In worship a few weeks ago we sang a hymn by G. K. Chesterton titled “O God of Earth and Altar.” The second stanza of that hymn is a prayer for deliverance. It is an admission of the lies we tell ourselves and a plea for rescue from the effects of those untruths:
From all that terror teaches,
from lies of tongue and pen,
from all the easy speeches
that comfort cruel men,
from sale and profanation
of honour and the sword,
from sleep and from damnation,
deliver us, good Lord!
In essence it is a prayer that concerns our public faith. Help us to recognize the foul balls that are hit our way because we live in this world. Show us the way through the swamp of attempted manipulations and the mire of untruths that we are daily told. Wake us up to Truth and empower us to patiently trust that the light of Truth will illumine our darkness and empower us to persevere.
As followers of Jesus, Truth for us is not an abstraction. It is not an idea. It is not a list of precepts or even a set of facts. Truth is a person. And as we stare into the face of this Truth we discern the Way to Life. What we see when we stare into the face of Jesus is one who gave up his power and in so doing became more powerful that any earthly leader could ever imagine becoming. We see one who chose not to throw around the authority of his “Godness” and in so doing showed us the true heart of what it means to be God.
In his interview with Pontius Pilate just before he is condemned to death, Jesus gets into a discussion with Pilate about the nature of truth (John 18:33-38).
Pilate: Are you King of the Jews?
Jesus: Do you ask this on your own or did others tell you about me?
Pilate: I am not a Jew am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?
Jesus: My Kingdom is not from this world. If my Kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is my Kingdom is not from here.
Pilate: So you are a King?
Jesus: You say that I am a King. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.
Pilate: What is truth?
In response to Pilate’s question, Jesus remains silent, and in that silence he gives the answer to Pilate’s question: “I am the Truth.” As Frederick Buechner writes in his book Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Comedy, Tragedy and Fairy Tale: “Before it is a word, the Gospel that is truth is silence, a pregnant silence in its ninth month, and in answer to Pilate’s question, Jesus keeps silent, even with his hands tied behind him manages to hold silence out like a terrible gift.” (p. 16)
As he interacts with the political power of his day, Jesus essentially puts Pilate on notice that the power of Rome cannot last. Pilate’s authority to kill can never be a power to heal. His power to condemn and seemingly eradicate this political nuisance standing in front of him will only present him with a new list of problems that he will not solve and a heavier set of burdens that he will never be able to lift.
Jesus is the Truth who sets us free. His power is not the fragile power of the state that never knows peace because it must engage the unending and ultimately unsustainable task of uncovering and stamping out all threats of opposition. Yet Jesus’ power is the breadth and length and height and depth of God’s love that will always be greater than anything we can ask for or imagine.
In these days in our nation when we are arguing so vehemently and vociferously about what the power of the state can and should accomplish and how and by whom this power should be wielded, it is important that we followers of Jesus set this argument in a Kingdom context. Regardless of who is in power, our public faith is always lived out in the context of a system that believes it can do more than it really can. Earthly power will never have the last word. It will always be overcome by the Truth of God’s love.
Once God has spoken, twice I have heard this: that power belongs to God,
and steadfast love belongs to you, O Lord.
Dave Rohrer 2/3/17