Truth forever on the scaffold
Wrong forever on the throne
Yet that scaffold sways the future, and
Behind the dim unknown
Standeth God within the shadow
Keeping watch above His Own
~James Russell Lowell, The Present Crisis
Not long ago, in a prophetic way, the Boston Globe reported, “In our culture, it is not acceptable, if you are running for president, to blatantly lie about having an extramarital affair and then taunt the press to find out differently.” It then added, “But if a lie is along the lines of helping maintain our self-esteem and perpetuate our own self-deceptions, we may not even perceive it as a lie; we may perceive it as being supportive.”1
We ought not be surprised. Even Robert Nisbet wrote, “The ideologies which gained entry into the academy in the sixties claimed that the fundamental intellectual principles of Western culture were illegitimate and must be overthrown. With that destroyed, terms like truth, good, evil, and soul could be discarded.”2 Why do we wonder at the brazenness of politicians or educators of the nineties who were the flower children of the sixties? And why should we be surprised that the polling of soul-mated baby boomers shows agreement?
Educator Gene Veith writes, “Those who do not believe in truth are more likely, I believe, to lie. Those who believe that moral values are nothing more than the imposition of power may be more likely to use power to suppress their opposition, whether in enforcing politically correct postures in academia or, when they have political power, in acts of tyranny.”3 Veith is describing the postmodern man who has discarded both the need and the possibility of truthful writing or speech. He (the PM man) understands that truth in our day is constructed as the writer or speaker has need.
The fact that we have arrived at such a low state of affairs, is still surprising to anyone not educated within the last thirty years. They may still remember that the Bible upholds absolutes and calls them “truth,” and condemns violations of truth by calling them “lies.” Those who were raised in a Christian surrounding accepted moral the LORD are mercy and truth” (Ps 25:10). But man’s sin makes it very difficult for him to recognize the truth which he holds. C.S. Lewis wrote, “The moment you say that one set of moral ideas can be better than another, you are, in fact, measuring them both by a standard.”5 This “standard” is sometimes called The Universal Moral Law. It is the truthful structure of God’s world. Bonhoeffer said, “The very existence of oaths is a proof that there are such things as lies.”6 This truthful world is the context for Paul’s argument.
2. “Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever”(1:25). When people violate a truthful world, they deny God’s reality in it. The immoral acts of man are contrary to the way things “ought” to be in God’s world. Ron Mayers wrote, “The Christian can never agree for a moment to a non-theistic interpretation of reality, and the naturalistic unbeliever of our generation finds it intellectually impossible to comprehend the supernatural and transcendent dimension of reality.”7 That is, it is easier to be an atheist than to tell the truth. According to John Leo, the lost man has “Absolutophobia—an unwillingness to say something is wrong.”8 But it is more than a phobia, it is depravity at its best.
If we wonder today why, when people are polled about this lack of truthfulness, they do not care, we need only to read verse 32, “Who, knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.” When sinners see powerful people living a lie (without consequence) that they would like to live, they like it. It gives them hope that their atheism may prove to be right.
3. “But we are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth, against them which commit such things”(2:2). Liars will be judged by God, the Ultimate Standard of truth. Satan’s grand lie is that we will not be caught. After all, many great people in history have lived by lying and no one seemed to care. When compared to all the liars that have existed, we don’t seem so bad.
But we will be judged by the One who is Truth. Tozer wrote, “Holy is the way God is. To be holy He does not conform to a standard. He is the standard.”9 Satan’s lie will not work for him nor for any other liar. Spurgeon put it, “Every liar is a child of the devil, and will be sent home to his father.”10
What does all of this mean to the Christian in our age? How can we “become all things to all men” when all men want us to lie and construct whatever “truth” makes them comfortable? Postmodernist Richard Rorty simply asserts, “Truth is what my peers will let me get away with saying.”11 And we must ask, what will we let ourselves get away with saying to a man like that?
If our listeners do not accept our message as absolute, then they are not believing anything. If we show them at every turn that we will change, negotiate or discard almost anything we do, why should they believe anything we say? One older writer said, “How few are there like Barnabas and Saul, who, because they would not relax anything from the truth, were stoned by the very people who, but a moment before, were ready to offer incense to them as to gods descended upon earth?”12 Audiences have always been willing to believe whatever makes them happy. Paul and Barnabas understood how critical the situation was, and so should we.Notes: 1. Alison Bass, “Lying is a Universal Truth” in the Dayton Daily News, July 22, 1996. 2. Quoted by Cal Thomas, The Things That Matter Most (New York: HarperCollins, 1994) 6. 3. Gene Edward Veith, Jr. Postmodern Times (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1994) 50. 4. “Postmodernism” A seminar paper by Rick Shrader, p. 19-20. 5. C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: MacMillan, 1960) 25. 6. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost Of Discipleship (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995) 136. 7. Ronald B. Mayers, Balanced Apologetics (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1984) 8. 8. John Leo, “A No-Fault Holocaust,” U.S. News & World Report, July 21, 1997, p. 14. 9. A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy (New York: Harper, 1961) 112. 10. Charles H. Spurgeon, Treasury Of David, I (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1978) 425. 11. Quoted by William L. Craig, Reasonable Faith (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1994) 173. 12. Jean Baptiste Massillon, Orations from Homer to McKinley, IV (New York: Collier, 1902) 1720.