Reading: 1 John 3:16-24
“What is truth?” is an innately human question. Do the birds twitter about it flying from tree to tree? Or, do the sea otters muse over it while cracking open mussels and floating under a wide open sky? I have a hard time believing my dog spends much time pondering it. I imagine that if she were to ask this question, her answer would be as quick to come as the question – Truth is as she lives. Sleep, walk, sniff, eat, play, snuggle, snooze, repeat. This is truth. But this kind of answer is not enough for humans. Particularly now, in the season of Easter. The question, “What is truth?” runs wild in our imaginations as we consider Jesus’ resurrection. Did Jesus really die and then, three days later rise to walk and eat and meet with his disciples? How? How do we know what is true? We want to believe, but we need to know what is true first. The first letter of John (1 John) speaks to this question. Scholars agree that this letter was heavily influenced by the Gospel of John. Knowing this makes it that much more interesting when I remember Jesus’ conversation with Pilate before his execution, which ends with Pilate asking the same question, “What is truth?” The answer to this eternal question resides in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ.
The writing found in 1 John serves as a testimony, a witness, to the truth found in Jesus and inexorably bound to the ways we live out our love for one another. Truth, the writer of 1 John posits, is not an idea to consider, but a response to be lived. We know how to live because we know Jesus. As we follow the way of Jesus, believing Jesus, not just a comfortable proof, we respond with our very lives. The purpose of this truth is not about being right or confirming our biases. The purpose of this truth made manifest in Jesus stirs us to action with and for each other. As we live this love for others, we are emboldened by the truth of Christ. The two go together. We must love one another to know the truth. We must know the truth as expressed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus to actively love one another.
Depending on the day, one of these aspects may be more challenging than the other. Some days, the question of what is truth keeps me from knowing Jesus. Maybe Jesus was a real, historical figure, but Jesus the Christ is more a figure of speech, a representation of something we can attempt to aspire but really just an ideal. Other days, loving one another is the greater challenge. The excuses pour out – We all know we live in a divided country. It’s not my fault these people have chosen lies and conspiracy theories to feel safe. I could love them more if they weren’t so stubborn, or were more like me, or had a better sense of humor, or tried a little harder to get out of that situation, they need to at least meet me half way, etc. etc. This is where verse 18 can sting. We are reminded to love one another in truth and action. We can’t just think about it. We need to show up with our full selves. We need to physically act in ways of love.
1 John 3: 17 sets the scene, “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?” We squelch the truth of God’s love every time we let the fear of scarcity set the terms of how and when we help others. We squelch the truth of God’s love when we let terms and conditions determine who deserves our consideration.
We seek after truth, but shy away when its double-edge points toward us. And so, truth also means knowing when we have missed the mark. It means admitting when we have relied on our understanding more than the truth lived by Jesus. It means repenting and changing our ways. Loving one another in truth and action means we may need to sit through uncomfortable conversations. We may also need to speak up and create new boundaries with people who have abused our empathy and time. Loving one another does not mean we must serve as someone’s whipping boy. Loving one another also does not mean liking everyone or being everyone’s friend. Loving one another liberates us for autonomy and freedom. We are reborn in the empty tomb and revolutionized by the resurrection of Christ.
So, “What is truth?” Perhaps the answer my dog would give is, in fact, the answer we find in 1 John. Truth is as we live. Let us live as believers in Jesus and let us love one another in truth and action. As we live in these ways, we abide in the truth that surpasses all understanding. We are freed to love with every fiber of our being, with bold action, and compassionate care.