“Then Jesus said to those Jews which believed on him, if ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (Jn. 8:31-32).
There is a long tradition in the Christian Church in which ministers of the gospel delivered sermons that were directed to kings and governors and judges. Moses preached to Pharaoh. Jeremiah was called by God to preach to nations and kingdoms. Paul preached to a number of Roman Governors. John Calvin dedicated his Institutes of the Christian Religion to the King France. And you can read whole collections of sermons from early American preachers full of messages to the governors of the colonies.
So, Mayor Lambert, Counsellors Bettge, Kelly, Laflin, Sullivan, Taruscio, and Zabala, this message is respectfully for you. The Bible is clear that Christians owe magistrates honor and obedience in the Lord. And the Bible is equally clear that we are to pray for all who are in authority, and this is with the goal that we may lead quiet and peaceable lives in all godliness and honesty. I have had the pleasure of meeting only three of you, but I want you to know that you have all been in my prayers, especially recently.
An Ocean of Opinions & Feelings
My message for you today is fairly simple, but it has enormous ramifications. It’s sort of like gravity – once understood and formulated, you realize it affects everything. And the message is based on a question that I believe has been pressed upon you all in recent days. It’s a question many rulers and officials have asked over the centuries, especially in moments of uncertainty and crisis. In fact, it’s inscribed in the Bible, in the mouth of the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate when Jesus was on trial before him and a mob had gathered. The question is, “What is truth?” I imagine you all have been asking yourselves and one another that same question in the midst of this coronavirus crisis. We all have. What is truth? Are the data models being circulated true? How bad is the virus? How quickly does the virus spread? Are the numbers we are seeing true? Can it be treated? Can it overload our hospitals? What is truth?
I can only imagine what you have been through over the last number of weeks. I can only imagine that you have received more input from your constituents than ever before. No doubt, you have received advice, counsel, pleas, denunciations, theories, angry outbursts, maybe even worse. And my message for you is that the only way forward, the only way out of this mess is the truth. Jesus said, “if ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (Jn. 8:32).
But in order for truth to set you free, you must know what truth is. And unless the answer to that question is something firm and fixed, something that does not change, something that goes all the way down and reaches all the way up through all of reality, you will always be adrift in a story sea of opinions and preferences and emotions.
For the last fifty years or so, our culture and universities have declared that truth is whatever you want it to be. Whatever is true for you, is true for you, and whatever is true for me is true for me. We call this relativism or subjectivism. Everyone is their own sun, and their truth, their story, their reality is whatever they choose to make revolve around themselves.
But what you are finding is that this theory simply doesn’t work in the real world. No doubt you have been bombarded with many truth claims in recent days. Many citizens have no doubt been sharing their realities with you – with varying degrees of correspondence. But what you are no doubt finding is that these various claims to truth are competing and in many cases in direct contradiction. The pressure is on you, and the fact of the matter is that you cannot make everyone happy. Right now you have many business owners and freedom loving citizens upset, and when the isolation orders are lifted you will no doubt have many who are upset because the threat is still in their opinion very grave. But the fact of the matter is that the coronavirus cannot be both likely to kill hundreds of thousands of Americans and likely to only kill tens of thousands of Americans. The coronavirus cannot be likely to overrun hospitals and not likely to overrun hospitals. One of those is true and one is false. Or some other fact is true and both are false. You have been and are being forced to take sides, to choose which claims you find more plausible, more likely to be true. And this is because truth is by its very nature fixed, firm, immoveable.
Truth does not vary from day to day. Truth does not change. It is the same on Monday and Wednesday and Friday. It is the same this year and next year. Our understanding of truth can certainly change. We change. But truth does not change. Two plus two is four all of the time.
But in order for truth to be true there must be a bedrock that it rests on. That bedrock is what we call reality. This is why we say that someone who denies basic arithmetic or gravity is in the process of denying reality. And this is why we say that reality doesn’t care about our feelings. Reality doesn’t care what we believe. You can believe you can fly with all your might, but flapping your arms wildly and jumping off the roof of your house cannot change reality. Gravity doesn’t care.
But you cannot insist on these bedrock facts without also insisting on their origin. Where do bedrock facts come from? Where does truth come from? One of the root causes of our relativism – claiming that truth is whatever you want it to be is the theory of evolution. You cannot hold that absolutely everything in the universe accidentally came from nothing, and then by millions of years accidentally mutated and adapted into being andhold simultaneously that truth is fixed and changeless. You cannot hold that everything has changed and then arbitrarily decide that something cannot change.
If evolution is true then “might makes right” and “survival of the fittest” really is the only law. To say we evolved into caring about the weak or caring about truth doesn’t matter. Who cares? Maybe one of the more enlightened protoplasm once thought that they were the height of evolution too. But if evolution is the law, evolution doesn’t care. Mutation doesn’t ask for permission. Mutation doesn’t care about love or justice or mercy. It really is random and arbitrary, mindless and heartless.
