Alethiea – Relational Truth

Aletheia-1

What is Truth? Confused and perplexed by the case of Jesus, Pontius Pilate ends his conversation with a great question: “What is Truth?” This question is still being asked today. Philosophers have debated it; religion has made claims about it; and it seems like cultural attitudes about truth are always shifting.  The word that Pilate uses is the Greek word Aletheia. It is a word with rich meaning. It does mean truth, but it carries the idea of sincerity, actuality, and reality. It refers to what actually is. Is there something called “truth” that is defined as “that which corresponds to reality,” and if so, what does it mean for you and I? Truth is hard to define, especially now in the postmodern world. Some people think truth is impossible to define or know. Jesus called himself “the Truth” and taught that his enemy was the “father of lies.” This is one of the most essential questions for each of us to settle, because what you believe determines how you behave. Echo HIgh School had a four week conversation exploring the concept of truth, especially the nature of the spiritual truth in the teaching of Jesus.  

John 14:15-27 – 

15 “If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be[a] in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. 21 Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”

22 Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?”

23 Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.

25 “All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Of all the gospel writers, John explores the teaching of Jesus on truth most often and most elegantly.  Here, Jesus promises to his disciples that the Parakletos will be with them after he is gone.  He is an ally, an advocate.  He is literally “someone called in,” to help and to heal and to teach.  Jesus called Him (or it (pneuma), or her (ruach)) the “Spirit of Truth.”  He will guide us into truth, he will continue the process where God’s truth becomes known to humanity, something we call “revelation.”  This passage has some pretty cool implications: 

  1. Spiritual Truth can be questioned freely because it is durable.  Sometimes people treat “the truth” like it is made of glass.  It is very fragile, so you should handle it with care.  They limit their exposure to other points of view for this reason.  This attitude is what gives Thomas, the questioner in this passage a negative reputation. He has the nickname “doubting Thomas.” I think it is unfair, and more to the point I think it dangerous. Look at how he responded to the cryptic teaching of Jesus in John 14:1-17.  There is something remarkable about Thomas – he is not afraid to give a truthful answer: “I don’t understand.”  At this moment, Jesus is looking at a lot of confused faces. The other guys have no idea what Jesus is saying either, but they aren’t the type that will risk the question. They care far too much about what other people think. There was one among them who could never say that he understood what he did not understand, and that was Thomas. He expresses his doubt and his failure to understand, and the wonderful thing is the question of an honest man provokes one of the greatest sayings of Jesus ever. He has honest questions and is brave enough to ask them. Never be ashamed of having questions or admitting you do not understand something. God is not afraid of your questions, so Echo will always be a place that is open and honest about your questions. That means we are committed to giving honest answers even when they aren’t simple, and that no question is ever “out of bounds.” We are not afraid of doubt.  Doubt is often the invitation to explore an issue more honestly and to understand an issue more thoroughly.  Doubt often leads to deeper and more complete truth.
  1. Spiritual Truth should be held humbly because it is progressive.  This is a VERY important passage when it comes to understanding Jesus’ view of truth.  John 16:12-15 –12 “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.”

    Truth is progressive. Jesus had more to reveal, revelation was not over.  There is more to learn about God, there is more to know about Christ.  This is often misunderstood and the cause of much trouble in faith.  Often, people think of Christianity as something that was established once finally and perfectly, and that the only task for the present is to look carefully at what Jesus did and said in the past and that should give us all we need going forward.  I am not sure this works.  Jesus did not give a perfect and complete revelation about God’s kingdom to the disciples.  He could not have.  Revelation is progressive, and a person can only be taught what they are able to understand.  God has always worked this way: he meets people within the limits of their understanding and sometimes within the shortcomings of their culture.  This means that the Christian faith (and theology) must be alive, it cannot be the static and wooden practice of studying the past saying of a long dead teacher.  It needs to be more than that.  It is not only concerned with what God said and what God revealed in the past, but it must also be concerned with what God is doing and what God is saying and revealing now and even tomorrow.  This is SO important for the way we practice our faith.  It is a mistake to think of faith only in terms of ancient patters and established “truth.”  Our faith needs to be alive; it needs to be able to grow.  Our world has fallen victim to the opposite: to a dead and lifeless religion that is solely concerned with the past and pays no attention to the pressing matters of the present and the future.  Jesus describes here the possibility of a faith that evolves and grows to face the challenges of new generations and the complications of the advancing human story.  How does this happen, since Jesus is no longer with us? The accounts of those that knew him are left behind, but they are done.  There are not going to be any new discoveries about Jesus unearthed in a cave somewhere.  Jesus gives us the answer: He is gone, but he did not leave his followers alone.  He gave his followers the Holy Spirit; the “Spirit of Truth.”  The word we use to talk about how the Spirit brings God’s truth to us is called “revelation.”  It is like the lights come on.  This is a glorious promise if you can understand it and grasp it! This should help us deal with passages from the Bible that trouble us or offend our conscience.  There are many times when the Bible seems archaic in its virtues and even inferior in its ethic compared to the modern world.  Please understand me, I think that scripture has much to teach our culture about morality and ethics and the heart of God.  I think it is the supreme revelation of God’s character and nature.  However, there are times where what God revealed to ancient people in the context of their ancient culture seems backwards and inferior compared to what we know today.  This is fine if you understand that God cannot take humanity from the start to the finish in one step.  God’s goal is to advance us as a culture one step closer to the ideal of His Kingdom, and sometimes a step in the right direction doesn’t seem like it is going far enough if you are already advanced past that position.  However, if you were the one on the other side it might truly be as far as your legs could reach.  God needs to get people moving in the right direction, even if it is not all the way down the road.  God is a patient teacher in this regard.  This also means that God is not done yet helping us step toward his ideal.  When we look into the ancient truth of scripture, sometimes we need to discern the direction God was having humanity move to know how to continue down the road, especially when applying the text woodenly as it is written will not do.  There is progress in terms of redemptive movement.  Revelation continues because Jesus is alive and His Spirit continues to work within us guiding us into His truth.

