By Dick Stenbakken — Picture two terrorists speeding across the bleak, dusty landscape trailing a vortex of dust. Suddenly they see a strange aircraft pop up over the horizon. The alert driver sees it first and asks his companion, “What is that strange-looking thing?”
His companion squints through the dusty windshield, concentrating on the small spot just above the horizon. “Oh, that is the A-10 Thunderbolt, sometimes called the Warthog,” he replies. “Warthog? That is a most strange name. So, what do you know about it?” the curious driver asks. “Oh, I know very much about it,” the passenger replies excitedly. “Tell me more,” the driver pleads.
“Well, the plane is built around a massive 30 mm seven-barrel cannon that can fire between 2,100 and 4,200 rounds per minute. It can carry 16,000 pounds of bombs, including anti-armor missiles, cluster bombs, and sidewinder missiles. The pilot is protected by titanium wrap-around armor and the plane can fly even though badly damaged.”
“True? That is really true?” asks the awestruck driver. “Yes, verifiably and actually true, but there is even more,” the passenger replies.
Suddenly the plane seems to be way closer and closing fast on the vehicle and its occupants.
“What are those smoke streaks headed toward us from the plane?” inquires the driver. “Oh. Those are two missiles he has fired.”
“Awesome! Quips the driver. I am glad you know so much about that plane. You have taught me much my friend! I am now enlightened, better informed, and….” The sentence is never finished as the vehicle and terrorists are erased in a blinding flash.
The passenger knew the truth, right down to many details. He was accurate, articulate, and knowledgeable. He was even excited to share the truth about the airplane to an inquisitive friend. However, even though he was dead-on accurate, the truth was only informative. It did not promote any prompt changes, nor did it provide safety.
Unless truth prompts changes, it is merely esoteric information and cerebral data displaying the understanding of the person sharing truth in all of its details. Truth does not function in a vacuum. It must lead to practical application leading to meaningful action. Truth is more than esoteric understanding, as good as that may be. Without application to life and life’s varying challenges, truth can be like a beautiful Christmas tree decoration that is pretty, or even fascinating but has no impact on changing my life.
Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life…. (John 14:6).” When He said that, the ears of the Jewish listeners began to tingle, because the phrase “I AM,” was the formal name of YHWH, the Supreme God of the universe. Jesus identified Himself as both the ultimate Truth, and as God incarnate. They got it. It was as obvious as a Warthog bearing down on you out of the blue.
Even Jesus’ statement of ultimate truth was in vain unless it led to belief, acceptance, and action. It is no different for us today.
It is too easy to mouth the phrase, “We have the truth!” The immediate (often inner) response is, “So what?” Has that truth made a change in my life, my thinking, my actions? Perhaps a more thoughtful, and humbly prayerful statement might be, “The truth has me.” The latter statement is pregnant with potentially life-changing actions and relationships. Truth applied is what changes people, deepens relationships, builds trust, and works the works of God. Truth applied puts sandals on cerebral assent.
So how do we know “truth” amid the clamor of vying voices saying they alone are true?
Go back to the statement of Jesus in John 14:6. Link it with how He stated, “I AM….” He laid the foundation of the rest of His statement on His relationship with His Father. That ongoing relationship was key to His work and to His being. He said, “Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves (John14:11). “I and the Father are one. (John 10:30). He said again, “…I am in the Father and…the Father is in me (John 14:10). For Jesus, truth is embedded in an ongoing relationship with the Father; it is not some sterile, stand-alone metaphysical proof-text proposition or formula.
The greatest agony Jesus suffered was not from the Roman whip or nails. It was the rasping, gasping cry out of the darkness He could not see beyond when he cried out, “My God! My God! Why have You forsaken Me!” (Matthew 27:46). His emotions told him (as did Satan) that the relationship with the Father was eternally severed. But truth is not based on emotions. Truth is built on a knowing that responds beyond the most crushing emotions. As He was dying, Jesus clung to the truth that his Father had not forsaken him, even in the darkest despair. That is why Jesus could close His life with the trusting words, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” (Luke 23:46). That’s truth applied under the most excruciating circumstances.
Jesus knew and demonstrated that truth is not merely subjective. It is based on eternal objectivity that does not change. There is no such thing as, “Well that may be your truth, but it isn’t my truth.” Something is either incontrovertibly and forever true, or it is not.
Would you trust a builder who used a rubber ruler to construct your house? You know, the kind of ruler fishermen sometimes use, where the fish gets larger with every telling. If the builder purchased his lumber by stretching the ruler (to save himself money) when purchasing, then contracted the ruler when building your home, you would have an irreparable mess. As for me and my house, I want a solid steel, unchanging, precise ruler, and an honest builder. Nothing less.
So, how does one know truth from untruth? Jesus set the stage by his relationship with the Father. He knew that God was and is Creator, Sustainer, Protector, Guide, All-Knowing, All-Powerful, Ever Present, Just Judge, Compassionate Listener, and much, much more. Knowing those aspects of God’s character in an ongoing, real relationship allowed Jesus to be Who he was/is as demonstrated in how he lived and what he did. The same will be true of those who build a living, vibrant, ongoing relationship with the Person of God, not just knowing details about Him. Jesus said to some who claim to have done great things in his name, “Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you evil doers!’”
Reflect on those last devastating words: “I never knew you,” and the corollary painful truth, “You never knew Me.” The Greek word for “know” (ginosko) describes an intimate knowledge and relationship way beyond a mere cerebral recognition. To truly know God, and His Son Jesus, is to have a living, ongoing, thriving, life changing relationship with Him. That relationship is the objective yardstick to determine what is, and is not, true. That relational aspect will change everything in life, death, and eternity.
In some ways, the old saying, “It’s not what you know, but who you know,” adds clarity. To know Jesus, and the Father, to have a living relationship with them, changes my life’s direction. That relationship with both is what defines life.
And that’s the truth.
–Dick Stenbakken, Ed.D., retired Army Chaplain (Col.), served as director of Adventist Chaplaincy Services at the General Conference and North American Division. With his wife Ardis, he lives in Loveland, Colorado. Email him at: [email protected]