Like moths to a flame so are we drawn to the unfolding non-fiction-fiction of the 2016 Presidential Election. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say we are like moths to an apocalyptic bonfire. We, as a nation, so it seems, are flying at full speed toward our own destruction cheering and singing along the way. And with eyes glazed burning for new revelation, we watch yearning to find that one final straw that will break the camel’s back, i.e. our conscience, leading us to the voting box confident that we have finally received enough information to make a God-approved choice for president, attaining the inner affirmation that we have the endorsement from heaven. And every day we wake up to the alerts of “newly leaked emails” and T.V. ads smearing the opposing candidate’s self-tarnished reputation. And every day, as a result, the camel gets back up and begins wandering with a limp back and forth between the “vote against” and the “non-vote” of neutrality and innocence for the simple fact that a “vote-for” is quite unthinkable . For some of us, the camel kneels and prays for another straw and another miraculous broken back. To our great surprise, a whole bale of straw falls from the sky in 650,000 newly discovered emails, 5 more woman bringing accusations of sexual assault, or a dark horse candidate gaining steam in Utah. (We have to imagine that God has heard some rather strange requests and misguided tributes of praise in 2016. Prayers like, “Please God, help people to see that Trump really is your Chosen One.” And others such as, “Oh thank you, God, for Donald Trump! Thank you for sending us a Savior that will bring us back to the Promised Land and rescue us from our enemies on every side.” And even stranger still, “Hey God, what’s up with Satan dressed like a woman? I always imagined the Beast as a man.”)
As much as we tend to think that “the more information we have the better,” the fact is, this overwhelming dumping of “truth” seems to be taking an unforeseen toll upon us all. Our heads spin dizzy from this “new report” and our fascination with “revealed secrets” has us longing for more, believing we are getting closer to the truth. But the truth is…well, that’s just it. What is the truth in all of this? Where do we go to find it? Fox news or CNN? Does Hannity have it or is it Don Lemon who is in the know? The sources we once trusted to be telling us the truth, now tell us two completely different stories about the same event or person. Current polls suggest a greater distrust and suspicion of media sources than ever before. The conflicting narratives are disorienting and cause us to question the identity of our character in the unfolding drama. We begin to ask ourselves questions, such as, “Should I as a Christian identify with Trump supporters even for virtuous and noble reasons?” And, “Can I be okay voting for a woman like Hillary even with all the corruption that seems to surround her?” Additionally, other haunting questions emerge in our hearts, such as, “Will I really be responsible for the sins of the future president if I don’t exercise my right to vote? Will God understand this terrible situation I’m in?” These questions and many more plague our consciences as election day is upon us.
So, again, I ask myself (and you), what is the truth and where do we go to find it? As one who seeks to follow Jesus and worship Him with all that I am and do, let me offer three overly simplified observations that should guide us in the days ahead. (Feel free to skip to my conclusion, “So…how should we vote?” if you don’t have time to read the whole post).
The Truth is a Person
Before Jesus was flogged, mocked and crucified, he was interrogated by Pilate, a senior Roman governmental official of Judea at the time. Pilate asked Jesus if he was King of the Jews and Jesus responded saying, “My kingdom is not of the world…You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world — to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice” (John 18:33-37). And Pilate responded with a question that many in the world today are asking and seeking answers to, saying, “What is truth?” (Jn 18:38). The irony of the question is apparent. This official charged with the duty of deciding Jesus’ guilt or innocence is unconcerned with factual evidence that would inform his verdict. And if you keep reading in John 18:38-40, you may be shocked to find just how grave the consequences are for having no answer for such questions like his as we see Pilate release a robber instead of Jesus, who was innocent, for mere pragmatic reasons.
Such is the concept of truth for many today. Facts are convenient as long as they serve to produce a favorable outcome. Referring to our current election, this kind of pragmatism leads people to say things like, “It doesn’t matter what the friggin legal and ethics people say, we need to win this….” Truth is foundational for morality and ethics. And when truth is replaced with a prag-for-power mentality, the whole world suffers or, in Jesus’ case, the Son of God suffers and dies. Pragmatism, untethered from the truth, often leads to death.