  1. Spiritual Truth can be known relationally because it is personal.  Here is the most important thing to understand when it comes to spiritual truth.  You do not relate to spiritual truth like science relates to a bar of iron: as a subject relates to an object.  Spiritual truth is not very “objective.”  It is subjective, because behind spiritual truth is a person.  We should not study God like we study things in a laboratory, reducing him to a list of attributes, axioms, facts, and figures.  We study God like we get to know a friend.  This is how scripture is to be read.  You are reading stories, songs, and personal letters.  You are not reading a book full of facts about God.  These stories, songs, letters and such invite us to experience God in a similar way that the authors of these works experienced God.  We should not read scripture or come to church like a detached physicist listening to a lecture, but like a castaway on deserted island with a letter from his beloved.  There is so much talk in defense of “absolute truth” from people making claims about God, but I wonder if they are not missing the point.  I understand their fear: they fear that with the loss of the concept of absolute truth comes moral relativism and a lack of spiritual conviction.  However, their argument might not be accomplishing their goal.  We have to remember that when we are dealing with Spiritual Truth, the ultimate truth is not an objective principle but a person.  This person is one of such splendor, power, wonder, beauty, and glory that to know Him is to love Him, worship Him, enjoy Him and seek to please Him with everything.  Jesus didn’t reveal to his disciples the nature of propositional truth; he invited them to learn that He is “the way, the truth, and the life.” Reducing such a person to a list of facts and attributes is missing the truth by a wide margin. You can only really know the truth about God by experiencing Him, the same way you can only really know music once you have heard it. Music, like God, is more than intellectual comprehension; it is also emotional understanding.
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#firstworldproblems – Affluenza

Echo High School’s conversation about first world problems continued to cover some strange cultural territory.  In December 2013, a District Judge sentenced a North Texas teenager to 10 years probation for drunk driving and killing four pedestrians and injuring eleven.  This person killed four human beings and got off with rehab and probation.   Why? His attorneys successfully argued that the teen suffered from affluenza and needed rehabilitation, and not prison. The defendant was witnessed on surveillance video stealing beer from a store, driving with seven passengers in his father’s Ford F-350, speeding (70 MPH in a 40 MPH zone), and had a blood alcohol content of .24%, three times the legal limit for an adult in Texas, when he was tested 3 hours after the accident. Traces of Valium were also in his system. A psychologist hired as an expert by the defense testified in court that the teen was a product of affluenza and was unable to link his bad behavior with consequences due to his parents teaching him that wealth buys privilege. The rehabilitation facility cost Texas taxpayers roughly $700 a day. This entire story is INSANE, but it is true.  Affluenza might be the king of all “first world problems.”  Affluenza is a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety, and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more.

Our relationship with stuff is silly.  We worry about the model of our phone or the vintage of our laptop computers.  We look at a closet full of clothes and declare: “I have nothing to wear.”  We are addicted to more, and we don’t really have any plans to change.  This is a major issue.   Our consumption is off the charts.  Our culture is one of consumerism. How can we have so much, yet feel as if we have so little? This is one of the major causes of AFFLUENZA – the stimulation of artificial needs.  We forget how rich we are because we are a part of a system that constantly tells us we do not have.  If we don’t have it, our lives are spent trying to get it.  When we do get it, we don’t own it as much as it owns us.  We measure “economic success” based on the Gross Domestic Product, or Gross National Product.  The funny thing is, this might be the wrong measure. Think about a situation like divorce.  A couple spends high amounts of money on legal services, then they split into two households and spending goes way up.  This boosts the GDP, but does it indicate cultural progress or decline? If someone gets cancer, or there is an oil spill, or a forest was cut down for lumber…all of these things make the GDP rise but they might actually represent the decline of our culture not progress.  No one thinks that family breakdown is good for our culture, but the GDP loves it.  This is all to say that the answer for our deep spiritual needs is not going to be found in material goods.

