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Friday, September 20, 2013

It's the truth!

Kids of a certain generation grew up trying to convince parents of their tall tale's veracity. I grew up in the south and when the chips were down and the paddle was being prepared, my little brain worked feverishly to come up with something - anything - that would win me a stay of execution.

"It was three weeks ago, when Tommy was spending the night. You let us play in the house and Tommy must've put Major Matt Mason inside the lamp. Tonight is the first time I've turned the lamp on in three weeks and I'm just as surprised as you that he melted all over the light bulb!"

Somehow, as kids, we fall right into the lying habit when it comes to protecting our backsides. I remember the time I had to take a note home from school in 5th grade. I was told to have my mom sign it and to bring it back the next day. That was back in the days of double jeopardy.

I learned at a young age that the Constitution of the United States does not apply to children. If I got in trouble at school, you could bet that I would get it again at home; usually worse. So in my eleven-year-old, cause and effect brain, there was no way I was giving my mom that note. I don't even remember what it was for but it was a spanking offense and I was going to do everything possible to avoid that heinous punishment.

After dinner, over the course of an hour or so, I conceived and executed a plan that would make Ethan Hunt proud: I borrowed some documents that had Mom's signature on them and then retired to the bathroom where I could work in secret, perfecting her fluid script. After many attempts on a blank sheet of paper, I thought I had it down, so I signed that teacher's note with a flourish, compared it to Mom's real signature and came away pretty proud of my efforts. There was no way the teacher would ever suspect...

"Mr. X, please report to the Principal's office..."

After taking attendance, the first thing our 5th grade teacher did the next morning was leave the room. Within a few minutes, that scratchy, indicting announcement had come over the classroom speaker and I was - variously - the object of scorn, hilarity and pity as I trudged out of the classroom and made my way to Mrs. Perricone's office. Of course I knew the game was up. Somehow my carefully crafted facade had crumbled and death row beckoned with a cold, bony finger.

Sixteen whacks with Mrs. Perricone's patented whistling paddle, sentenced to spending all day in a small room next to her office by myself - just me and a whole day's schoolwork - and perhaps the most shaming of all: having to sit next to Mrs. Perricone at the Principal's table in the lunchroom. It was truly cruel and unusual punishment.

In the immortal (not really) words of Robert Plant, "Yes, there are two paths you can go by...":

  1. Why do we lie?
  2. What is truth?
Most people. when faced with question number one, will trot out all sorts of psychological theories regarding heredity, environment and learned behaviors. I believe that we - i.e. humankind - have a predilection toward lying that is innate. It is a mental fight or flight reflex. Most of us don't like pain, so when faced with a situation that threatens us, we prevaricate to avoid the unpleasantness we fear. Oh sure, we also lie to spare people's feelings but does that really make it better? Or morally acceptable?

The apostle Paul wrote eloquently about this in Ephesians 4:

"As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ..." 

Earlier in the chapter, Paul urges us to "...walk in a manner worthy of our calling, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love..."

Tolerance is a hot-button issue these days and likely a subject that warrants its own blog. However, we are talking about truth and even in the very beginning we see that child-like, reflex lie reaction. In Genesis 3:12, when God confronts Adam about eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, what does Adam do? He throws Eve firmly under the bus. Even worse than that, he goes so far as to blame God, in part: 

"The man said, "The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate.""

Are you sure He said it was okay?

For her part, Eve deflected as well; although she did not lie:

"And the woman said, "The serpent deceived me, and I ate.""

You could say that Adam and Eve didn't really lie; they just cast blame on another for their misdeeds. You can even say that the Serpent didn't lie when he told Eve she would not die by eating the fruit.

And that brings us to truth. What is truth?

The fictional professor Indiana Jones taught, "Archaeology is the search for fact... not truth. If it's truth you're looking for, Dr. Tyree's philosophy class is right down the hall."

Jones abdicated the subject of truth to a murky study of philosophy. In effect, he was saying, "Truth can be whatever you want it to be, but in here we deal with hard, cold facts."

Thinking about truth makes my head hurt

And therein lies the conundrum facing society today. Humanity has reached a point where it is de rigeur to not put down anything as false. If it's true for you then it's true, period.

It's as if there is no truth at all. Think about it. If everything is true, then nothing is.

As a Christian it is true that I believe the Bible is a true representation of God's instructions to His creation. A lot of people either think that's baloney or have an otherwise diluted view regarding the veracity of the Bible. Seventeenth-century French philosopher, mathematician, and physicist Blaise Pascal attempted to couch our belief in God as a wager, with our eternal existence (or not) as the stakes. Pascal - and I'm oversimplifying a great deal here - attempted to illustrate the reasons for believing (or not) in the existence of God by looking at the gains and losses of believing (or not) in God's existence:

God exists:
  • Yes: I believe in God and get to spend an eternity in His presence after my time on earth is finished
  • No: I choose not to believe in God and he does exist therefor (according to the Bible) I am separated from God for eternity and I know it
God doesn't exist:
  • Yes: I believe that there is no God and I'm right, there isn't. So after I die that's it and I'm not around to care
  • No: I believe that there is no God and I'm wrong, there actually is. So after I die, I am separated from God for eternity and I know it
Pascal was basically trying to represent belief (or not) in God as a factor of reason, or some sort of mathematical equation from which we can determine all the possible outcomes and make a life choice based on our own thoughts and intellect. Great idea, but believing in God because it seems like the best outcome for me is not exactly the proper motivation, if you know what I mean.

Pascal's conclusions were pretty much based on avoiding the worst-case scenario:
  • Positive outcome: If I believe in God and He does exist, I'm in for an eternity of goodness
  • Neutral outcome: If I believe in God and He really doesn't exist, then, at the end of life, I'm not really out anything. I've tried to live my life according to Godly principles which are benign - if false - and at the end of the day, I'm just dust. No harm no foul.
  • Neutral outcome: If I don't believe in God and He really doesn't exist, then, at the end of life I'm just dust.
  • Negative outcome: If I don't believe in God and He does exist, I'm in for an eternal cosmic spanking

Believing in God has either positive or, at worst, neutral outcomes. Not believing in God has neutral or, at worst, a very nasty outcome. So, reasoned Pascal, why not believe in God?

But that is still not truth.

Psalm 44:21 warns: Would not God find this out? For He knows the secrets of the heart.

The last word is key; we can't reason our way into heaven. We need a change of heart. 

Paul sums it all up in his letter to Rome: "...that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation."

So why do we lie?

What is truth? 

What do you think?


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