Sometimes nothing is less true than the truth.
What is truth?
Have you ever noticed that telling the truth and being honest are not always the same thing? I’ve been pondering this for a while, then came across the first quotation above in a novel I was flicking through while waiting for some friends yesterday. When I got to church I was still mulling it over and remembered Pilate’s question to Jesus. Pilate actually went on to illustrate perfectly what I mean.
Having questioned Jesus for hours, he went outside to the eagerly-awaiting crowds and told them ‘I find no basis for a charge against him.’
This was perfectly true, but rather than releasing this innocent man, and facing the wrath of the people, Pilate passed the buck to them, asking who they wanted released – Jesus or the convicted criminal Barabbas. We all know the rest of the story.
Pilate spoke the truth, but was not honest. The honest response to the crowds would have been ‘There is no basis for a charge against him, and therefore he is free to go.’
I recently had lunch with a friend and two strangers who had contacted my office asking if we could meet with a view to a possible collaboration. Since it was, in my opinion, a business-focussed lunch, I paid on my business credit card. When filling in my expenses claim form I listed the name of the friend first and the two strangers second. Since there is only limited space on the printed document, the friend’s name showed up, and the beginning of the next name. My boss, who also knows this friend, noticed his name when approving my expenses and challenged me on it – was I just taking my mates out for lunch with work money? I explained and it was passed, but I was asked to please check with my boss in advance before doing such a thing in future.
My automatic thought after the conversation was ‘I should have put my friend’s name last, so my boss would never have noticed.’ I immediately caught myself, realising that though this would have been telling the truth, it would not have been honest. Thankfully, I had done the honest thing, so my conscience is clear, even though I still feel slightly humiliated at the thought of the (gentle) reprimand.
Honesty is usually a much harder path. It carries the risk of involving much more time and effort – the slightly misleading truth can simply be quicker, avoiding a long explanation, but it’s better.
There is a popular saying that it is easier (sometimes people even say ‘better’) to ask for forgiveness than permission. I’ve even heard Christians commonly operating on this principle. The thing is, it is not an honest way to live. If you’re in a situation where you are even thinking the above, the likelihood is that it is something you know you are not supposed to do. You know that if you asked permission it would likely be denied, but you want to do it anyway, so realising the person in authority is lenient, patient and forgiving, you decide to do it then fall on his mercy later if necessary.
What does God think of this kind of duplicity? How does he feel when his children act like this? Yes, he’s loving and forgiving, slow to anger and abounding in love and faithfulness, but I’m pretty sure his heart is grieved when his children act like this.
A friend of mine told me recently that one of her dreams for the world is to see truth being re-discovered and put back at the top of the agenda, specifically in the business world, but it relates to every other sphere of life, too. I’d like to suggest that it’s not just truth we need to put back, but actual honesty.
We can’t expect the world to act in honesty if we don’t model it in our own lives, though. Keep an eye on yourself over the next few days and examine whether, when choosing which parts of the truth to tell you are actually being honest or dishonest.
Anyone can tell the truth. Honesty takes courage and commitment, but in doing so builds a far better character.
(And in the interests of honesty, I must confess that despite scheduling it to appear on Monday, I wrote this post on Sunday. Decided since I’d missed a few days I wouldn’t be legalistic about my Sunday rule, just on the odd occasion.)