So what are we to do with this question: “What is truth?” Jesus provides the answers for us, answers which Pilate would have done well to listen to. In a discussion with his disciples, Jesus, in response to questions about finding the way to his Father’s house (i.e. the way to God), proclaims unashamedly that He is the way, the truth, and the life (Jn. 14:6). What an astounding and breathtaking claim! Many philosophers and teachers of his day sought to expound on the nature of reality asking and seeking to answer questions such as, “What is meaning and how do we find it? How do we know what we know? What or who is god? Where do we find true life?” The greatest of them would simply expound logical arguments hoping to provide proof for belief that reality is a certain way based on common axioms or first principles. And here is Jesus, not only proclaiming that in order to find the way to God and to true life one must come to him exclusively, but also in order for someone to know the truth about God they must believe in Him and the one who sent Him (Jn. 12:44-50). Here we see Jesus making an authoritative claim that the way in which one finds the truth about life in God is found in a person, not in a web of logical proofs and axioms. In some sense, Jesus is the axiom or first principle by which God may be known and experienced. And in knowing God, we begin to see the truth about all of reality. Therefore, knowing Jesus opens the door to finding true knowledge and gaining an understanding of life from a truly-true perspective.
Thus, when questioned by Pilate, Jesus reveals his nature and purpose saying, “For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world–to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice” (Jn 18:37). Therefore, if we want to know the truth and have an anchored view of reality concerning who God is, what He has done and how to rightly view the world around us, Jesus says that we must come to him and listen to his voice. Among all the contradictory and competing voices, there is one voice that will not lie to us or seek to deceive us for pragmatic reasons. And Jesus says if we are of the truth, we will hear his voice. So, the question for us is, where or how do we hear his voice?
The Truth Shapes What We Value
In the previous chapter of John’s gospel (John 17), we can read Jesus’ longest recorded prayer. In His prayer He makes a number of requests from His Father. He asks the Father 1) to glorify the Son (v. 1, 5); 2) to keep the believers in His name (v. 11); 3) to keep them from the evil one (v. 15); 4) to sanctify them in the truth (v.17); 5) that the believers may be one (v.21-23) and 6) that the believers may be with Him in glory (v. 24). What I believe is important to see in this prayer is the pivotal nature of just how God the Father will answer this prayer. Equally, we should see how this shapes what we value amidst a bewildering election cycle.
There’s a lot to think through here so let me draw attention to the central idea. The believers Jesus prayed for, whom the Father gave to Him, became believers through the words of truth that Jesus spoke to them. And Jesus prays that these same believers will go on believing the truth, and in believing, be sanctified. This word sanctify simply means for something or someone to be set apart for a special or holy purpose. Just as Jesus is not of the world neither are those who believe in His words and follow after him. Just as Jesus was sent into this world for a sanctified purpose, so also are those who believe in Him (v. 18). God answers Jesus’ prayer by sanctifying the believers by the word of truth, which keeps them in His name, keeps them from the evil one, keeps them unified and keeps them on the road to be with Christ in glory. And all of this glorifies the Son and the work that He accomplished on earth. Therefore, in order to hear the voice of truth, we must go to that word in which Jesus asked the Father to sanctify those who believe.
The result of belief in Christ’s work and word is a new identity for believers. Our new identity as believers is now one in which we identify with the truth and in identifying with the truth, we identify with Jesus. Thus, we are set apart from the world in its pursuits, its definitions of meaning, its value propositions, its understanding of the nature of reality, its promulgation of human autonomy that has no regard for God or His words. Our sanctification by the truth will look like greater expressions of devotion to Christ and simultaneously greater real-time manifestations of death to sin and the kingdoms where sin reigns. In other words, our being sanctified by the truth will cause believers, for all intents and purposes, talk like Jesus, love like Jesus, sacrifice like Jesus, live like Jesus, and perhaps even, vote like Jesus. I choked on that last one. What does that even mean, Jake? How did Jesus vote? How would he vote today? Let’s consider one final point as we seek to understand our role as Christians in this election.
The Truth is King of a Kingdom