Thursday, February 21, 2013

Truth and power

At a recent Veritas Forum lecture at Rice University, Oxford Professor Dr. John Lennox made a fascinating statement: Truth cannot be imposed by power. He also said that if you do not believe in Absolute Truth, your truth will be determined by the group with the most power. It would be useful to think about both of these comments in turn.

Dr. Lennox presents an interesting contrast, and it rings true, both in scripture and in society at large. Truth cannot be imposed by power alone—it must stand on its own. This means that we should be suspicious of claims that are only backed by power. Conversely, sometimes the portrayal of truth may look powerless. But it only seems that way. Real truth is absolutely powerful; that's why is doesn't need a system of power to sustain it.

Take Jesus, for example—the Truth. When he made his triumphal procession through Bethlehem, he came riding on a donkey, the antithesis of power. He came in humility because he came as the Truth. The Bible consistently portrays the truth as a gift of grace. God's revelation of himself in nature is a gift. The incarnate Christ was a gift to the world. His death on the cross was a gift to sinners. And his resurrection and defeat of death were gifts to those who would turn to him. Gifts, by definition, cannot be imposed upon someone; they must be accepted as gifts. All good things (truth especially) are given to us as gifts from the Father.

So it should be no surprise that we are weary when people try to impose a certain "truth" through the use of power. We perceive it as a threat, not a gift. This practice is readily seen in the Academy and society at large. There is tremendous pressure in the Academy, for example, that Naturalism be the default position for all intelligent people. Academics and scholars who eschew the tenets of Naturalism are cast out and considered pariahs to the intellectual elite. They are refused tenure, ignored by academic journals, and generally dismissed as unintelligent. It's a power game. The powerful in academia are trying to impose "truth" by their power in the academic sphere.

In society, those who do not hold to any form of absolute truth have their truth chosen for them. And it is chosen by the group with the most power to yield. In previous generations, this truth may have lined up (somewhat) with biblical truth, but it was still ushered in by force. In this generation, it's no secret that those with the most power are trying to usher in a completely different idea of truth. Look around and you will see it: in the media, in the schools, and in the halls of government.  The power is shifting, and with it comes a new idea of truth. This should be the first warning sign that the truth being ushered in is not the truth. 

We would do well to question any group or system that uses its power to impose an ideal or moral standard. Remember that the real truth stands on its own and comes in the form of a gift. But this doesn't mean we should refrain from offering this gift to people. Instead, we should make ourselves powerless so that real truth may be shown for what it truly is: so powerful that it does not need the power of others. It stands alone, set apart, ready to be received with thanksgiving.

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