What are the signs of Affluenza?

  1. CLUTTER – Too much stuff is not a good thing. We are the type that stockpile and hoard and accumulate, wanting what others have, always seeking more. Because of this, our calendars, our rooms, our garages, and our lives are full of clutter. Clutter is not just all the stuff that we keep around that rarely gets used. It is also the sense of urgency and the lack of focus and purpose with which we live. This is a symptom of not truly knowing what you need and what you want out of life. It is a symptom of living without laser focus and disciplined simplicity. It is difficult to filter out the ever-escalating demands for faster . . . newer . . . flashier . . . more. What we have to see is that this mentality is psychotic in that it has lost all touch with reality: we crave things we neither need nor enjoy. We buy things we do not need to impress people we do not like. Twice a year people in our neighborhood have a massive event where all the excess stuff in the community gets shuffled around to provide us with more money to buy more stuff. The idea of dependence on God should challenge our materialism and move us toward simplicity. Simplicity is a spiritual discipline that gives us needed perspective on our materialistic world. It allows us to see the provision of God as a gift that is not ours to keep and can be freely shared with others. It is an inward reality that leads to an outward expression. It is more than just getting rid of stuff – it is an inner attitude of the heart that acknowledges (1) What we have we received as a gift of God, (2) What we need God will care for, and (3) What we have is available to others. Simplicity is basically this: Seek first the Kingdom of God.
  2. WASTE – We use it and then throw it away.  Much of our stuff is “designed for the dumpster.” Marketers use fancy terms like “planned obsolescence” to disguise their intention. They cannot have you truly satisfied by their product because you will never buy another one. Nothing is designed to last forever. Many things, like cell phones and electronics, are actually designed to fall apart or break down after a certain point. Other things are perfectly fine, but they convince you through marketing that they are out of style and need to be replaced. So we end up buying a new car every year, replacing our wardrobe with the latest fashions, and signing up for another contract with the phone company to get the “free” phone. What happens to our old stuff? It gets trashed. An attitude of waste comes from the assumption that the world exists for you, not the other way around.  Americans consume at staggering rates.  Each of us uses up 20 tons of basic raw materials annually.  The idea that the “good life” means having what I want when I want it and being able to throw it away wastefully when I’m done with it is not sustainable.  This is a value choice that means for me to enjoy life others must not.  For me to have more, others must have less.  Behind this behavior is bad theology.  I see this attitude all the time in the church: basically that the earth is doomed so we should use it up without concern.  I don’t see this in scripture.  In scripture, I see God entrusting the care of this earth and its resources to people as he invites them to partner with him in realizing his vision for the world. The initial instructions that God gave to humanity were to care for the earth. The first marching orders for God’s Kingdom included the idea of being stewards of creation. Our wasteful attitude is a direct violation of that.
  3. Dissatisfaction. You cannot possibly be thankful and content if you are convinced that you deserve more than you are getting! We want far more than we need.  We want a good number more things than we need and even more than we can actually use.  We’re satisfied.  We’re grateful.  We’re content with our PS3, until one day we play hear about someone else’s PS4.  Then we’re not content anymore, and we go back to our old and busted and ancient game system.  We’re satisfied with our accomplishments until we see someone who has accomplished more, and we then we don’t feel very good.  The Bible understands this tendency in our hearts.  Paul wrote to his protégé, a young pastor named Timothy, trying to protect his heart from this lie of lack.  Some false teachers at the time had fallen into the trap, and they began twisting God’s word to support their lifestyle of greed and exploitation.  1 Timothy 6:6 – “Godliness with contentment is great gain.  For we brought nothing into this world, we can take nothing out of it.  But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.  People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction.  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.”  Paul continues and tells Timothy to FLEE from all this stuff about lack and the pursuit of more! FLEE – run, go the other way, stay away from it, try to escape.  We tend to do just the opposite and play right into the other story, the story of lack.  And because of this we miss out on the story of contentment.  The road out of this dark place is through a simple prayer: THANKS.  “Thanks” shifts your perspective to what you have already received.  It shifts your focus to the blessing, wealth, health, love, mercy, and favor that you are already experiencing.  It gets your eyes off of what you lack and puts them on the abundance that you have.  It stops envy, comparison, and malcontent from ensnaring your heart. It is a very simple choice: I will choose to be happy with what I already have.