Lesson Eight — Words of Love: Speak Truthfully
The Ninth Word
Primary Scripture: Exodus 20:16, Deuteronomy 5:20 and Matthew 12:36–37
What is Truth?
“Baby, do these pants make my butt look big?” My husband looks at me like a deer caught in the headlights. He knows a perjury trap question when he hears one. Yet the power of this Word does not simply reside in the small choices to tell the unvarnished truth or not. Nor is the issue simply lying itself. While thinking about basic truthfulness in human relationships is an important outgrowth of this Word, that is not the core issue.
This Word is about integrity in public life and the judicial system in particular. God knew from way back on that rocky Mount Sinai, with a shivering, frustrated Moses waiting for direction, that the Beloved community could not survive without confidence in the truthfulness and fairness of the legal system. God knew that we could not hold together if we lied in court.
My father was an attorney. As was his father and his grandfather and his brother and most of my cousins. He was district attorney for a number of years and then a judge where he sat on the bench for 23 years that his father had sat on for 43. My father taught me a deep respect for the rule of law and the importance of telling the truth in all arenas of life. I remember one fall afternoon, sitting with him on the back porch of the home he was born in, lived his life in, and that is now my retirement home, as he said to me, “Klunk, (that is a story for another day) don’t do anything today that you cannot tell the truth about tomorrow.” I also remember asking him another time if it was still perjury if you thought you were telling the truth but it turned out that the truth you thought you were telling was really a lie. “If you don’t know it is a fact, don’t say it,” he said, not looking up from his paper. The truth matters.
But what happens to us as God’s community when we can no longer figure out what truth is?
I am writing this post in the midst of the public hearings on the impeachment of the president of the United States. I can’t make myself watch hours of it because it makes me crazy and gives me a slicing pain, but I’ve watched enough to see that the deep divisions in our country are not about opinions. They are not about different strategies or priorities for solving problems. Rather, they are rooted in belief in two diametrically opposed ‘truths.’ Everyone is so certain and they are so certain of different things that all of the certainties cannot all be true. It was wrong. It wasn’t wrong. Which is it? A part of the mess lies in the fact that lying is commonplace and even normalized if lying is expedient to keeping or to gaining power. Truth becomes secondary to power or even to saving face. When truth becomes secondary to anything we lose our ability, or willingness, to trust witnesses who testify under oath if they do not support the outcome our preconceived world view requires. At that point truth ceases to exist as a meaningful and determinative reality at all. This is horrifying. It is the very thing that God warned us against. How do we hold together when we live in totally different perceptual universes in which we do not acknowledge mutual truth and are willing to lie and believe lies that suit us better? I’m flummoxed and for the first time in my life, glad my father is no longer here to see it.
So, what do we do? Well, I frankly don’t know how we get the genie back in the bottle on this one. What I do know is that the only way we can start is by making an absolute commitment to personal integrity for our own lives. We cannot control others, but we can make decisions for ourselves that we, as my Daddy said, can tell the truth about tomorrow. None of us is perfect. Even as I write this post I am very well aware of the many, and sometimes egregious, ways that I have not lived up to my own personal standards, much less God’s. We know we needed a savior and, thanks be to God, we have one. We will not be perfect, but we can decide that we, from this moment forward, by the grace of God, will be people who can be trusted, whose word is our bond, who refrain from wrongfully injurious speech and who insist upon truth and faithfulness in public life and from our leaders. Change will happen when enough of us become it.
(BTW, how did my husband answer my pants question? After a moment, he said, “I don’t like the color.” The man just can’t lie.)
Eugenia Anne Gamble
Author of the 2019–2020 PW/Horizons Bible Study
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