Two Ways to Abuse Truth

Truth gets abused in (at least) two very different ways. One way people tend to abuse it is with a kind of relativism. Another way it gets abused is with a kind of self-righteous bigotry. Both are common in our world today. And Christians aren’t immune from either.

Relativism is pretty skeptical about truth - it abuses truth by not taking it seriously enough. The relativist tends to be cynical, questioning everyone and everything. Like Pilate, when confronted with the decision to either release Jesus or crucify him, the relativist says, “What is truth?” (John 18:38). All that matters, on this view, is that what you believe is “true for you.”

But it’s hard to be a relativist. If the relativist tells us that, “There is no absolute truth,” what should we think? Is that statement absolutely true or not? If it is, then the relativist is wrong. If it’s not, why should anyone believe it? In a way, the problem with this position is that it is not pessimistic enough: it doesn’t question itself with the same rigor with which it questions everything else.

At the other end of the spectrum is bigotry. Bigots abuse truth with stubborn arrogance, which shows up in a refusal to examine evidence (especially evidence that may tell against their position) and a contemptuous attitude towards those with whom they disagree. If the cynicism of Pilate exemplifies relativism, the arrogance and prejudice of the religious leaders responsible for Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion provide a clear portrait of bigotry.

We’re not unfamiliar with such prejudice. In fact, we easily detect it in others: the racist, the sexist, the legalist, the nationalist – anyone who has idolized their own narrow and provincial point of view. What is more difficult is to see it in ourselves.

The gospel of Jesus Christ unleashes its power against both of these destructive attitudes. It challenges both the cynicism of the relativist and the prejudice of the bigot. And it pushes us to root out tendencies in those directions in ourselves. For the gospel shines its light deep on our hearts, exposing the arrogance of both our doubts and our beliefs. It challenges us in the deepest possible way, searching out the ways we fail to conform to the truth revealed in Jesus in both our minds and hearts.

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