"Truthiness" and the Truth

If you ever watch The Colbert Report on Comedy Central or online, you’ve probably heard the term “truthiness”. What is it? Here’s how Stephen Colbert, who coined the term (as in, made it up) defines it: “We’re not talking about truth, we’re talking about something that seems like truth – the truth we want to exist.” Colbert’s use of the word speaks to our tendency to establish truth and certainty based on emotion or gut feeling. We desperately want something to be true – usually because it provides us with the comfort and assurance that we think we need. So we’ll say whatever it takes to make it true. Then our “truthiness” ends up being a lie, even if unintentional.

Over the last several days, I’ve been thinking a lot about this word and how it applies to the horrific events in Newtown, CT on Friday, December 14th and the world’s reaction to it. Countless news stories, editorials, tweets, Facebook posts, and email forwards have tackled this. We Christians need to be prepared to avoid offering an answer to the world’s questions about tragedy that is centered in “truthiness”. Instead our response must be the truth which God has graciously revealed to us in His Word.

That being said, I’ve been troubled by the overwhelming “truthiness” of a poem I’ve seen which addresses the Newtown shootings. Selected portions of it read:

“‘Twas 11 days before Christmas, around 9:38
when 20 beautiful children stormed through heaven’s gate…
 …then [Jesus] opened His arms and He called them by name.
and in that moment was joy, that only heaven can bring
those children all flew into the arms of their King…
‘in the midst of this darkness, I AM STILL THE LIGHT.’

There is much “truthiness” here in this selection, and in the rest of the poem. The false assumption of the author is that because many of the victims are children, surely they are saved. And this is simply not true. It’s an emotionally difficult word from the Lord that a little child could die into everlasting condemnation, but that is the consequence of sin – and little children have the corruption of sin just as much as you and I do! (Psalm 51:5)

Such horrors demand comfort. That’s understandable. Sin and death are unnatural – they go against the life and good order instilled in creation by God. But what we often do is speak to such horror with words that provide us comfort, rather than the Word of Truth that provides all with true comfort. The comfort of Christ is not found in a falsehood which would state that victims of a tragedy are found nowhere else but heaven, but instead in God’s sure promise that He “desires all people to be saved” and He reveals that truth to us in the Gospel. While we should be sensitive as to the time and place to speak about the reality of sin and its wages (death), not just for adults but also for children (even the smallest infant), we also shouldn’t proclaim to others a false peace that comes from the world such as the poem gives – even if it makes us or them feel good. Sometimes the truth is very difficult to speak or hear, and yet it remains the truth. And we are servants of truth, called to proclaim it to this fallen world!

The tragedy of the above poem is that when the last line states truth, the truth is already obscured with line after line of “truthiness”. Jesus is the Light in the midst of darkness which cannot be overcome (John 1:4-5), and that is a comforting word from the Lord. Something cannot be partially true, especially when it concerns God and His precious Gospel which brings His gift of life to all. That’s how the Devil spreads his lies – in half truths, which are finally no truth at all! Speaking or writing a false word about God is breaking the 3rd commandment and ultimately preaching a false god.

Here is what is true: Jesus loves the little children and bids them to come and be brought to Him. (Matthew 19:14) Yet Jesus also clearly tells us that He is the only way to heaven – that is, faith in Christ is what saves us, not whether we are a child, or are born into a Christian family, or attend a Christian school, etc. (John 14:6; Acts 10:34ff; Ezekiel 18:20-21.) Jesus is also clear that faith in Christ is a gift, given to us in His Word and in the waters of His sacrament of Holy Baptism (Romans 10:9-17; Mark 16:16; 1 Peter 3:21; etc.)

I can’t comment on the specific salvation of the 20 children and 7 adults who were murdered in Connecticut last Friday morning. I’m not in a position to – only those who knew them and their confession of faith intimately can do this: their parents, their pastors, and ultimately the Lord Jesus Christ. But take note: neither is almost anyone else who passes around this poem in that position, likely including you.

So what can we do as Christians? Let us speak the truth, in love, to one another. Let us give a clear and true answer for the hope that we have, in Christ. Let us fulfill our calling as Christians and “pray without ceasing” for all those affected by this crime. Let us bring our babies to the font to be baptized into Christ’s eternal family. Let us go next door to our neighbors, speak with our co-workers and friends, and converse with our families about the True things – that Jesus is a friend of sinners, bringing salvation to them. Let us tell them where to find Jesus and His gifts – in His Church! Let us issue the loving invitation to join us here on Wednesdays and Sundays. Let us make sure that we and our household are here in our Lord’s house weekly to hear again that we are baptized, we are forgiven, we are Christ’s, forever and ever.

Let us not speak things which may make us feel better, yet are false. Let us instead seek out the true, eternal, perfect comfort of Jesus and His word. What does He say to us when we face the horror and evil of sin? “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose…For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:28, 38-39) All of this may be difficult to hear and accept, so please call, email, or stop in to talk with me about any of it. It’s my joy and privilege to do so for you, my beloved in Christ.