesus taught that we would know the truth and the truth would set us free. However, herein lies the challenge:  Truth can set us free, but we can’t always handle the truth!

What does that mean? An old preacher used to say that God cleanses sin, not excuses. Yet as I study the human condition, I find that excuses are our specialty. When someone is caught in some wrong doing, when we are exposed in a hypocrisy, when facts speak for themselves, we often find elaborate (and contrived) rationalizations or denials:  “You don’t understand...” “It was more complicated...” “They brought it on themselves...” Or, as we find in the first book of the Bible, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree.”

I have read many books on the Nazi period and those who seemed unable to come to terms with the evil to which they contributed. I have recently been reading a book by Jean Francois Revel exposing the intricate webs of truth avoidance by the French Socialists and Communists in regards to the evils by and under existing communism. Men and women of eminent credentials, from significant educational institutions, employ the most mind-bendingly, silly arguments to justify evils committed under their preferred system, whilst simultaneously demonizing those of their clearly defined enemies. We don’t need to look to foreign countries or history for example; there is always recent evidence that this is a human issue, and not a political, racial, historical or geographical one.

It is not a pleasant thing to contemplate, but it is real:  this self-justifying mechanism, this denial system, this hidden factor that makes me quick to judge others for infractions against me or my view of morality, but which equally quickly grants allowances, justifications, rationale for my own failings, errors or wrong doings.

When Jesus said that we would know the truth, part of this truth is that we would know ourselves. That is, who and what we are, that something is indeed wrong, that something is wrong with us! We need help, we need healing, we need something to intervene in our lives to address the broken aspects. Sin is the biblical condition named to define this issue. The Greek word often used is hamartia, which means to miss the mark, as when an arrow misses the target. Something in space and time has happened that has disrupted and disordered reality. Though we often see the truth and maybe even at some level want the truth, we indeed cannot always handle it—at least, not without grace.

On the contrary, Jesus knew what was in men and women. He came as God’s means of renewal and redemption. He came as light, and he came as the door to another kingdom where light, life and hearts are exposed. As the door, a way is opened to new life, and Jesus beckons, “Come unto me.” So, where are you today? Making excuses, justifying behavior, rationalizing attitudes, or seeking grace to be different? God loves us as we are, but loves us too much to leave us as we are. If we can handle it, the truth will set us free.


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