Monday, October 4, 2021

An Ethic of Truth

As we talk about Christian ethics, specifically as it relates to us being an interfaith people, one of the questions we're really asking is whether this interfaith notion is a Christian one or a cultural one. There's been plenty of evidence to this point that the way that we are exercising this notion is primarily cultural, although there is certainly a Christian foundation for (limited) fellowship with those who are different than us. (See discussion of Paul last week.) 

If we need more proof that this is more of a cultural ethic than a Christian one, let us look no further than one of the reasons what we sometimes give for being an interfaith people: we do not have an exclusive claim on truth. 

We have been taught to question our understanding of truth, even a truth that claims itself to be absolute. Even a God who tells us in no uncertain terms what He means when He says that He is the way. 

One of the reasons that we are interfaith is because we hold out a "reasonable" understanding that we might be "wrong" about truth or at the very least, that someone else may have a "truth" that we just don't understand yet. It's arrogant to claim that we're the ones who have it all right. It's condescending to tell others that they have it wrong. It's neither compassionate nor loving to condemn someone else's notion of truth just because it doesn't agree with ours. 

This is an entirely cultural ethic of truth. Nowhere in our Scriptures does God tell us to hem and haw around His truth because it might be offensive to someone who believes something else. 

Now, in contrast, we know that we are to be humble in our truth at all times. That is, we must recognize that we have a finite (limited) understanding of God's truth, even of God's revelation, and that there are some things that we are definitely getting wrong about it. We have been told, rightfully so, to guard ourselves against becoming arrogant in our own understandings and interpretations and even teachings. Just because it's what we've heard in a sermon doesn't mean it's what someone across town has heard in their sermons, so we need to be careful about how we proclaim God's truth in our world. Because we know that we don't hold all of it ourselves.

This is the subtle little difference that the world has taken off on and used as a launch point for its own ethic. If, the world says, our understanding is limited, then doesn't that mean there is room for truth outside of what we understand? And if, the world says, there is truth outside of what we understand, then we ought not to be a people declaring a truth at all. We ought to recognize that everyone, then, has their own truth and to affirm that truth for them. Since, you know, we're all basically just guessing anyway. 

And we've bought it. We've bought into it, claiming a "Christian" humility in all of it, and told the world, yeah, you're right. We can't make any truth claims because we are a finite people. So...whatever truth the world comes up with is alright with us. 

But there is a difference between not knowing the fullness of the truth of God in our finite understanding and pretending that what we know is a lie is somehow the truth. There is a difference between saying, "I don't understand all of this" and holding to an ethic that makes us claim "I don't know anything at all." We can, and absolutely must, say that there are things about God that we don't understand yet, things we don't know on this side of eternity. But that cannot make us back away from the things that we do know.

Things like...I am the way and the truth and the life and no one comes to the Father except through me.

So when we talk about a "Christian" ethic around truth, the truth is that most of us are living a cultural one. Most of us have accepted the world's notion of truth because it sounds so dangerously close to something that we ought to believe...but it actually falls far short. Yet it is from this very notion that the world has built its foundation for making Christians an "interfaith" people. 

And that was never God's intention. 

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