I was struck by the words of Pontius Pilate during Holy Week as I walked the Stations of the Cross sponsored by Renew Community in Lansdale, Pa. I had never heard his “What is truth?” question quite like this. It’s not a question of honest seeking but a contemptuous response. It has felt more poignant during a pandemic.
I have watched television news once during the lockdown, a few weeks ago. I was overwhelmed by the barrage and turned it off. I have limited myself to social media and online newspapers from a variety of perspectives. It has seemed better to read in a measured way than to hear the heightened anxiety. Social media reminds me of the varied ways we interpret this shared experience. Sometimes that is also a bit much to bear.
Crises reveal communities’ vulnerabilities and strengths. This time is no different. The challenge in discerning truth through media sources has become harder. We are left to discern the whole by trying to understand the parts we can see or touch. That doesn’t make our experience untrue, just incomplete.
This is a peril of our time: My experience with truth becomes “the truth” rather than “a truth” because it is true for me.
Harry Frankfurt wrote a pair of books that examine truth and untruth. His words are helpful and sometimes uncomfortable guides. “Our recognition and understanding of our own identity arises out of our appreciation of a reality that is definitively independent of ourselves . . . and depends on our recognition that there are facts and truths over which we cannot hope to exercise direct or immediate control,” he writes. “If there were no such facts or truths, if the world invariably and unresistingly became whatever we might like or wish it to be, we would be unable to distinguish ourselves from what is other than ourselves.”
Pilate draws truth into question in order to absolve himself of responsibility. Jesus doesn’t respond. He knows it isn’t an honest question.
Though he finds no fault in Jesus, Pilate allows the crucifixion to move ahead. He places the fate of Christ in the hands of the crowd. It’s a lesson in a lack of moral leadership.
I’m struck by how hard it feels now to seek truth. A partisanship virus has colonized our minds. We struggle with seeking and finding truth because of our biases and suspicions.
The antidote might be rooted in the invitation of Jesus to seek first the reign of God. To suggest “all is opinion” is to miss the mark of honest seeking.
When truth is hard to find and leaders make it hard to discern, I wonder how we seek God. Our orientation can be found with questions like: How does this reveal the character of God? How does this move creation toward God’s intent for goodness and flourishing?
Seeking Christ’s authority can interrupt political preferences and partisanship. This means honest seeking, not trying to justify my position.
As social distancing turns to social responsibility, I want to bear witness to things I know are true. Christ told Pilate, “I came to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
Belonging to the truth means attending to things that resonate with the voice of Christ. It is knowing when to turn off cable news and conspiracy theories, seeking first the reign of God, trusting God to provide all we need, just as God cares for the birds and the lilies — beautiful, fragile, resilient.
Stephen Kriss is a teacher, writer, pastor and follower of Jesus living in Philadelphia.