In personal conversations, in church discussion groups, in political speeches, in sermons and advertising, we are all listening to people we may or may not trust talking about issues we may or may not understand and inviting us to take action or make decisions when we don’t feel entirely comfortable. In every one of these settings, we find ourselves trying to discern what the truth is. We wonder if we know the truth. We wonder if we know part of the truth. We may even wonder if the truth matters.
Does the truth matter? Yes. Always. Even when it seems inconsequential.
Great literature often hangs on a moment of truth. Books, movies, stage plays, and songs recount the consequences of the absence of truth. Recently I viewed the movie version of the story of Tristan and Isolde. In this version the screenplay writer, like any good storyteller, created powerful tension by injecting a lie into the narrative of the relationship. Every element of the later disasters can ultimately be traced to the moment when Isolde lied about her name. It was a very small lie, the sort that people often call “white lies.” It seemed such a simple thing at the time. It seemed necessary for the good of everyone at the time. Yet the injection of a lie into reality warped subsequent events, violently shattering a carefully crafted peace.
In this story, a tiny little lie, almost an afterthought at the time, produced a set of consequences, each new disaster worse than the last. Families, friends and ultimately a nation were torn apart because of a single careless little lie. Many people who believe fervently in telling the truth, because they believe that God meant it when he said, “Do not lie,” would have concurred in Isolde’s decision to tell this tiny lie, because they would have agreed with her that telling the truth right then would be harmful. Many people who allege to believe in absolute truth tell themselves that “little white lies” fall off the scale, because they really don’t matter. They might even reject any comparison between this story and real life precisely because it is fiction, forgetting that fiction is most powerful when the fictional story speaks truth.
Very well, look at a real life lie. Then ask yourself what are the consequences of this lie? Ask yourself if the speaker of the contemporary and very real lie or any of the hearers of that lie can judge any better than Isolde or her maid what the consequences of this lie will be?
The contemporary lie is spoken in a political context. The statements which tell the lie are truths. That really complicates things. Here is how it is constructed:
Statistical truth #1(if you believe statistics, but that is another topic): The United States possesses 2% of the proven petroleum reserves in the world. Of all the known places to extract petroleum in the entire world, the amount that could be extracted from reserves in US territory equal 2% of the amount that could be extracted from all the proven reserves in the world.
Statistical truth #2: The United States uses 20% of all the petroleum available for consumption in the world every year. Add up all the petroleum products available in a year. Add up all the petroleum products consumed in the USA. Divide petroleum consumed in the USA by petroleum available worldwide and multiply by 100. The answer is 20%.
The statement that is constructed by using these two statistics goes this way.
Some people think we can solve the gasoline price increase by drilling for more oil. However, the USA has 2% of the proven oil reserves and we use 20% of the world’s oil. We can’t drill our way out of this problem.
Here the lie is constructed by using the term “percent” to make the two statements appear to be related. They are not related at all. The amount of oil in proven reserves globally is not the same number as the amount of oil refined and available for consumption in a given year. 2% of the proven reserves is not 2% of the petroleum products available annually for consumption. The statement tries to lead the hearer to conclude that if we only have 2% of the oil and we use 20% of the oil, extracting all our reserves would not help us have more oil.
The lie is that the two statistics are not percentages of the same number, and therefore, the concluding statement is a lie. I don’t need to dig any deeper in order to understand what the actual numbers are in order to know that the person who made these statements is deliberately trying to deceive me. If I make any sort of decision about what I believe or what I will do based on a statement like this, I risk making a big mistake, because this argument is completely false.
It might even be true that we can’t drill our way out of the problem, but this statement does not prove that conclusion.
Here is a lie being told in the real world to real people who need to make a real decision about a real problem. God probably doesn’t mind if fiction writers don’t tell the truth. After all, fiction writers plainly say that their work is all imaginary. However, when real people who are trying to solve real problems tell one another lies, then bad things happen. God spoke from Mount Sinai and said, “Do not lie,” because people need the truth.
God is so serious about truth, that God incarnate, Jesus of Nazareth said, “I am the truth.” Jesus, God himself in the flesh, said that he embodied truth. We could trust what he said to us, and we could trust what we saw him doing, because he could not lie to us. When we are called to follow Jesus, we are called to the truth, too.
Our calling to follow Christ and be like him requires us not only to speak the truth ourselves, but also to hold other people accountable to speak the truth as well. We don’t just listen to political speeches in order to see if the candidate agrees with us on our litmus issues. We listen to those speeches while praying to discern the truth.
Choosing to vote for one candidate or another may compel us to vote for someone who has lied to us, because there may be no candidate who tells us the truth every time. The reality of politics is that we seldom can choose the “only” truthful candidate. If we feel that we cannot trust any of the candidates, it is tempting to believe that it does not matter if we even vote. Anyone who comes to this conclusion is deceived on several points.
First, God has blessed you with citizenship in a country where you have the God-given gift of the right to vote. People have died to assure that generation after generation in this country has the right to vote. Your right to vote is bought with the blood of patriots who rejected assaults by enemies who would have made everyone in this country a slave. Your vote is God’s gift of power. Even if there is no candidate you can support on every issue, your vote still matters. When you believe the lie that it doesn’t matter whether you vote or not, you are demonstrating that you believe that people determine what happens in the world. When you vote, following your best understanding of the guidance of the Holy Spirit, you show your gratitude for God’s gift and your stewardship of the power God gives you in your vote. Do not lightly dismiss your right to vote. In every instance, political or otherwise, we rely on the Holy Spirit to guide us to discern truth. Your vote is an act of faith in God as surely as it is a civic duty.
You received another gift at the price of blood: your eternal salvation purchased with the blood of Christ. Your redemption, purchased at such a price is given to you at no charge. But your free gift of salvation comes with a heavy responsibility – to act within this new relationship and to do the good works that grow out of it. One of the important good works required of a Christian who is an eligible voter is to prayerfully pay attention to the election campaigns and follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit when voting. When you cast that vote, you say loudly and clearly that you believe God is sovereign and you testify that you are acting in obedience to God himself. You don’t think elections are decided by chance but rather by the power of God.
What do you do if the election then turns out differently than you thought it should? You still put your hope in God. You still testify that God is truth and God is sovereign.
Truth matters. Your vote matters. Your statement of grateful stewardship of God’s gift of the right to vote matters.
Here’s the most important truth. Mortals are no help at all. Put your hope in God alone, for he is the very embodiment of truth. Think about it. Pray about it. Tell God how thankful you are for the right to vote, and then be sure to vote. Truth matters. Every time.