While returning from my Sunday morning coffee run, I was moved almost to tears by Rich Mullins’ song “Creed.” (I guess I should also thank the Council of Nicaea for crafting the statement of faith that Rich put to music.) In an age when truth is relative, and especially in a year that seems hell-bent on overloading us with misleading or contradictory “facts,” perhaps creeds can remind us of the only firm foundation for truth.
In the first verse, Rich sings,
“I believe in God the Father
Almighty Maker of heaven and Maker of earth
And in Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son, our Lord
He was conceived by the Holy Spirit
Born of the Virgin Mary
Suffered under Pontius Pilate
He was crucified and dead and buried”
Strangely, of all the significant lines from this stanza, the one that stood out to me on this morning was the mention of Pontius Pilate.
Pilate is a textbook example of irony. The man tried to distance himself from the sentencing of Jesus and was subsequently immortalized in Scripture and creed for his complicity in it. Although Jesus did indeed suffer under Pilate, it seems pretty clear that the Roman governor felt no need to crucify him. (He was indifferent to the Jews’ religious business, at least.) He tried to divert responsibility to someone else, but, eventually, he caved to social and political pressure. After interrogating Jesus about the Jewish leaders’ claims and having his questions turned around every time, Pilate asked – or perhaps snorted with exasperation – “What is truth?” The irony of asking Truth himself this question!
We can see it plastered across every front page, embedded in every online post, and hidden between the lines of every conversation these days. Cynics scoff at skewed statistics. Political pundits post polarizing propaganda. Many in the middle make an effort to mediate the mass media. Regardless of our approach, we’re all frantically trying to answer the same question: “What is truth?”
In the Church, denominations have split over this question. Even in these smaller sects, a genuine striving for truth has led to further division. Academics may dress up the question in fancier words, inquiring about “hermeneutics” in a way that’s as haughty as it is helpful, but the desperate pursuit of what is true remains constant. The search for truth is messy and exhausting because people are.
I wonder how many times I have asked, either dismissively or earnestly, “What is truth?” while Jesus was waiting in the room to show me. At least once for every story of how the church has failed to speak the truth in love and has used truth as a weapon instead. Once for every friend who questions how Scripture can teach a genuinely better way of life, and for every time I can’t explain it, either. Once for every Facebook log-in… and so on.
We’d need doctoral degrees in rhetoric, politics, medicine, and theology just to start sifting through the world’s ostensibly truthful assertions today. (It would be years longer before we could make any of those claims with authority!) Even if we dedicated all that time to accumulating information, an armory of accurate facts can’t hold a candle to the life-bringing light of Christ. This Truth is fundamentally, transcendentally different. What’s more, it is intimately available, should we look for it.
The Truth is not a statistic, although it gives us the wisdom to interpret such information.
The Truth is not a “correct” party or candidate to vote for, although it allows for freedom in our political engagement.
The Truth is not a shortcut around doctrinal disagreements, although it is the mutual goal towards which we work graciously within the Church.
The astounding revelation of the Christian faith is that Truth is a Person: Jesus Christ, the Son of God. When we abide in him, and he in us, we will know the Truth even in the midst of chaos and confusion.
“We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true by being in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.” – 1 John 5:19-20
“And I believe what I believe is what makes me what I am
I did not make it – no, it is making me
It is the very truth of God and not the invention of any man”
Worldly truths claim to provide clarity, but the best they can offer is conformity (and Paul warned us against that in Romans 12). We might be emboldened by the encouragement to “speak our own truth” and not realize we’ve fallen into the wrong pattern. We don’t create truth; rather, he created us and conforms us to his own image (Jn. 1:3; Rom. 8:28-29). Truth is not relative, but he invites us into a relationship for our own good.
Sometimes, the gospel can become so familiar that we (read: I) forget to be awed by it. The truth of the well-worn words below may seem commonplace after a while, but it is always worth singing. If you (like me) are in need of a reprieve from the relentless torrent of questionable information in this season, I hope this can be a simple reminder of a Truth worth clinging to, posting about, and shouting from the rooftops.
“I believe that he who suffered was crucified, buried, and dead
He descended into hell and, on the third day, rose again
He ascended into heaven where he sits at God’s mighty right hand
I believe that he’s returning
To judge the quick and the dead of the sons of men.”