The Cost of Truthfulness and the Toll of Lies

SIXTH SUNDAY AFTER EPIPHANY

Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Psalm 119:1-8
1 Corinthians 3:1-9
Matthew 5:21-37

Prayer of the Day: O God, strength of all who hope in you, because we are weak mortals we accomplish nothing good without you.  Help us to see and understand the things we ought to do, and give us grace and power to do them, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

“Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’ But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.” Matthew 5:33-37.

“The allegations made in the articles of impeachment are very serious. As a Senator-juror, I swore an oath, before God, to exercise “impartial justice.” I am a profoundly religious person. I take an oath before God as enormously consequential. I knew from the outset that being tasked with judging the President, the leader of my own party, would be the most difficult decision I have ever faced. I was not wrong.” Senator Mitt Romney of Utah explaining his decision to vote for the removal of President Donald Trump from office.

As I said last week, it is critical to remember that the Sermon on the Mount is not directed to the general public. It was not designed for personal application to “everyday life.” Nor is it a template for governance in a utopian society. The Sermon is directed to the disciples of Jesus. It describes the shape of a shared life of repentance, forgiveness and witness to a better way of being human. Within the Body of Christ, Paul instructs us to “put[]” away falsehood” and “let everyone speak the truth with their neighbor, for we are members one of another.” Ephesians 4:25. Truth is all that we should be speaking to one another. Every word that comes out of our mouths ought to be spoken as though in the presence of God-because it is. Oaths are therefore superfluous.

But the Body of Christ exists in a world where, to use the words of presidential adviser and personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, “truth isn’t truth.” I suspect most avid Trump supporters know that their president lies-not inadvertently, occasionally or in peripheral matters, but that he lies knowingly, consistently and in matters of grave importance. It isn’t that they are deceived. They just don’t care. Truth doesn’t matter. In fact, some of the president’s apologists have gone so far as to say that his lying is a form of authenticity! “Trump is a liar, but since he doesn’t have a filter, he manages to lie authentically.” So said Commentator Eve Peyser in explaining what Joe Walsh meant when he said, “Trump is at least open & honest about his lying.” Seriously, you can’t make this stuff up. In such a topsy turvy moral universe, an oath serves to remind people of what St. Augustine affirmed centuries ago: that truth exists, that it is knowable and our testimony must always be in conformity therewith.

In the biblical context, an oath is promissory in nature. It is meant to guarantee that what is undertaken will be brought to completion. Such oaths must not be taken frivolously because we cannot know in advance the cost of fulfilling them. When my friend Rodney married Melissa, I am sure he was mindful of the gravity of his vow “to join with her and share all that is to come.” I am sure he was aware of the difficulties involved with learning to live in an intimate relationship with another, the arguments bound to occur, the differences that would need to be ironed out and the challenge of raising children. What he was not prepared for, however, was spending the next fifteen years of his life caring for his ailing spouse as a ravishing chronic illness rendered her an invalid and slowly took her life. Rodney would be the first to tell you that, notwithstanding the unanticipated course of his marriage, it was nonetheless blessed. Be that as it may, the terrible cost of keeping the vow he made to Melissa was not even on his radar the day that vow was made. Still, he kept it faithfully.

People of faith understand that a promise made in the presence of God is not a thing to be taken lightly. In describing the character of one worthy to enter into God’s sanctuary, the psalmist says of such persons that they “stand by their oath even to their hurt.” Psalm 15:4. That means when you undertake the obligation to testify truthfully, you tell the truth-even when it is personally embarrassing, even when it can get you fired, even when it hurts your political ambitions, even when it costs you your life. It means that when you undertake the obligation of a juror, you render a just decision-even when it disappoints your constituents, hurts your party and dooms your political career. Contrary to the prevailing belief in at least one of America’s two major parties, truth exists and it matters.

You don’t have to like Senator Mitt Romney’s politics to respect and admire his recognition that the solemn duty imposed upon us by our Maker to speak the truth ranks before party loyalty which, these days, amounts to total obeisance to Donald J. Trump. Mr. Romney is an example of those who “stand by their oath even to their hurt.” If the fate of other Republican politicians who have had the temerity to cross the president is any reliable indicator, Romney’s decision to vote in favor of the president’s removal from office almost surely doomed his future in the party. More severe still was the consequence of truthfulness for Purple Heart recipient Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman who was fired for giving his courageous testimony before the House of Representatives. [1] It is no exaggeration to say that the truth is under attack in our day and those who would defend it are paying a steep price.

Yet as high a price as you might pay for telling the truth, the toll taken on the soul for betraying it is higher still. I have to wonder what kind of lies all of the Republican senators who voted to acquit Donald Trump had to tell themselves to justify that action in their own minds as they watched a man who put his life on the line to defend theirs escorted out of the office he served faithfully for years as though he were a criminal. I wonder what kind of  fabricated stories they have to tell themselves about themselves in order to live with themselves. I wonder whether, in the depths of their souls there is not yet a still small voice crying out to them, “How can you not speak out against this man’s cruel words and actions, how can you not offer even a whimper of protest when he vilifies men like John McCain and Alexander Vindman, slandering them and devaluing their service? I pity these near empty shells of what once were men and women moved to give their life to public service and who took an oath to defend the Constitution and defend the people it was written to protect. It must be hell living in their skins. It must be agonizing to be reminded of all the promises betrayed, all the ideals left behind and the fearful toadies they have become under the reign of Trump each time they look in the mirror. The words of William Shakespeare come to mind: “Cowards die many times before their deaths; The valiant never taste of death but once.” Julius Caesar, Act II, Scene II.

Truth is worth whatever price must be paid for its defense. Nowhere does that become more evident than in the cross. After all, the greatest truth is God’s oath to bless God’s creation and the highest expression of that truth is the terrible price of God’s faithfulness to that oath-the life of God’s only beloved Son. Again, Saint Augustine teaches us that all truth is finally grounded in God’s Triune self and is therefore holy-whether it pertains to the highest doctrinal assertions or the merest of human transactions. Lies, however seemingly trivial, are always an affront to our Creator and a blemish on our souls.

Truth telling and promise keeping is heroic work. Here is a poem about heroism that is grounded in faith and personal integrity. This is the kind of heroism our time needs so desperately.

Heroism

An heroic act is an individual act.
It is performed in utter solitude.
The hero knows that he acts alone,
is aware that his efforts may well be wasted
and embraces the likelihood that his sacrifice
will never be known, appreciated or understood
by any, save God alone.
History’s judgment neither adds anything,
nor takes anything away.

Source: Anonymous

[1]  The simultaneous firing of Vindman’s twin brother who played absolutely no part in the impeachment proceedings demonstrates the absolute childish ruthlessness of the Trump regime and further exposes the cringeworthy cowardice of the Republican leadership in turning a blind eye to this outrage.

6 thoughts on “The Cost of Truthfulness and the Toll of Lies

  1. Thank you for setting it correctly. I would also like to add that all the letters of our Bible were adressed to a certain group of people, the Corinthians, the Hebrews, the Ephesians all in a different time and cultures then ours. Their customs, beliefs, and lifestyles drastically diiferent than ours today. Throughout the ages the Bible has been distorted through translations so immensely the truthfullness of Jesus has even become a political thing. Question everything, research the truth, love people and love God.

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