Is There a Law-Giver?
So this is my message for you. And it is in the form of a question: What is truth?
And there really are only two options. Either there is no such thing as truth. Everything evolved, and therefore everything is an accident and meaningless mutation. Or else there is such a thing as truth because this world was created. It was designed. And therefore, it has meaning because it was meant. There are laws of nature because nature has a law-Giver.
And this is not something that is a particularly religious opinion. This fact, this truth was permanently etched on the history of our nation in the Declaration of Independence, which states that sometimes it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve political bands and to assume a separate and equal station, which the “laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” entitle them to. The Declaration of Independence acknowledges that Nature has laws and that Nature has a God. That was part of the basis for America deciding to declare independence from Great Britain. The same document closes by stating, “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the Protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”
And so the question that ought to occur to us occasionally is: What were the founders of our nation actually relying on? When they risked their lives in declaring independence from Great Britain, were they actually relying on a real and true thing, the “Protection of Divine Providence,” or would it have been just as true for them to say they were relying on cotton candy, pink balloons, or the Easter Bunny? Is what they wrote true? And if you say it was true for them, then you might as well say it wasn’t true at all. It doesn’t matter if they had warm fuzzies in their belly when they wrote it, if it isn’t really true. It doesn’t matter if they felt deeply about it, if it isn’t really true. Remember the one who believes very deeply that he can fly by waving his arms wildly while jumping of his roof. Reality doesn’t care about our feelings. It only cares about what is real, what is true. So again, I ask you, what is truth?
The Truth-Teller Meddles
Logic and sound reason say that truth, for it to be true, must actually correspond to reality and must be as firm and unchanging as reality, and therefore, reality must have an intelligent and intentional origin. If there are laws of nature that are true, then nature must have a law-Giver. Or, if there is truth that is firm and fixed, then there must be an ultimate Truth-Teller.
And so we come to point: the only way through the fog of human opinion, the only way through the storm of prejudice and preference and paralyzing fear is with the truth. If everything is just flux and mutation and change, then everything is just emotion, opinion, and it doesn’t matter. But if truth – true truth really does correspond to reality, then truth really does out. Truth really does matter. There may be a storm, there may be uncertainty, but it really does pay to be as close to the truth as possible. The truth really does set you free.
But this really is the terrifying thing about truth. Truth is not arbitrary or selective, and truth cannot be cordoned off in a special room for special circumstances. If you decide to embrace Truth, not just true-for you, scratch-and-sniff truth, but true truth, you should be prepared for the fallout. And it really is a wonderful fallout, but it’s also quite bracing. It’s the only safe place to be, but it will not stop with Covid-19 or the laws of nature. And what I mean is that if you embrace Truth, you must be willing to tell the truth everywhere, and in everything. And this really is the central offense of truth. It’s why people, for all their lip service to truth, really don’t prefer it at all. Everyone is fine with truth-telling so long as is it doesn’t get personal, so long as the Truth doesn’t get to meddling. But the Truth does get to meddling.
How can you say you believe in truth when it comes to gravity or mathematics or logic, but when it comes to whether you have always told the truth, you won’t have it? But there it is anyway. Have you always told the truth? To your parents, to your employers, to your spouse, to your children? Will you embrace the Truth or not? Or how can you say that you want to know the truth about Covid-19, but you do not want to know the truth about whether an unborn baby is really a human being? How can you say that you want to know the truth, but you are not really interested in knowing anything about the Maker of the Universe, the Creator God?
The Jesus who said that truth sets us free, is the same One who said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except by me.” It really is an extraordinary claim, an exclusive claim. Many people say that they think Jesus was a good, moral teacher, but very few of them wrestle with this claim – that He is the truth, and that He is the Way, the only Way to God. That same Jesus was crucified on a Roman cross for all our lies. He was betrayed for all of our betrayals. And He rose from the dead in order to make all things new.
George Washington once said “It is the duty of nations and as well as of men to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God … and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history: that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord.” George Washington said nations are only blessed that acknowledge God.
The preamble to the Idaho State Constitution says, “We, the people of the State of Idaho, grateful to Almighty God for our freedom, to secure its blessings and promote our common welfare do establish this Constitution.”
If this is true of nations and states it is no doubt true of cities – cities like our wonderful Moscow, Idaho. But that is the question. Is it true? Is it really true? Do we need God’s blessing on the city of Moscow in order for Moscow to thrive? Do we need His help in this time of crisis? And if so, have we asked Him? Have you formally, publicly acknowledged this truth?
You have our prayers.
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.