God is Truthful
My wife and I are only a handful of hours back home from Rome. Jet lag is real, but we are up and going. It is week nine of my sabbatical and today I am chewing on Exodus 20:16. “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” That simple declaration introduces this ninth word – “God is truthful.” The backdrop of this concise command, as you may already know, is the elevation and reverence of God’s complete righteousness, His total justice, and His all-consuming truthfulness. To stand in front of an ancient judge and lie about one’s neighbor for the sake of gaining something from that neighbor or bringing harm to that same neighbor was tantamount to spitting in the very face of God. God’s divine attribute of total honesty was on the line. Scripture repeats this foundational characteristic of our Triune God. “God does not lie” (Numbers 23:19, I Samuel 15:29, Psalm 89:35, Hebrews 6:18, etc.). The prophet Isaiah, unafraid to speak the truth pronounces without hesitation, our LORD is “the God of Truth” (Isaiah 65:16). Jesus affirms this fact with surgical clarity. He says, “God is true” (John 3:33).
Truth telling is a vital spiritual formation exercise. Truth telling is essential training in godliness. Truth telling is so paramount, because without it the effects on people’s lives are disastrous. Every lie is a bullet to the heart of someone. Every lie is a drive-by shooting that forever alters an innocent bystander. Every lie also becomes a self-inflicted wound to the soul. The call to truth speaking has prompted me to ponder a bit in today’s blog about something that occurred on our Italy trip. Some of you are aware that the primary target of our pilgrimage was to see St. Benedict’s abbey in Monte Casino. I assumed that everything else would be delightful icing on the cake. God had and has, as He always does, so much more in mind. Throughout the sabbatical, I have been writing and researching a project that I am entitling A Missing Discipleship: What the Monks and Nuns Can Teach Us. More than a dozen years ago, I wrote a similar booklet for resistant undergraduate students, who live solely under the influence of the twenty-first century with little thought of a wider worldview. I was hungry to encourage them to read some of the ancient devotional classics and learn from a few of the masters. This revised and expanded edition kept me alert on our trip to what God might want to teach me about my ongoing discipleship. Little did I know that Jesus had a significant lesson He wanted to teach me about my apprenticeship with Him. The word “missing” is important to what I am about to share.
My luggage never arrived. It has been missing since December 9th. We are home now and my luggage remains lost somewhere in Paris, Rome, or elsewhere. If you read the previous blog from Rome, you are well aware I wore the same pair of jeans for over a week. I did finally yield to Sue’s prompting and bought some Italian sweatpants. Athletic wear was the only clothing that could fit over my non-slim legs. Some of you are laughing aloud. Enjoy. Everyday someone from the airlines would say, “We are working on this.” “It is not at our airport.” “We are sure it will be here later today.” “Call us back at 7:00 p.m.” “We have given your luggage to the courier.” “It will be there tomorrow at the latest.” Repeatedly, we heard these words and similar ones spoken into the air. The parable of the missing luggage continues and the untruthful words ring in my ears.
Of course, I have not always told the truth either. Scripture implores us to “speak the truth” with one another (Ephesians 4:25). We do not have to be mean-spirited with our truth telling. No one wants to be around someone whose words wound and maim like an AK-47. Scripture reminds us though, “Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord” (Proverbs 12:22). For almost two weeks, I have considered the sobering words God uses to speak the truth about all of us, including me. “None is righteous.” “All have turned aside.” “They use their tongues to deceive.” “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:10-23). Only divine grace makes it possible for you and me to open our heart, to give our heart to Jesus and let Him do the needed heart surgery. James, the New Testament writer, is correct. “The tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life” (James 3:6). Never once in the ten days we were in Rome did anyone from the airlines use their tongue or words to say, “Dr. Jones, we have lost your luggage. We are sorry.” The digital record seems to indicate that my clothes have bounced back and forth between Paris and Rome multiple times.
I have been meditating upon those infamous lines in a court of law when someone is about to bear witness. The question is raised, “Will you tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?” I think of Peter and Paul on those same streets of Rome where I have now walked. Traditions says both spent their last days lowered into the awful and infamous Mamertine Prison, reserved for the most dangerous political prisoners. I looked down that narrow opening and wondered if I could tell the truth even if it landed me in that dark hole. I have been thinking a lot about Peter and Paul. Peter, a Jewish apprentice to Jesus, crucified upside down, for telling the Christ truth. Paul, a Roman citizen, a disciple of Jesus, beheaded, for speaking the Gospel truth. Perhaps truth telling will never cost me the way it cost them. I am thinking about the twenty million Jesus-followers who lost their lives in Rome’s Colosseum simply because they spoke the truth, “My emperor is Jesus.” My missing luggage is still missing. What I pray is never lost is my capacity to tell the truth about Jesus. It is good to be home. Maybe today I will have a divine appointment to tell the truth about Him and for Him. I pray you do as well. Amen.