by Tom Beutel
Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. (John 8:32, NIV)
In mid-November last year the Oxford Dictionaries announced its selection for “word of the year 2016” – post-truth – an adjective meaning relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief. https://www.oxforddictionaries.com/press/news/2016/12/11/WOTY-16
Post-truth was named word of the year based on a 2000% increase in its use over the previous year, primarily in the context of Brexit and the US presidential election. The explanation by the Oxford Dictionaries goes on to elaborate on the use of “post”
Rather than simply referring to the time after a specified situation or event – as in post-war or post-match – the prefix in post-truth has a meaning more like ‘belonging to a time in which the specified concept has become unimportant or irrelevant’.
That truth may be becoming unimportant or irrelevant is, or should be, troubling. In a recent incident, spokesmen for the new President, when challenged on an assertion regarding attendance at the inaugural, replied that the White House was using “alternative facts” and that “sometimes we can disagree with the facts.” One news commentator pointed out that “alternative facts” are not facts, they are falsehoods.
As peacemakers we necessarily rely on knowing and telling the truth. As Perry Yoder points out, peace as shalom involves healthy, right relationships with God, self, others, and the creation. (Shalom: The Bible’s Word for Salvation, Justice, & Peace).
With respect to our relationship with God, the Bible teaches that Jesus is “the way and the truth” (John 14:6) and that Satan is “a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44) It should be obvious that our relationship with God must be founded on truth.
Our relationship with ourselves involves how we see and understand ourselves, and the “narratives” by which we live. But living according to that which is not true leads to problems. Only by being “honest with ourselves” will we experience the well-being that is inherent in shalom.
Being honest with others seems obvious. To be able to make peace or to seek the well-being of another we need to know the truth and act accordingly. We cannot ignore sinful behavior, oppression, abuse, or other wrong or harmful behaviors and accomplish a desired outcome. Again, the Bible encourages us to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15) to grow and support and build up one another.
Even with regard to the creation, we need to know and act according to the truth. God put humans in the garden “to work it and take care of it.” (Genesis 2:15) We are stewards of the creation. Our job is to “take care of it.” We can only do so when we understand the truth about how the way we live affects creation, how we contribute to global warming, pollution, and species extinction.
Each of us, whatever our specific calling as a peacemaker, needs to be committed to knowing and telling the truth. We may live in a “post-truth” era, but as peacemakers, we need to be people of truth.
Editor’s Note: Tom Beutel, a regular contributor to PeaceSigns, is Professor Emeritus of Computer Science at Mount Vernon Nazarene University in Mount Vernon, Ohio. Balancing Acts is a monthly feature of PeaceSigns.