I was reading a book recently in which a main character revealed an experience which seemed incredibly unbelievable to other characters in the book. The other characters refused to believe him and in fact secretly mocked him. They had no proof that what he said was not true, but because it seemed too far-fetched to them and because it was out of the realm of possibility given their own experience, they refused to believe. The main character was frustrated by what they said and how they treated him, but he clung steadfastly to what he knew as the truth.
In recent days we have seen some issues of truth in the news with situations such as allegedly fictitious relationships passed off as real, and whether or not a sports figure was honest in competition and in defense of the alleged cheating for which he is accused. So it seems to me that humans have trouble with the issue of truth sometimes. Do we believe what someone reports as truth or not? Given all the versions that are reported to us, it seems that truth is in the eye of the beholder. Or is it? I have heard someone say that there are three ways of seeing things: your way, my way, and the truth. Is truth something that is relative?
Truth, by definition, cannot be relative. Part of being human means we interpret what we see and experience. That means we rely on our perceptions. We have to, given that none of us has the proverbial "crystal ball" or a hotline straight to understanding the mysteries of the universe. But simply because we perceive something to be truth does not make it so. If we decide that two plus two equals five that does not make it so. Or if we decide a neighbor does not exist, that does not make it so. Therefore there are some things that we need to accept whether we like them or not, or whether we have all the evidence or not. The word for that is faith. We do not need to accept everything we hear, nor should we. We need to rely on our perception and we need to rely upon experience. But we also have to accept that not everything is empirical and not everything can be proven. While we cannot and should not believe everything we hear or read, we have to learn to discern what may or may not be truth.
To discern truth means that one needs to have a faith foundation. God is Truth and in order for us to ascertain what may be the truth, we have to first look to Him. God has left us His Word in Scripture to help us with this. He has taught us to weigh things by using the Scriptures, by providing us with those who are entrusted with interpreting them, and He has given us many graces to guide us in this life. If we weigh all things using these gifts, we can learn what is truth and hopefully what is not. St. Paul tells us that the most important gifts we have are faith, hope, and love, the greatest of the three being love. If we weigh all things through the lens of faith, hope, and love as lived and taught by Jesus Christ, how can we not stay in line with truth?
We must not forget that this does not mean we will understand everything we encounter. The other element involved in discerning truth is accepting mystery. There are some things that are just too big and too far above us to be understood in this life. God did not promise us that we would have perfect understanding. If we had this, we would not need faith, and in fact, we would have the mind of God. We all want certainty about so much in life, and this is not ours to have. But to trust in His word and to use love to help us to discern what truth is, is to have all the guidance we really need. While I hope that the real life situations I mentioned earlier would lead to truth for the people involved, I know that whatever the truth is and whatever their version may be, mine is not to judge. That is the job of the Lord. But it does teach us that honesty is the best policy, because if there are lies, they do catch up with us. Truth leads to life and deception leads to hurt for everyone involved.
Jesus said, "I am the Way and the Truth and the Life." (John 14:6) It should not surprise us that truth and life are linked together. Sometimes truth can be hard to distinguish. Maybe a good spiritual director can help us to discern what the truth really is in a given situation. But if we continually turn to Jesus and ask for Him to help us to see the truth, and to leave the judging to Him, we can open our eyes to the reality of faith, hope, and love, which indeed lead us to life. The teachings of Jesus lead us to truth, and the truth involves loving. This means we try to imitate the values taught by Jesus. It also means we need to have a relationship with Him, so we can be disciples, following Him to the fullness of life and truth. He teaches us that we can pray for those who may not have been truthful and whose lack of truthfulness has led to hurt. We can pray for the victims of lies and falsehoods. And if we are the victims of lies we can pray to have forgiveness. This is the loving response to which the Gospels call us. And of course, we can pray that we have the wisdom to discern.
One of my favorite prayers is known as The Serenity Prayer, by Reinhold Niebuhr, which is often only partially quoted. Here it is in its entirety:
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.
The wise person does discern what truth may be in a given situation. The wise person does not believe everything he or she hears without reflection, investigation if appropriate, and prayer. The wise person knows to weigh things through the lens of faith, hope, and love, and uses the Scriptures as the source of truth as revealed by God. The wise person never ceases to pray to know the way and the truth which leads to life with God forever. The wise person prays for the gift of loving the way Jesus loves.
May we have the wisdom and ability to discern what is true in our lives! May truth and living the truth lead us to the fullness of life! May we rely on our baptismal graces of faith, hope, and love to live our lives in the Truth. And may we have the wisdom to trust in the Lord who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. May we continue to meet in the Heart of the Lord, the Eternal One! Peace!
(By the way, the character in the book I read survived a harrowing experience that should have led to death, yet he lived. Improbable as the story may have been, the character steadfastly stuck to it. Maybe the author was trying to tell us that life and the truth are connected!)
Photos: Both are my own photography. The top photo is the clouds rolling in over Mt. Mucrone, Italy, obscuring the truth of what lay below. The second photo is of the setting sun over the Gulf of Mexico. It is not "photo-shopped." But there was a simple trick involved that "plays with" the reality that there is only one sun.
Heart Speaks to Heart