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Whatever Happened to Truth?

November 1, 2016

 

When was the last time you offended someone, even it was unintentional? It’s not hard to do these days, unless of course, you’re convinced that keeping quiet is taking the high road or you’ve embraced the language of political correctness. If you haven’t done either, then it’s highly probable you’re going to offend someone—especially if you tell them the truth. 

 

Now, what is truth? Pilate asked Jesus the same question at his trial years ago. Let me try to answer that question—not philosophically, but pragmatically.  The word “true” from which we get the word “truth” means in accordance with fact or reality. Truth deals with fact and reality.

 

Political correctness does not value truth because it does not value fact or reality. Instead, the language of political correctness seeks to soften the truth, alter the truth or even avoid it altogether. You see, whether we like to hear the truth or not, really doesn’t matter. The truth remains the truth even if it’s an unpleasant reality. 

 

In an attempt to obfuscate the truth, society has invented the euphemistic language of political correctness. To say we have a penchant for euphemisms is an understatement. Here are some examples. No one is laid off any more they just experience a “career change opportunity”. When plants are closed, companies call it a “volume–related production schedule adjustment”. No one mentions all the people that were adjusted right out of the production schedule. Students don’t fail anymore they experience a “deficiency”—which almost sounds like something to be proud of. Patients in hospitals never die, they just experience a “negative patient care outcome”. Governments never raise taxes they just “enhance revenues”. Now the two things that are certain in life is not death and taxes, it’s “negative patient care outcomes and revenue enhancements”. The above examples were taken from The Quarterly Review of Doublespeak.

 

The desire to hear euphemism’s softer overtones is not new. Even Jesus encountered a push back from his own disciples regarding his choice of words. Matt. 15:12 says, “The disciples came to him and asked, “Do you realize you offended the Pharisees by what you just said?” Maybe Jesus didn’t realize his words were so offensive? But how can that be? He had just levelled some serious charges against the Pharisees and ended his discourse by calling them hypocrites. The disciples correctly read the mood of the Pharisees and immediately went to Jesus. They knew the Pharisees were offended by his words and felt Jesus should do some damage control, maybe even offer an apology. But he didn’t. Why? Speaking the truth doesn’t require an apology, it requires a recognition and acceptance of reality on the part of the hearer.

 

Do you value hearing your doctor’s truthful diagnosis or would you rather your doctor sugar coat the truth about your health? I think most of us want our doctors to be truthful. So why do we value hearing the truth about our physical health but recoil when hearing the truth about our spiritual condition? 

 

We must speak the truth and do so in love. Yet, some are reluctant to do so, because being liked is more important than telling the truth. Since society’s increase in euphemistic classifications, people are not sinners anymore; instead they have a “sickness” or “inherited tendency”, something for which a loving God would never send them to hell. They need treatment and therapy rather than the disciplines of repentance, renunciation or repudiation. Sadly, this psycho-babble amounts to nothing more than a therapeutic whitewash—a desire to remove any personal accountability for our sin. 

 

Robert Wuthnow found that two-thirds of the “support groups” in the United States were “Bible based”. While on the surface that sounds encouraging, these groups believed that “feeling better about yourself” was more important than challenging someone to repent or to change their life.(1)  He also found that too many of these groups are organized and structured to actually perpetuate a therapeutic culture. In other words, if “feeling better about oneself” is more important than taking responsibility for one’s actions, than such groups could end up empowering people to feel good about themselves when they are actually being bad.

 

Others describe this “therapeutic gospel” as a “cancer that is impoverishing the church”(2) or as a “mental health moralism and therapeutic narcissism.”(3) Evangelist Billy Graham was prophetic when he said years ago, “We are dangerously near to saying to the prodigal son, “It is not necessary to return to your father and home—we can make you comfortable in the pigpen.”(4)

 

If we psychologize the behaviour of individuals and use euphemisms to provide a label that sounds softer to the ear, we do so at great peril to those the Bible says we are to help. The Bible refers to the acts of people’s sinful nature in Gal. 5:19-20; and while this list is certainly not meant to be exhaustive, it’s the Apostle Paul’s conclusion concerning those that do these things that is very concerning. He says, “Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God (Gal. 5:21)”. Obviously then, speaking the truth about people’s behavior is not something we can ignore or treat lightly, especially when eternal consequences are at stake for those that do these sins. 

 

Over the years the hymn, Amazing Grace, has been sung by thousands of people around the world in church services and funerals. Its tune is not the reason for its popularity; it’s the truth the song communicates. It resonates with so many because it’s a poignant reminder to all of us of our need for grace. Yet, grace can only be amazing when we see it in stark contrast to our sin. Yes, sin. No amount of euphemisms can soften that word. Our problem is not character flaws, foibles, failures, errors in judgement, misfortunes or mistakes. The Bible says in Isa. 64:5-6, “We are constant sinners; how can people like us be saved? We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags”. 

 

Let’s be truthful. We don’t deserve God’s grace. We are all sinners. We are never going to be good enough. Even the best and worst among us is in need of God’s grace. The Apostle Paul wrote in the book of Romans, chapter 3:22-24, “God makes people right with himself through their faith in Jesus Christ. This is true for all who believe in Christ, because all people are the same: All have sinned and are not good enough for God’s glory, and all need to be made right with God by his grace, [italics mine] which is a free gift. They need to be made free from sin through Jesus Christ.”  

 

Obviously, then, we are not just “messed up”, “maladjusted” or “dysfunctional”. These euphemisms just don’t cut it for sin. Without grace, we are all lost and blind. With it, we can find our way back to God. What’s so amazing about grace? He gives us all the grace we need through Christ even though we don’t deserve it. And I know this very important truth. This is one wretch that was glad to have heard its sweet sound. I hope you hear that truth as well.

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[1] Robert Wuthnow, Sharing the Journey: Support Groups and America's New Quest for Community (New York: Free Press, 1994).

[2] L. Gregory Jones, Embodying Forgiveness: A Theological Solution (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1995).

[3] Theodore Jennings, The Liturgy of Liberation (Nashville: Abingdon, 1988), 23.

[4] Billy Graham, forward to The Christian Persuader, by Leighton Ford (San Francisco, CA: Harper, 1976), 7-8.

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