Last week I wrote,”We think truth is power.” I’ve been waiting for someone to question this statement, but you are a polite bunch, not prone to giving me a hard time about what I write- even if I deserve it.
When I typed that statement,”We think truth is power” , I stopped and thought, “Really? Is that what I think?” And after some reflection, I think it is what I believe. Our society for some reason equates truth with power. If we know the truth we will possess power. But I think we have mistaken, true things for truth.
We often hear it said that knowledge is power and I think that’s correct. Knowing true things can give one power. Knowing how to buy a house gives one power in the process of buying a house. If you don’t know the appropriate true things involved in buying a house, you lack the power to protect your interests.
There is a particular responsibility carried by people in medical and legal fields. They possess a certain body of knowledge that the rest of us don’t have. They know true things that we don’t and this knowledge gives them power over the rest of us.
To be an effective legislator or to advocate for a piece of legislation you need to know certain true things about how the process works. If not, you have no power and cannot achieve your goals.
Knowing true things is essential to having power.
But knowing the truth won’t help you get your mortgage.
Knowing the truth won’t make you an effective, powerful legislator or a skilled doctor. Knowing the truth will make you an ethical legislator and doctor. Knowing the truth may influence the types of legislation you sponsor and how you vote. Knowing the truth should make you a compassionate physician. But it won’t make you powerful.
One of the many paradoxes of Christianity is our odd view of power and truth. For us truth is not something to be learned. Truth isn’t found in statements of faith and doctrines. Statements of faith and doctrines may be true things, but they are not truth. Truth is a person, Jesus. And Jesus embraced powerlessness. That was part of the way Jesus lived and what he taught his disciples. When Jesus stands before Pilate, Jesus locates his authority outside of the power politics of his day. Pilate asks Jesus, “What is truth?” and Jesus simply looks back at him, as if to say, “Truth is standing right in front of you, if only you have the eyes to see.” A powerful person who knew a lot of true things didn’t recognize the truth.
For many of us, particularly us privileged western Christians, we know a lot of true things. We know a lot of true things that give us power. But more importantly we know the truth and the true one. The true one calls Christians to give up power. We are called to give our power to the powerless. This isn’t a turning of the tables so that the poor can become oppressors. It is giving up power so that none of us are oppressed or are oppressors.
It’s tough, giving up power. Power and knowledge and success are all knotted up together and revered in our society. Humility and weakness are associated with failure. It is a hard way to live in our culture.
Some days the Christian community seems consumed by struggle and argument. Creationism, evolution, social justice, family values, Biblical interpretation, pick your battle. Friends, are we confusing knowing true things with Truth? Are we seeking to win, because winners have power and losers don’t? When we are “fighting” for the sanctity of this and the purity of that, are we interested in power or truth? Are we called to be culture warriors who are out to win, or people who seek peace in the odd way of Jesus?
I’d like to know, what do you think?